It’s been just over two months since the ECHL became the first pro sports league to end their season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With no Kelly Cup to hand out come June, the league has begun to make preparations for the 2020-21 season—well, depending on what each state and province with a team can do.
Unlike the NHL and the AHL, the ECHL has some different rules when it comes to setting rosters. While all teams have an NHL/AHL affiliation, a majority of rosters are made up of free agents, from first-year pros coming in from college to grizzled veterans who just want to play as long as they still can.
Here are some dates to keep an eye on:
June 1—Protected Lists are due to the league at 3:00PM EST.
What is a Protected List, exactly? Per the ECHL website:
“Teams are allowed to protect as many players as they wish provided the players protected meet the guidelines as defined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the ECHL and the Professional Hockey Players Association which state that teams shall retain the rights to each player that:
- Signed an SPC (Standard Player Contract) with the team during the 2019-20 season, and has not been traded or released. For example, Orlando can protect defenseman Cody Donaghey, who signed with the team prior to the start of the season and stayed on the roster for the full year.
- Signed an SPC during the 2019-20 season, was recalled to the NHL/AHL/IIHF, and has not been traded or released. An example from the Solar Bears would be forward Tyler Bird, who was signed by Orlando, but also was recalled to Syracuse on a PTO late in the season. Forwards Peter Abbandonato and Jimmy Huntington would not count towards this rule, since they were on AHL contracts with the Crunch.
- A player had received a qualifying offer last summer for the current season, DID NOT sign an SPC, and has not been traded or released. Defenseman Nolan Valleau, who spent all of 2019-20 in Syracuse, was on Orlando’s protected list for 2018-19 after starting the season with the Solar Bears before joining the Crunch on a PTO, then an AHL contract.
- The player has been suspended by the team or the league, and has not been traded or released. This could be a player who chose to join an European team during the season, and was subsequently suspended from the team roster. Forward Hunter Fejes, who was suspended from the Orlando roster in December to go overseas, would qualify under this rule. Zachary Fucale, who left the team in February for Germany, would not, as he was under contract with Syracuse.
- The player signed an SPC on or after the first day of the regular season, then signed an NHL/AHL deal, and has not been traded or released. Goaltender Clint Windsor, who signed with Orlando on November 3rd, then signed an AHL contract with Syracuse in March, would count under this rule.
- The player has executed the league’s retirement form, and has not been traded or released. An example here could be former Solar Bear Shane Conacher, who was forced to retire in mid-November due to injury while playing for Adirondack.
A team’s protected list can exceed 20 players, based on the above guidelines.
June 12—Future Considerations Trade Deadline at 3:00PM EST.
The ECHL is probably the only professional sports league with more than one trade deadline. There’s the regular season deadline in March, and then during the offseason comes the Future Considerations deadline. During the regular season, future consideration trades can be either for cash or a player to be named at a later date. On this day, players that become the future consideration are essentially having their rights traded for free agency or qualifying offer purposes, similar to some trades you would see prior to NHL free agency.
June 15—Season Ending Rosters due at 3:00PM EST.
Once all future considerations are completed, each team has to submit a Season Ending roster. Only players on ECHL contracts can be included on this list, which has a maximum of 20 names.
June 16—First day players can sign contracts for 2020-2021 season.
Let the free agent frenzy begin! Considering the NHL may still be playing or still on pause, there may not be as much activity on this day. During a normal offseason, ECHL teams will gradually add players to their rosters, with most activity in July or August. The pandemic will certainly have an effect on signings, based on whether teams’ locations will be able to host events regardless of attendance.
June 30—Qualifying Offers are due by 11:59 PM EST.
Just like their NHL brethren, the ECHL also has a qualifying offer system, but it works a little differently based on status. Per the ECHL website:
“Each team is entitled to reserve the rights to a maximum of eight qualified players. Of the eight qualified players, no more than four could be veterans (260 regular season games played prior to the start of the upcoming season). Players on open qualifying offers cannot be traded.
The qualifying offer must remain open for acceptance until July 16 at which time the qualifying offer becomes null and void and the team may sign the qualified player to any salary or may elect to take no further action. Teams that extend a valid qualifying offer to a non-veteran player shall retain the rights to that qualified player for one playing season.
A team that extends a valid qualifying offer to a veteran player, or to a goaltender who has played more than 180 regular season games, will retain the rights to that player until July 16. After July 16, if the veteran player or goaltender is not signed to a contract by the team, the player shall be deemed a restricted free agent and shall be entitled to seek and secure offers of employment from other ECHL teams. Restricted free agents may not be traded. When a restricted free agent receives a contract offer from a team other than the team with the player’s rights and the restricted free agent wishes to accept the contract offer, the restricted free agent and the offering member must, within 24 hours, notify the ECHL, the team with the player’s rights and the Professional Hockey Players Association. The member with the player’s rights shall have seven days after the date it is notified to exercise its right to match the contract offer.
If a restricted free agent is not signed to either an offer sheet or a contract by an ECHL team by August 1, the player shall be deemed an unrestricted free agent.”
No date has been set for when the tentative 2020-2021 schedule will be released. A handful of ECHL teams have released their home schedules. Orlando has yet to announce their home schedule—building conflicts with the still paused Magic may be a factor—but at least 5 road opponents have been determined: Florida, Jacksonville, Greenville, Allen, and Adirondack.