An ECHL primer

The Indy Fuel are getting ready for their second season in the ECHL. Of course, many of our most loyal readers know the league well, but here’s a primer on the league and a roundup of some of the offseason changes that fans might notice.

Training camps begin Oct. 2, with the Fuel playing their first preseason game Oct. 7, and Opening Night at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum on Oct. 16 against Toledo.

What’s new? 

Overtime: The ECHL will see some changes to its overtime rule this year – mirroring the National Hockey League.

First off, the 5-minute sudden death overtime will be played 3-on-3, with the hope of seeing more games end in overtime. Last year, OT was played at 4-on-4. If teams remain tied, the game will go to a shootout, but the penalty shot contest will be three rounds (as has been used in the NHL for a decade), rather than five, as it was last year in the ECHL. As usual, if teams remain tied after three rounds, extra shooters will go until the game is decided.

Playoff format: The ECHL is going back to a six-division format, which means the top eight teams from each conference will qualify for the playoffs, with the three division winners gathering the top three seeds. The Fuel will compete in the Western Conference this year. Last year, the top four teams in each of the four divisions qualified for the playoffs.

New teams: The league will feature the same number of teams as last season, but American Hockey League teams all moved into the ECHL’s three California cities, and those three teams swapped places with their AHL brethren. So welcome the Adirondack Thunder in Glens Falls, NY (formerly the Stockton Thunder), the Norfolk Admirals (formerly the Bakersfield Condors) and the Manchester Monarchs (formerly the Ontario Reign) to the ECHL. They will all compete in the Eastern Conference. Norfolk is a former ECHL city, while Manchester and Adirondack give the league a presence in the Northeast – a new area for the ECHL. In addition, the Gwinnett Gladiators changed their name to the Atlanta Gladiators, and the Greenville Road Warriors changed their name to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.

About the league

History: The ECHL began in 1988 as a four-team league primarily centered in Virginia and western Pennsylvania, as the East Coast Hockey League. It has since grown into being the premier “AA” hockey league, and one of two leagues officially affiliated with the NHL. The ECHL stretches from coast to coast and has 28 teams. After absorbing the remnants of the West Coast Hockey League in 2003, the league changed its name to the acronym ECHL. In 2014, it absorbed seven teams from the defunct Central Hockey League, which in turn had the old Western Professional Hockey League and a second iteration of the International Hockey Leagues in its DNA. The ECHL is the third-oldest pro hockey league in North America. The AHL dates back to 1936, and of course, the NHL to 1917.

The ECHL is one of two minor pro leagues affiliated with the NHL, and its players are represented by the Pro Hockey Players Association (which also represents the other affiliated league, the AHL).

Schedule: The ECHL’s teams play a 72-game schedule – 36 home, 36 away. It is heavily centered around divisional and geographic play – the Fuel will play all of their divisional rivals – Cincinnati, Evansville, Fort Wayne and Quad City – at least 10 times each this year.

Playoffs: The top eight teams from each conference advance to the playoffs. All four rounds are best-of-seven series, much like the NHL playoffs. The three division winners are the top three seeds in each conference’s eight-team playoff, and the Kelly Cup Finals are contested between the two conference playoff champions. Last season, the Allen Americans defeated the South Carolina Stingrays in seven games in the championship series.

Rosters: Teams are stocked in two ways: Players signed to an ECHL contract, and players assigned from the team’s NHL and AHL affiliates.

  • Salary cap: The ECHL has a salary cap of $12,400 per week, which averages out to $620/week per player on the active roster (the league also has a salary floor of $9,300 per week). Rosters are limited to 20 players on the active roster and two players on reserve (with one additional active player, and $430/week additional salary cap space, allotted for the first month of the season). The league minimum salary is $430/week for rookies and $480/week for all other players. The league also has a rookie salary cap of $520/week. Played assigned by NHL/AHL teams count $525/week toward the salary cap.
  • Rookies are players who have played fewer than 25 professional games at the start of the year. The Fuel have nine rookies on the roster heading into training camp. Veterans are players with at least 260 professional games played, and each team may have no more than four veterans. The Fuel has the full allotment this year – forwards Garett Bembridge and Josh Brittain, and defensemen Kevin Quick and Dave Pszenyczny.
  • Who can dress: A team may dress 16 skaters and two goaltenders for each game, meaning teams usually dress three forward lines, a 10th forward, and three defense pairings.
  • Affiliate relations: As noted, the Fuel received six players from the Blackhawks/IceHogs organization last season. Dillon Fournier, Mathieu Brisebois and Mac Carruth were under contract to the Blackhawks, and Justin Holl, Kirill Gotovets and Jamie Wise under contract to Rockford. In addition, Nick Jones and Vincent Arseneau were assigned to the Fuel from other AHL teams. Usually, the team had three or four affiliated players on the roster at any given time, and all eight were called up to the AHL at some point during the year. More than 500 ECHL players have gone on to play in the NHL.
  • ECHL contracts: Most of the Fuel’s roster – as is that of most ECHL teams – is made up of players signed to ECHL contracts, who can be loaned to any one of the 30 AHL or NHL teams, and are not necessarily tied to the Blackhawks organization (although the Fuel are entitled to a $500 payment from that NHL or AHL team if that happens). However, players who play well in Indy can impress AHL and NHL teams and sign contracts in those leagues. Chris DeSousa came to the Fuel on an ECHL contract last year, and was signed to an AHL deal by Rockford in the offseason. Given nearly all AHL players are under contract to – and prospects for – their parent clubs, the ECHL is a haven for top free agents and top veteran players. The Fuel have one player – Kevin Quick – who has NHL game experience. Last year, captain Mike Duco had played in the NHL.

Teams

  • The league: Now has 28 teams spread among six divisions. Several have new NHL affiliations. The Fuel compete in the Western Conference’s Midwest Division. This year, teams will only have one NHL affiliation. Last season, the league had several dual-affiliates and several independent teams.
  • New affiliations:  Missouri (independent -> NYI), Tulsa (independent -> Winnipeg), Alaska (St. Louis/Minnesota -> TBA), Colorado (Calgary -> TBA), Rapid City (independent -> Arizona), Brampton (independent -> Montreal), Adirondack (NYI/Winnipeg -> Calgary) and Atlanta (Arizona -> Boston). In addition, former dual affiliates Cincinnati (dropped Florida), Florida (dropped Tampa Bay), South Carolina (dropped Boston) and Wheeling (dropped Montreal) dropped one of their NHL parents. As of now, five NHL teams do not have ECHL affiliates – the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks. Three ECHL teams have yet to announce affiliations for the upcoming season.

The ECHL (NHL affiliates in parentheses)
Western Conference

  • Midwest Division: Cincinnati Cyclones (Nashville), Evansville IceMen (Ottawa), Fort Wayne Komets (Colorado), Indy Fuel (Chicago), Quad City Mallards (Minnesota)
  • Central Division: Allen Americans (San Jose), Missouri Mavericks (NY Islanders), Tulsa Oilers (Winnipeg), Wichita Thunder (independent/TBA)
  • West Division: Alaska Aces (TBA), Colorado Eagles (TBA), Idaho Steelheads (Dallas), Rapid City Rush (Arizona), Utah Grizzlies (Anaheim)

Eastern Conference

  • North Division: Brampton Beast (Montreal), Kalamazoo Wings (Columbus), Toledo Walleye (Detroit), Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh)
  • East Division: Adirondack Thunder (Calgary), Elmira Jackals (Buffalo), Norfolk Admirals (Edmonton), Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles), Reading Royals (Philadelphia)
  • South Division: Atlanta Gladiators (Boston), Florida Everblades (Carolina), Greenville Swamp Rabbits (NY Rangers), Orlando Solar Bears (Toronto), South Carolina Stingrays (Washington)