Updates to show that press conference is Thursday morning
The Newfoundland Growlers will check off one more item on their lengthy to-do list at a press conference this morning when the new ECHL team formally announces its affiliation with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For some, this will have them harkening back to the 14 seasons of the American Hockey League’s St. John’s Maple Leafs, but the relationship between the Growlers and Toronto will not be the same as that which existed between the AHL Leafs and Toronto.
And it goes beyond the fact the St. John’s Leafs franchise was directly owned by Toronto as opposed to this ECHL expansion franchise, which is locally owned by Deacon Sports and Entertainment (Dean MacDonald and Glenn Stanford).
While AHL-NHL affiliations are fairly straightforward, those with ECHL teams are quite a bit more tangled, no matter the ownership situation.
For one thing, while the agreement will be between the Maple Leafs and Growlers, the ECHL team’s relationship — at least in terms of player exchange — will mostly be with Toronto’s AHL farm team, the Marlies. You may see a couple or few players on NHL entry-level deals, but most of the Leafs-associated players on the Growlers will be signed to AHL contracts with the Marlies, and when there are any call-ups from Newfoundland, they will almost always be AHL-bound.
ECHL affiliations are also often described as being much looser that those at the AHL level, where the roster-building is almost entirely done by the NHL parent club. In the ECHL, however, teams are responsible for the recruitment and the remuneration of a significant number of the players.
But there are different levels of looseness. The Montreal Canadiens, for example, have been affiliated with the Brampton Beast for the last number of years, but supplied only a handful of contracted players to the Beast. By comparison, Toronto’s official player commitment to the Growlers is expected to be in double figures — 10 to 12 players — and look for the Maple Leafs to be at least somewhat involved in the identification of other players on the Newfoundland roster.
Coupled with the Maple Leafs being responsible for the Growlers’ coaching staff (the head coaching search has apparently been narrowed down to a few candidates, by the way) and training staff, and you will have what might be the most substantial involvement by any NHL organization at the ECHL level.
Getting back to the Maple Leafs’ player commitment: it will also be financially beneficial as the Growlers look to sign their own free agents.
That’s because, unlike the AHL, there is a salary cap in the ECHL. Last season, that cap was US$12,800 per week — for the entire 20-man roster. That’s an average of $640 per week, per player. So even accounting for the fact the Growlers will be responsible for paying for players’ furnished accommodations, it’s pretty obvious nobody is getting rich playing in the ECHL.
But when the Leafs/Marlies assign a player to the Growlers he will be paid (by Toronto) on the basis of his NHL or AHL contract.
For example, the Maple Leafs sent goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo to what will soon be their former ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears, for a couple of games last season. While in Orlando, Kaskisuo was paid under the AHL portion of his entry-level deal, which called for $70,000 annually — or about $2,700 per week, based on a six-month hockey season. However, under ECHL rules that apply to assigned affiliated players, the salary-cap charge to the Solar Bears was only $525 per week.
And so it will be with the dozen or so players Toronto will send to the Growlers. They’ll all be paid by the Maple Leafs and much more than the ECHL average, but the cap charge for each will be just $525 per week. That will allow the Growlers to offer more than the league median salary to the players they’ll need to fill out the roster.
And all this means one more thing: when it comes to roster management, the members of Growlers’ accounting department will be just as important as those involved with hockey operations.
Edited to clarify that the Toronto Maple Leafs organization pays salaraies of players who will be assigned to the Growlers