While the Tampa Bay Lightning continue to revel in their second straight Stanley Cup title, their ECHL affiliate to the east on I-4 is beginning to prepare for the 2021-22 season. The ECHL's free agency period officially began on Friday, but before the Orlando Solar Bears can begin building the roster for next season, there were three unfinished pieces of business for the 2020-21 campaign.
While former Syracuse Crunch defenseman Mathieu Brodeur and his Fort Wayne Komets teammates won the Kelly Cup in four games over South Carolina on July 2nd, the rest of the league released their protected lists and season-ending rosters, along with completing any future considerations trades.
Orlando named 26 players to their protected list, which is not like Tampa Bay’s list for the upcoming expansion draft. A review of the rules, per the ECHL website:
Any Player who had originally signed with one of the 12 Teams not participating in the 2020-21 Season, and went on to sign with one of the 2020-21 Active Teams, shall have his Player Rights revert back to the original Member Team’s Protected List. Any Player who was issued a Qualifying Offer by a Member that elected Pandemic Voluntary Suspension, but never signed the Qualifying Offer, shall be declared a Free Agent for the 2021-22 Season. Any Player signed as an Amateur prior to the 2020-21 Season (i.e. straight out of college or juniors with zero pro experience) whose Member Team elected to take Pandemic Voluntary Suspension, and who subsequently did not play in the ECHL during the 2020-21 Season, may be voluntarily omitted from his Member’s Protected List without penalty.
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:
1. Signed an SPC in 2020-21 with the Member, and has not been traded or released, OR
2. Signed an SPC in 2020-21, and was recalled to the NHL/AHL or IIHF team, and has not been traded or released, OR
3. Had received a Qualifying Offer last summer for the current Season, DID NOT sign an SPC, and has not been traded or released, OR
4. Has been suspended by the Member or League, and has not been traded or released, OR
5. Signed an SPC on or after the first day of the 2020-21 Regular Season, then subsequently signed an NHL/AHL contract, and has not been traded or released, OR
6. Has executed the ECHL Retirement Form, and has not been traded or released.-
To translate, this is the ECHL’s version of restricted free agency for those players who signed ECHL only contracts with their respective clubs. Players such as goaltender Clint Windsor or forward Nikita Pavlychev would not qualify to be added to this list, since they signed AHL contracts with Syracuse and were assigned to the Solar Bears.
The Solar Bears protected the following:
Forwards: Tyler Bird, Jake Coughler, Jerry D’Amigo, Hunter Fejes, Michael Joly, Tad Kozun, Tristin Langan, Chris LeBlanc, Aaron Luchuk, Johno May, Brent Pedersen, J.J. Piccinich, Fabrizio Ricci, Ben Thomson
Defensemen: Brandon Anselmini, Mark Auk, Cody Donaghey, Alexander Kuqali, Kevin Lohan, Luke McInnis, Tommy Panico, Matthew Spencer, Nolan Valleau
Goaltenders: Michael Lackey, Kristian Oldham, Garret Sparks
Fejes, Pedersen, and Donaghey had previously skated for the Solar Bears but then chose to sign overseas for 2020-21. In the event they decide to return to North America, Orlando retains their ECHL playing rights. Coughler, Joly, and Auk have already signed overseas for 2021-22, but the same situation will apply.
Thomson and Sparks had been signed to AHL contracts after starting the season in Orlando, but the Solar Bears will hold on to their ECHL playing rights. If a player like Thomson, who had joined Binghamton on an AHL deal, were to sign with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Utica, but the Comets wanted to send him to their ECHL affiliate in Adirondack, the Thunder and the Solar Bears would have to work out a trade for Thomson to join the Thunder.
On July 5th, Orlando announced the completion of the following future considerations trades from the 2020-21 regular season:
-Forward Darby Llewelyn was acquired from Tulsa to complete the March 14th trade for forward Alan Lyszczarczyk, then was flipped to Wheeling along with Coughler, Kozun, and Spencer to complete the Joly trade from April 20th.
-Forward Riley Woods was acquired from Utah to complete the March 16th deal for Michael Prapavessis.
-Defenseman Tim Shoup was acquired from Indy to complete an April 18th trade for Jordan Schneider.
Finally, before the beginning of the 2021-22 signing window on Friday, the Solar Bears released their 20-man season-ending roster:
Forwards: Tyler Bird, Jerry D’Amigo, Michael Joly, Tristin Langan, Chris LeBlanc, Aaron Luchuk, J.J. Piccinich, Fabrizio Ricci, Ben Thomson, Riley Woods
Defensemen: Mark Auk, Alexander Kuqali, Kevin Lohan, Luke McInnis, Tommy Panico, Tim Shoup, Nolan Valleau
Goaltenders: Michael Lackey, Kris Oldham, Garret Sparks
A team’s Season-Ending roster cannot include anyone on an ELC or an AHL contract, which is why once again players like Windsor or Pavlychev are not on this list.
Coming up later this month: qualifying offers. I will go more into detail about how that works in the next update, along with any early signings.