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Where Did Everybody Go?

A Primer on AHL/ECHL Player Movement Around the Holiday Season

The holiday season can be considered one of the most stressful times of the year for many folks. With the purchasing of gifts and preparing of elaborate, fancy meals, the holidays can no doubt be a worrisome time.

One thing that should not be causing any stress to anybody this holiday season is the state of the Newfoundland Growlers roster.

A quick peek at the Growlers roster at this exact point in time would reveal barely enough players for a good game of shinny, let alone icing a competitive ECHL hockey club.

With the Growlers not scheduled for another contest until December 29 in Trois-Rivieres, that’s quite a large window of inactivity for these professional hockey players. Just because there are no ECHL games scheduled for the Growlers for the next few weeks, that doesn’t mean the players’ pre-holiday duties have been completely fulfilled just yet.

Below, we have highlighted four factors that have influenced the Growlers’ roster over the last week or so, specifically for the club’s many AHL-contracted skaters.

 

Development/evaluation days

Remember when you were in grade school, and right before the holidays, our schools and teachers often scheduled parent-teacher interviews to assure our parents that we were trending in the right direction heading into the break?

A similar situation happens with AHL-contracted players as they approach the holiday break. Regardless of if they play as full-time AHLers, or in the ECHL with the Growlers under an AHL contract, teams will often pull all of their contracted players together, even if it’s only for a few days, for extra on-ice evaluations, in-person interviews, developmental sessions, and maybe even a game or two for ECHL guys who have yet to skate in the AHL this season.

In order to bring everybody together, including those playing in the ECHL, these players will need to be called up. It doesn’t mean that these players have graduated to the AHL and will never be seen in the ECHL again. It’s simply a chance for upper management to get a look at a player that perhaps they haven’t seen in a while, or as a check-in to make sure things are going well for a player who may not be under management’s eyes all the time.

In ideal conditions, the same players that get recalled en masse right before the holidays are often reassigned back to their ECHL club as a group right before or after the holiday break.

 

Injuries

As unfortunate as it is to see players get hurt throughout the course of the season, it is an inevitability in professional hockey.

For the Growlers, as the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Marlies, that means if a player in the AHL gets injured and a roster spot has opened up, the next man in line could very well be a Growler who is spending his season in St. John’s on an AHL contract.

As disappointing as it is to fall in love with a player who is performing well with the Growlers, only to see him called up to the AHL, we have to remember that the Growlers are primarily a developmental club with the purpose of helping groom the next crop of potential Marlies.

When players get called up and succeed, that reinforces and strengthens the bond between the Growlers and Marlies and assures everyone that the development model is working as it should.

Lately, the Marlies have been bitten by the injury bug a little bit, which means we have seen a few Growlers get their shot in the AHL. Again, even if they are performing well, this doesn’t mean these players will never play in the ECHL again.

Once everybody is healthy, there are simply not enough roster spaces for everybody to play on the Marlies, so players will eventually be reassigned to the Growlers. We just have to be patient until then.

 

Contract Stipulations

When was the last time you busted out the ECHL/Professional Hockey Player’s Association's (PHPA) Collective Bargaining Agreement for a good perusal?

For many players, it may be written in their contract that they have to spend a certain amount of time in the AHL, even if the majority of their play takes place in the ECHL.

For example, did you know that for veteran players with more than 260 games played at the ‘AA’ level or above, if they are under an AHL contract and playing in the ECHL, they are still required to play five AHL contests in order to be eligible to participate in the ECHL’s Kelly Cup playoffs?

This exact condition applies to Growlers forward Zach O’Brien. If he wants the chance to win another Kelly Cup this season with the Growlers, he needs to get into five games with the Marlies. For every game he plays in Toronto, the Growlers inch one step closer to building a stronger playoff roster.

Players like O’Brien often take advantage of differences in schedules between the AHL and ECHL around the different holiday breaks. The Marlies will play five more games before the Growlers take to the ice again on December 29. That sounds like a great time for these players to get some games in, plus they won’t have to miss Growler games to do so.

 

Pandemic-influenced roster moves

As much as we are all looking forward to the day we don’t have to worry about the Covid-19 pandemic, that day has not arrived just yet and that will continue to have an impact on professional hockey rosters.

And given the fact that the Growlers have a nice long window before playing again, teams like the Marlies, as well as the Manitoba Moose, will elect to call up players from the ECHL to either cover some of these pandemic absences, or as insurance in case a breakout were to arise.

Pandemic cases in the NHL impact ECHL roster sizes as well. Look at the New York Islanders. With cases on the rise, the Islanders have been forced to call up several players from their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. With the AHL roster now depleted, they will have spots to fill as well, so they turned to the ECHL’s Worcester Railers and essentially called up everybody on an AHL contract.

Luckily, the Leafs and Marlies haven’t been hit to the same extent, but calling up players from the Growlers seems like a good insurance policy to ensure that their team will have enough healthy skaters to play.

The Maple Leafs and Marlies have partnered with the Growlers to help get them through the tougher segments of the schedule like we have seen lately, but it’s important to remember that the reason the Growlers have been as successful as they have been throughout the course of three ECHL seasons is because of the relationship that has been established.

As all three teams under the Maple Leafs umbrella navigate this tricky 2021-22 season, don’t forget that we aren’t even half way through the season. All three teams will have their ups and downs as far as rosters are concerned. The Maple Leafs and Marlies management are committed to the success of all three teams in the ECHL, AHL and NHL. It’s only a matter of time until all three teams are back to full strength and ready to contend for championships again.