For St. John’s hockey fans, the immediate point of reference for the ECHL will be the American Hockey League.
How do the ECHL newcomers Newfoundland Growlers stack up against those erstwhile AHLers, the St. John’s IceCaps?
Through four Growlers’ games at Mile One Centre, folks are still sorting out the answer to the on-ice part of that question, but off the ice, we can tell you with certainty that this is a very different entity.
Wednesday’s transactions involving the Newfoundland side tell part of what can be a fairly tangly story.
But first a little prologue.
In the American Hockey League, there are no roster limits, no salary caps, no official injured reserve lists.
The ECHL has all three, plus more guidelines regarding team structure.
On Wednesday, the Growlers signed former Ontario Hockey League goaltender Mario Culina and local defenceman Rodi Short from the Goulds to standard ECHL player contracts.
If this has been 2016, and the IceCaps had signed both to AHL deals, it would have meant they likely fit into some long-term plans for the team.
But not in this case.
An ECHL contract can be terminated at any time, meaning the additions of Short and Culina could be short-term moves.
Short, who played senior hockey with the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts the last five years, was added after veteran rearguard Alex Gudbranson was injured in Tuesday’s 7-3 win over the Adirondack Thunder at Mile One Centre.
Culina came on board to address the recall of netminder Eamon McAdam to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In fact, the 21-year Culina was supposed to have been signed before Tuesday’s contest, but the plane that was to have brought him here was diverted to Deer Lake by weather. Although he did eventually did get to St. John’s on a connecting flight, it didn’t arrive on time to have him ready for the contest.
As a result, Newfoundland signed another Cataract, A.J. Whiffen, to what amounted to a one-game deal as an emergency backup goaltender — apparently the ECHL has special contracts for such circumstances, specific only to goalies.
So A.J. Whiffen is out and Mario Culina is in, perhaps for a little while. The Maple Leafs don’t need McAdam anymore, but he is required by their AHL farm team, the Toronto Marlies, who have been dealing with their own netminding shortfall because of an injury to Kasimir Kaskisuo.
McAdam was assigned to the Marlies Wednesday evening.
Short, who played professionally in Europe between 2010 and 2013, was in the Newfoundland lineup for a rematch with the Thunder. His tenure will be determined by the health of others, including Gudbranson and fellow rearguards Carter Stutters and Adam Pardy, who has been sidelined since suffering an undisclosed injury early in the Growlers training camp.
Pardy was placed on the team’s 14-day injured reserve list Wednesday,
In the ECHL, there can be an unlimited number of players on the IR. Newfoundland forwards’ Josh Kestner and Kristian Pospisil were placed there at the start of the season.
Pospisil, who played for the Leafs former ECHL partner, the Orlando Solar Bears last season, is an interesting case. He may be officially on the Growlers’ roster, but he is not on this island. Never has been, even though he has been officially assigned to Newfoundland.
ECHL teams can dress 18 players — 16 skaters and two goalies — for games. This usually means lineups of six defencemen and 10 forwards, the latter which can be at least a temporary bench-management challenge for neophyte ECHL coaches used to having 12 forwards on the bench.
Teams in the league have 20-man active rosters, used to determine whether they are compliant with the league’s salary cap of US $13,000 per week. (For the first 30 days of the season, active rosters can consist of 21 players, with an adjusted salary cap of $13,470).
ECHL clubs can also have two players on an official (non-injured) reserve list. They don’t count towards the salary cap. Neither do players on IR, although this doesn’t mean they aren’t paid.
Finally, there is one similarity between the ECHL and AHL in that both have rules regarding the number of veteran players that can be dressed for a game.
In the ECHL, it’s four veterans, or players with 260 or more games of pro experience, although it doesn’t apply to goalies or players on AHL contracts and who are 23 or younger on opening day.
Not that the young Growlers have much to worry about in that regard. Of the 18 players they dressed for Wednesday night’s matchup at Mile One, only Newfoundlanders Zach O’Brien and James Melindy met the veteran requirements.