Long rumoured to be in the cards, the Toronto Maple Leafs have finally officially announced their new ECHL affiliate for next season. The team, a new ECHL franchise based in St. John’s, Newfoundland is to be called the Newfoundland Growlers. The affiliation will be for three years.

The team has been selling season’s tickets for a while now, and a few weeks ago the ECHL schedule was released for next season.

The Growlers open their first season at home against Florida, the runner up in this year’s Kelly Cup final. For Toronto area fans, the Growlers travel to play the Brampton Beast for the first time on October 27 for two games that weekend. They play in Brampton a total of seven times.

The make up of the Growlers’ team won’t be clear until after the Leafs/Marlies AHL-contracted players split off for their own training camp this fall. There is an expectation that the Marlies will hold some of that training camp in St. John’s this season.

ECHL contracts run for a single year, so any players that the team likes who were on the Orlando Solar Bears this season may be up for grabs, but most of them are on the Solar Bears reserve list. That list just grants the Solar Bears negotiation rights, and it won’t prevent the Growlers from acquiring those players in a trade for those rights.

The top of the list of former Solar Bears has to be Hunter Fejes, who had a PTO with the Marlies and was the best player on the Bears late in the season. We might see him signed by the Marlies to an AHL contract as well, which neatly sidesteps the reserve list issue, until they want to send them to Newfoundland, and then they need to make a deal.

This move way out east seems like a good one for the Leafs as an organization. They have some influence over the new team, and they now have all three of their teams in Canada at a time when there are increasing reports of delays and denials for European professionals, particularly Russians, trying to get US visas.

The drawback, of course, is the travel. Try as you might, you can’t drive to St. John’s and a ferry is a bit slow, but if you can afford the airfare, you might not care. Convincing a hockey player to take a job in Orlando for low pay plus paid accommodation in the winter is one thing. Convincing them to do that in a city that has gales off the Atlantic rather than Disney World is another.

There is a report that the ECHL is covering the travel cost of other teams to St. John’s, since the ECHL is not an airplane league, usually.

For a new team just starting out, like the Growlers, this affiliation is a good one. Last year the Solar Bears had as many as 12 players on their roster on AHL contracts over the season. Those salaries are paid by the Marlies. The team intends to do that again, so the Growlers will need to add some players, but not as many as most teams have to find or fund themselves.

It looks like a win-win, and we just hope the team wins lots of games too.