Last week, when St. John’s new ECHL franchise introduced itself as the Newfoundland Growlers, Dean MacDonald, who heads up the team’s ownership group, predicted more announcements would follow fairly quickly, including revelation of jerseys and details on plans for the synchronicity between the Growlers and basketball’s St. John’s Edge, with whom the hockey team has a partnership.
But MacDonald said the next order of business should be official disclosure of his club’s NHL affiliation, saying that should happen “soon.” He wouldn’t directly refer to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the unveiling of the Growlers nickname and logo, but MacDonald himself is already on record as saying the Maple Leafs will be the new ECHL’s team’s big-league associate.
Perhaps it’s a good time to address what continues to be a misconception, no matter how many times the true story is told. That misconception is perhaps best represented in this e-mailed question:
When will the Toronto Maple Leafs officially announce they are moving their ECHL franchise from Orlando to Newfoundland?
We’ll take it point-by-point.
• The Maple Leafs do not own an ECHL franchise; they will be transferring an affiliation, not relocating a team.
• The Growlers are an expansion franchise, with MacDonald the primary owner and team CEO Glen Stanford also having an ownership stake. The owners of the Edge could also eventually get some piece of the hockey team, but whatever way the Growlers ownership is structured, it will be local. The Leafs could someday end their ECHL affiliation with Newfoundland, but there still would be an ECHL franchise in St. John’s. That differs from the American Hockey League teams — Maple Leafs and IceCaps — that played out of St. John’s for 20 years. Those teams were directly owned by NHL organizations, who had the power to relocate them… and did.
• The Orlando Solar Bears, Toronto’s ECHL affiliate the last few seasons, are owned by the Devos family, who also own the NBA’s Orlando Magic. The Solar Bears are remaining in the ECHL, presumably with another NHL partner. With 31 teams in the NHL and 27 in the ECHL, there should be available affiliations. However, unlike the AHL, there are no league rules requiring ECHL teams to have NHL affiliates.
• The exact number of players the Maple Leafs will be assigning to St. John’s is still to be announced, but it is said to be significant. It could be as many as a dozen, which would be among the largest commitments to any ECHL team by an NHL partner. Most of the players will be on AHL deals, but some could be on NHL entry-level contracts. The remainder of the Growlers roster will be the local ownership’s responsibility, but it is possible the Leafs could help out in identifying players who would not be under contract to Toronto, but be seen as potential Growlers. Nevertheless, the Growlers owners will be very much involved in signing players and will have much more say in hockey matters than any of the operators of AHL teams here ever did. For example, the Maple Leafs are supplying (and paying for) the Newfoundland coaching staff, but Stanford reportedly will be involved in interviewing candidates for the head bench boss.
• The affiliation will be with the Maple Leafs, but expect almost all interleague transactions to be between the Growlers and AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Nine players played on both the Solar Bears and Marlies in 2017-18, but no player appeared in a regular-season game with both Orlando and the Maple Leafs last season.
• Even though the Maple Leafs will be the Growlers’ primary affiliate, the Newfoundland team could have a secondary affiliation that would see them get some players from another NHL organization. Last season, the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens both supplied players to the Brampton Beast, although neither the Senators’ or Canadiens’ involvement with the Beast was on a large a scale as the Leafs’ was with Orlando or will be with the Growlers.