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What’s up in Newfoundland?

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Why haven’t the Growlers added many players yet?

NHL: Preseason-New York Islanders at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Telegram had a column yesterday about the Newfoundland Growlers and their very slow acquisition of players. They have one so far*. The column is in response to an inquiry from a fan who has noticed that the other new, from-the-ground-up ECHL team, the Maine Mariners has added several. The Telegram take an arithmetic approach to show that there are likely to be many players currently under contract to the Marlies who will play in Newfoundland. They came up with about a dozen, which seems to be the magic number.

We can improve on that bare number a little and name some names. In advance of the AHL training camp, this is all informed speculation, but it can give us an idea of where there’s room for the Marlies or the Growlers to add players and where there is little need.

Affiliations, Contracts, and Paycheques

It’s not a surprise that the Growlers have been slow to add players on ECHL deals. Their head coach was named much more recently than the Mariners’ was, and in the ECHL, the coach usually has a lot of say over the operations of the team. For Maine, he is their de facto GM.

In the ECHL, all contracts are for one year, and the league has a complex system of rights retention for players the following year. I will lay claim to only a half-baked understanding of all the rules and exploits, but two things are common in the ECHL: rights trades and future consideration trades. Put the two together and you get the common practice of ECHL player rights traded for future considerations, and there’s usually not much of a hiccup to getting the rights to players a team wants.

Why this matters is that the Orlando Solar Bears hold the ECHL rights to some players that were on their team last year, including some who are under contract right now to the Marlies. Those rights will need to be acquired to allow some players to play for the Growlers.

Most fans have a good understanding of NHL contracts. They’re either one-way or two-way, and these days, two-way primarily means that there is two salary amounts, one paid out if the player is in the NHL, one if the player is in the AHL. Many, many players on the Marlies are on NHL deals. Some of them one-way, where you’re paid your NHL salary no matter what. One interesting wrinkle to that is that there is no escrow deducted from salaries paid in the AHL, so a player can take home more money there than in the NHL depending on the deal structure.

In general, the Marlies have a lot fewer players on AHL deals than most teams in the league.

Because the Maple Leafs own the Marlies via MLSE owning both teams, it doesn’t really make much difference who is cutting the cheque for the salaries of the players on the Marlies. No cap hits of any NHL-contracted player on the Marlies count against the salary cap (subject to the limit you can bury, but this is likely not an issue with the team this year). There is no salary cap in the AHL. There is no roster limit. So the AHL can be stocked with however many players a team wants.

Generally, you don’t want players not playing, so enter the next level of minor leagues, the ECHL, and you suddenly have a third team to fill up with players.

It is not unheard of for a player on an NHL deal to play in the ECHL. It is, however, extraordinarily uncommon for that player to not be a goalie. I can’t emphasize this enough, if the Leafs send any NHL-contracted player to Newfoundland other than Eamon McAdam, it will be really, really unusual, no matter what anyone says about a three-tier development system. If they make it a common practice, it will be a revolution in the sport. And you know how revolutionary change is common in the NHL, right?

There are lots of players available on AHL contracts, however, so the Growlers aren’t going to be just McAdam and Marcus Power.

AHL contracts come in one-way and two-way versions too, but there’s no Cap Friendly for the AHL, so we often have no information at all about AHL deals. Everyone on Cap Friendly’s Maple Leafs page is on an NHL deal, and any player signed to an AHL contract by the Marlies is not part of the Maple Leafs reserve list (the 90-man list of all players whose NHL rights the team holds) unless they are also former Leafs draft picks whose rights haven’t expired.

What we do know is that any player under contract to the Marlies is paid by the Marlies (so the Leafs, in other words) no matter where he plays. Which brings us to the main reason you won’t see the Growlers signing a lot of players themselves. The Marlies are doing it for them.

In comparison, the Mariners, who are affiliated with the New York Rangers via their AHL team the Hartford Wolf Pack (which is also owned by the Rangers’ holding company) seem to be on track for signing a lot of their own players. The affiliation relationship there is obviously different, and has to be complicated by the fact that the Mariners are owned by the parent company of the Flyers.

The Marlies who may be Growlers

The plan for the new team in Newfoundland is clearly to send a lot of players from Toronto, so if we look at the Marlies roster we can see who they are likely to be:

Marlies roster as of mid-July 2018

Player Postition Contract
Player Postition Contract
Jordan Subban D NHL
Martin Marincin D NHL
Justin Holl D NHL
Timothy Liljegren D NHL
Andreas Borgman D NHL
Calle Rosén D NHL
Jesper Lindgren D NHL
Andrew Nielsen D NHL
Vincent LoVerde D NHL
Sam Jardine D AHL
Stefan LeBlanc D AHL
Alex Gudbranson D AHL
Adam Brooks F NHL
Frédérik Gauthier F NHL
Trevor Moore F NHL
Colin Greening F NHL
Josh Jooris F NHL
Chris Mueller F NHL
Mason Marchment F NHL
Pierre Engvall F NHL
Carl Grundström F NHL
Dmytro Timashov F NHL
Jeremy Bracco F NHL
Adam Cracknell F NHL
Derian Plouffe F AHL
Giorgio Estephan F AHL
Matt Bradley F AHL
Griffen Molino F AHL
Ryan Moore F AHL
Kristian Pospisil F AHL
Hudson Elynuik F AHL
Emerson Clark F AHL
Brady Ferguson F AHL
Scott Pooley F AHL
Josh Kestner F AHL
Zach O'Brien F AHL
Calvin Pickard G NHL
Garret Sparks G NHL
Kasimir Kaskisuo G NHL
Eamon McAdam G NHL

Goalies

Eamon McAdam, acquired in the Matt Martin trade, has played 46 ECHL games and 35 AHL games. He’s going to be the Growlers starter because there is really no room at the inn in the AHL for him.

Kasimir Kaskisuo, the clear number three of the rest of the Marlies goalies will not play in the ECHL again. It’s pointless. He only played there last year to cover an emergency on the road for the Solar Bears. If the Leafs don’t lose one of their three potential backups to Frederik Andersen in some sort of trade (Curtis McElhinney, Calvin Pickard or Garret Sparks), then Kaskisuo could be loaned to an AHL team like he was last season, but the E is not for him.

Defence

This is an interesting area of the team. There are currently 12 names on the list, but it’s very possible that one or two of the NHL-contracted players will move up to the NHL, at least to the pressbox. There’s a logjam, and particularly on the right side in the AHL, so it becomes a question of priorities.

For the Marlies, the priority lies with Timothy Liljegren and Jordan Subban. No one else here is really under development except Jesper Lindgren. If he stays in Toronto and doesn’t get loaned back to a club in Sweden — or Finland where he played last year — then he’s going to need ice time too. They are all righties, and so is Vincent LoVerde, so there’s no room for any more on the Marlies.

It’s very possible that all three AHL-contracted defenders on this list will play most of their season on the Growlers. Sam Jardine seems to sit in the gap between very good ECHLer and depth AHLer, and he’s a lefty, so he might be the man who gets some Marlies time if injuries or other culling of the left-side ranks opens up a spot. Alex Gudbranson is a classic depth defender who can play heavy shifts, and might be under consideration for that role some of the time in Toronto.

The Leafs have way too many defenders. So it’s easy to imagine this is where the idea of using the ECHL comes in. But I don’t see a single guy on an NHL deal on that list who wouldn’t refuse to report to the E, and would instead demand a trade. There’s not a one of them who isn’t fully qualified to be in the AHL.

Forwards

There’s a dozen NHL-contracted forwards listed, and it’s again possible that someone moves up to the NHL off of that list, but there’s still quite a bit of opportunity for some of the AHL-contracted forwards to play in the AHL. Last year, Rich Clune, Mason Marchment and Jean Dupuy were the only AHL-contracted players to play significant AHL games. Marchment is now on an NHL deal and the other two are not under contract anywhere at the moment.

There’s 12 AHL-contracted forwards, though, so it’s fair to say something upwards of 9-10 of them will end up in Newfoundland at least part of the time. There’s no one in the group who just demands to be played in the AHL but Derian Plouffe and Brady Ferguson made positive impressions last year.

Missing from this list is Martins Dzierkals, who so far hasn’t committed to any team, but is rumoured again to be joining Dinamo Riga. Also unsigned is Hunter Fejes, who was one of the best forwards on the Solar Bears on an ECHL deal last year. The Solar Bears retain his ECHL rights, but he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to sign with them.

I get somewhere around 13-14 players as of now that can be sent to the Growlers, or near enough to what the Telegram added up. The Marlies may sign more AHL deals yet, and someone needs to be acquired to be the backup to McAdam, but the Growlers will need to find less than a dozen more players to get a team together.

And they’ll only need to pay for the players they sign themselves.


*After this was written, the Growlers signed their second player, a defenceman: