The Chicago Express exited the ECHL quickly but new franchises in Orlando and San Francisco will join the league for the 2011-12 season.
There also are strong indications that the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Komets will also join the league next season, which for Toledo would renew a rivalry that dates back to the days of the Blades and Goaldiggers.
The Chicago organization withdrew from the ECHL last week after just one season due to poor attendance. All of the other teams that participated this season will return, according to league officials.
The addition of the Orlando Solar Bears and San Francisco Bulls will make the ECHL a 21-team league.
The loss of Chicago leaves a hole in the Toledo Walleye's North Division.
There are reports that the Fort Wayne organization is considering a move to the ECHL after the team's two-year agreement with the Central Hockey League ends after this season. The Komets are in the CHL playoffs and no decision will be made until the team's season is over.
Brian McKenna, who is in his 10th season as the commissioner of the ECHL, said he could not comment on the possible addition of a franchise in Fort Wayne.
"My long standing policy has been to not comment with regard to any teams playing in other leagues. It just leads to unwanted speculation," McKenna said. "Usually this is the time of year where rumors abound."
When McKenna took over as commissioner in 2002-03, the league changed its name from the East Coast Hockey League to ECHL to reflect its expansion into southern and western markets. He oversaw the expansion of the ECHL to include six former West Coast Hockey League markets and three new teams in 2003-04.
The Orlando franchise will likely join the South Division in the Eastern Conference, while San Francisco will play in the Western Conference.
Fort Wayne would most likely join the North Division along with Toledo, Kalamazoo, and Cincinnati. Those three cities all are within a five-hour drive from Fort Wayne.
According to The News-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Wayne, the Komets ownership is seriously considering a move to the ECHL.
The paper reported that Komets president Michael Franke and McKenna have met several times this season.
Teams from Toledo and Fort Wayne played against each other regularly when both cities had teams in the International Hockey League. The Blades twice defeated the Comets to win Turner Cup titles in 1964 and 1967. The Hornets and Goaldiggers carried on the rivalry in the 1970s.
Fort Wayne is about a two-hour drive from Toledo.
The 2012-13 ECHL schedule is expected to be released in the near future.
The Chicago franchise, which was based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., finished last in the ECHL in attendance (2,508 fans per game).
On the other end of the spectrum, Toledo ranked second with an average attendance of 6,252 this season. The Walleye struggled mightily on the ice (28-38-6) and did not qualify for the playoffs, but the team played before nine sellout crowds at the Huntington Center.
Joe Napoli, president and general manager of the Walleye, said the future of hockey in Toledo remains bright. Napoli said attendance has exceeded officials' expectations.
"Hockey has really never been on more solid footing here," Napoli said. "We're hitting on all cylinders."
The Walleye have attracted 665,946 fans, including 30 sellouts, in their first three seasons at the downtown arena. Napoli said there is potential for even bigger crowds if the team is more competitive and reaches the playoffs.
"We're looking forward to the day that the Walleye are in the playoffs and the Mud Hens are opening," Napoli said. "We want to see them playing at the same time."
Napoli said the high interest in the team this season despite lackluster performance on the ice bodes well for the future.
"The percentage of the population that is interested in minor pro hockey in Toledo has never been higher," Napoli said. "We are building and creating a fan base that has enthusiasm and a high level of interest in hockey."
The Walleye also had success against the Express, going 7-6-0 against Chicago.
In its first and only season as a franchise, the Express (34-26-12) tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They missed out on a playoff berth when they lost a tiebreaker to Reading.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.