Nine months after the abrupt end to the 2019-20 season, the ECHL is scheduled to kick off its 2020-21 season this week. 13 teams are scheduled to play the first leg of a split schedule, including Nashville’s affiliate, the Florida Everblades.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a hot Florida team to a screeching halt. The Everblades finished second overall in the league with 92 points, scoring the fifth-most goals per game (3.66). The team, which was sure to contend for a championship, is looking to replicate their previous season success in what will be an unusual year.
2020-21 Season Start
The Double-A league is taking an interesting approach to a season where storylines will be dominated by COVID-19. Teams initially had until November 30 to opt out of this campaign, and of the 15 teams scheduled to compete, 13 will begin a 72-game season this week. The Fort Wayne Komets (VGK) and Toledo Walleye (DET) will begin their seasons in February, depending on local COVID-19 policies at that time.
The league’s initial plan outlined a 62-game season beginning in January for teams that forgo the first half of the split schedule. However, it’s unclear how many games Fort Wayne and Toledo will play if they do hit the ice in February.
The regular season is scheduled to conclude on June 6.
Teams on Hiatus
The ECHL — more so than the AHL and NHL — relies on gate revenue to fund its teams. As a result, 11 teams have decided to forgo the 2020-21 season due to the likelihood they cannot welcome fans back or, at the very least, not enough fans. Those teams are the Adirondack Thunder (NJD), Atlanta Gladiators (BOS), Brampton Beast (OTT), Cincinnati Cyclones (BUF), Idaho Steelheads (DAL), Kalamazoo Wings (VAN), Maine Mariners (NYR), Newfoundland Growlers (TOR), Norfolk Admirals, Reading Royals (PHI) and the Worcester Railers (NYI).
Due to the uncertainty of the AHL season, the ECHL players union was hesitant to allow NHL clubs to stack their rosters — especially with 15 teams’ worth of ECHL players now free agents.
After negotiations between leagues and player unions, there is an agreed upon limit of eight NHL-and AHL-contracted players per ECHL team during the regular season in order to ensure a level of job security for ECHL-contracted players.— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) December 8, 2020
Here's the current loan situation per team. pic.twitter.com/grAVO3wbip
Negotiations led to the league settling on a maximum of eight NHL or AHL contracts per roster. To my understanding, Arvin Atwal, Michael Huntebrinker, and Spenser Young have all signed ECHL contracts for the season and do not count against this limit.
Up front, Florida looks to carry over their high-octane offense, with last year’s leading scorer Blake Winiecki (50 points) plus Michael Huntebrinker (44), John McCarron (40), Levko Koper (33), and Joe Pendenza (30).
Earlier this week, Nashville assigned Lukas Craggs, Tanner Jeannot, Patrick Harper, Cole Smith, and Josh Wilkins to Florida. Craggs was dominant in his 12-game stint with Florida last season, posting 16.79 individual shot attempts per 60 minutes of even-strength play. Jeannot and Wilkins are AHL-level players, although the latter will be looking to boost his confidence after a difficult rookie season in Milwaukee. Finally, Patrick Harper and Cole Smith — both fresh off signing entry-level contracts — have the offensive punch to be effective at the ECHL level right away. I would expect most of these reinforcements to return to Milwaukee should the AHL season get underway in 2021.
Florida also added proven ECHL scorers Myles Powell (1.05 PPG last year), Alex Kile (0.89), Tommy Marchin (0.98), and Cameron Hebig (0.85). Hugo Roy — who’s signed to an AHL contract by Milwaukee — has not been assigned to Florida and neither has Nashville’s Zach Magwood, who has likely proven he’s graduated from the ECHL with 47 points in 51 games and a 55.26% Corsi rating last season.
|Lukas Craggs [NHL]||Tanner Jeannot [NHL]||Zach Magwood [NHL]|
|Michael Huntebrinker [AHL]||Patrick Harper [NHL]||Hugo Roy [AHL]|
|Blake Winiecki [ECHL]||Cole Smith [NHL]||Justin Auger|
|John McCarron [ECHL]||Josh Wilkins [NHL]||Hunter Garlent|
|Levko Koper [ECHL]||Cameron Hebig [ECHL]||Cam Maclise|
|Joe Pendenza [ECHL]||Alex Kile [ECHL]||Alex Tonge|
|Michael Neville [ECHL]||Tommy Marchin [ECHL]||Jack Nevins|
|Kyle Neuber [ECHL]||Myles Powell [ECHL]|
The blueline will be headlined by Logan Roe, who finished seventh among all ECHL defenders in scoring last season (38), and Arvin Atwal, the physical defender who appeared in 14 games for Milwaukee last season and recorded a 53.79% Corsi rating in ten games tracked in Florida. Returnees also include Benjamin Masella, Cody Sol, and Michael Downing.
The team is losing Patrick McCarron but has welcomed in former St. Lawrence standout, Nolan Gluchowski and Stefan LeBlanc who skated in 32 AHL games for Utica last year. Milwaukee signee Spenser Young has also joined the team after finishing his career at Providence College.
As of Tuesday, Nashville has not assigned Brandon Fortunato to the Everblades despite his appearing in 48 games for them last season. That designation could come later (although Florida’s blue line is crowded), but it’s an interesting decision for the defender who struggled defensively at times last year despite a 53.17% Corsi rating.
|Arvin Atwal [AHL]||Spenser Young [AHL]||Brandon Fortunato [NHL]|
|Logan Roe [ECHL]||Nolan Gluchowski [ECHL]||Patrick McCarron|
|Ben Masella [ECHL]||Stefan LeBlanc [ECHL]||Adam Smith|
|Cody Sol [ECHL]||Jeremy Dehner|
|Michael Downing [ECHL]||Nicholas Schaus|
|Cole MacDonald [ECHL]||Aaron Harstad|
The Everblades made an interesting decision in net for this season, but will once again be led by a veteran presence. 26-year old Cam Johnson — who largely served as a backup last season — will return after a 2019-20 campaign that saw him save 15.85 goals above average (GSAA).
While last year’s starter, Ken Appleby (18.15 GSAA) wasn’t retained, recent Nashville signee Devin Cooley will make his professional debut as the organization looks to see what they have in the Denver alumnus.
Johnson is signed to an ECHL contract for this season, while Cooley begins his two-year entry-level contract.
|Cam Johnson [ECHL]||Devin Cooley [NHL]||Ken Appleby|
With their current roster construction and lay of the land, Florida has to feel like they’re in the driver seat to go on a championship run, but a wild 2020-21 season could deliver anything.
All but two of Florida’s division opponents (Norfolk and Atlanta) are scheduled to play, but the South Carolina Stingrays (WSH) and a likely-improved Orlando Solar Bears (TBL) will be Florida’s biggest tests this season.
Elsewhere around the league, the Allen Americans (MIN) look to pose the biggest threat to the Everblades’ title chances.