Under Bob Gainey, the Canadiens expanded their farm system to include partial sponsorship of the Cincinnati Cyclones of the East Coast Hockey League. That partnership ended in July and today the Canadiens announced they, and the Hamilton Bulldogs, will supply players to the league’s Wheeling Nailers.

The ECHL is considered a step down from the AHL and the Canadiens have used the league to season late-developing players such as centre David Desharnais and goaltenders Cedrick Desjardins (traded to Tampa Bay this summer) and Robert Mayer.

The Canadiens were affiliated with the Winston-Salem/Wheeling thunderbirds for nine years in the 80’s and 90’s. The team won the ECHL Championship in 1989. Cincinnati, with help from the Canadiens, won the ECHL Kelly Cup two of the last three season. Goaltenders Desjardins and Mayer were named playoff series MVP’s. Desharnais was ECHL regular season MVP and rookie of the year three seasons ago.

The announcement from the Canadiens Publicity Department:

Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier announced today a new

minor-league player affiliation agreement for the 2010-11 season with the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) Wheeling Nailers.

On behalf of the Canadiens organization, I would like to thank the Nailers for accepting to affiliate with us. We are looking forward to a strong and long lasting relationship”, said Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier.

Under the agreement, the Canadiens have sole discretion on players assigned to Wheeling at all times. The agreement also stipulates that there is no minimum or maximum number of players that can be assigned to Wheeling. The affiliation agreement is shared with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, their affiliate team in the AHL.

Wheeling succeeds to the Cincinnati Cyclones organization as an ECHL team to be part of an affiliation agreement with the Canadiens. Cincinnati won the Kelly Cup twice (2008 and 2010) under their four-year affiliation with the Canadiens.

The Hamilton Bulldogs remain the Canadiens’ main affiliate club in the American Hockey League.