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Solar Bears Summer Update: 2 More Years!

Orlando extends their affiliation with the Lightning, and the 21/22 roster begins to take shape.

Fernando Medina/Orlando Solar Bears

It’s been a busy month of July for the Orlando Solar Bears, as they continue to prepare for the 2021-22 season. Let’s get everyone up to date on the latest news from the last few weeks:

Affiliation Extension!

On July 19th, the team announced that it has extended its affiliation agreement with the Lightning for another two seasons after the initial three-year pact expired this year. Included in that announcement? Tampa Bay will be playing a preseason contest against Florida at the Amway Center on October 5th.

Getting Qualified

On Monday, the team announced that eight players received qualifying offers for the 2021-22 season: forwards Tristin Langan, Chris LeBlanc, Aaron Luchuk, J.J. Piccinich, Fabrizio Ricci, and Riley Woods; and defensemen Mark Auk and Tim Shoup.

As a refresher, here is how a qualifying offer works, per the ECHL:

Each team was 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 professional hockey games played as of the start of the upcoming 2021-22 season). Players on open qualifying offers cannot be traded.

The qualifying offer must remain open for acceptance until August 9 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 August. After August 9, 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 16, the player shall be deemed an unrestricted free agent.

First Signings of 2021-22

On July 21st, the Solar Bears made their first player announcement of the summer, inking defenseman Kevin Lohan to a standard ECHL deal.

The 27-year-old defenseman will be returning for his fourth full season with the Solar Bears, after starting his pro career in Toledo at the end of the 2017-18 season. He appeared in a career-high 56 games for Orlando in 2020-21, with 2 goals and 10 assists.

On Tuesday, forward Tyler Bird signed a standard contract, returning to the Solar Bears for a third season.

Last season, the 24-year-old Massachusetts native had his best season as a pro, picking up 15 goals and 14 assists in 65 games.

On To The Next Chapter...

One of Lohan’s most frequent defensive partners from last season has decided to hang up his skates. Alexander Kuqali announced his retirement from hockey on a recent episode of Bear Tracks, the Solar Bears podcast.

The 30-year-old Texas native appeared in 71 games in what would become his final pro season, with 2 goals and 15 assists. After finishing a four-year collegiate career at RIT in 2016, Kuqali stayed in the ECHL for his five-year pro career, making stops in Florida, Quad City, and Fort Wayne before arriving in Orlando via trade during the 2018-19 season.