The Indy Fuel are getting ready for their third 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 began in early October, and the Fuel open the 2016-17 season Oct. 14 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum against Cincinnati.
Playoff format: The ECHL returned to a four-division format, with the top four teams in each division qualifying for the postseason. The 16-team playoff will be played within each division for the first two rounds, then the division champions will play in the Conference Finals, with the two conference champs playing in the Kelly Cup Finals. As in the past, all rounds are best-of-7.
New alignment: The Evansville IceMen went into suspension this offseason, and so the ECHL will operate with 27 teams this season. Other than Evansville, the league has exactly the same teams in the same markets.
New rule: Teams may no longer call timeout after icing the puck, which eliminates one way coaches can get rest for their forwards.
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 27 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. Much of the Fuel’s schedule will be against local teams Cincinnati, Quad City and Fort Wayne.
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 $12,600 per week, which averages out to $630/week per player on the active roster (the league also has a salary floor of $9,500 per week). Rosters are limited to 20 players on the active roster and two players on reserve (with one additional active player, and $445/week additional salary cap space, allotted for the first month of the season). The league minimum salary is $445/week for rookies and $500/week for all other players. The league also has a rookie salary cap of $530/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. Indy has Zach Miskovic, Jonathan Carlsson and Drew Schiestel as its veterans this season.
- 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: The Fuel have, so far, received four players from the Blackhawks/IceHogs organization last season. Jake Hildebrand, Eric Levine, Nick Mattson and Jonathan Carlsson are all under contract to Rockford. Usually, ECHL teams have between 3-8 players assigned by their affiliate. All but one team – Fort Wayne – have NHL/AHL affiliates this year. Fort Wayne will operate as an independent. .
- 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 parent organization – in Indy’s case, the Blackhawks. The Fuel are entitled to a $500 payment from that NHL or AHL team if a player is loaned to an NHL or AHL team. 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 in 2014-15, and was signed to an AHL deal by Rockford in the offseason, and played nearly the entire 2015-16 season in the AHL. 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 league: Has 27 teams spread from Florida to Alaska. The Fuel compete in the Western Conference’s Midwest Division. This year, teams will officially only have one NHL affiliation, although a few have informal working agreements with multiple NHL teams.
- New affiliations: Alaska (St. Louis -> Vancouver), Colorado (independent -> Colorado), Fort Wayne (Colorado -> Independent), Kalamazoo (Columbus -> Tampa Bay), Wichita (independent -> Ottawa). As of now, four NHL teams do not have official affiliates. The Columbus Blue Jackets often assign players to Cincinnati, the New Jersey Devils have a working agreement with Adirondack, the St. Louis Blues with Missouri and the Florida Panthers are also unaffiliated.
The ECHL (NHL affiliates in parentheses)
- Central Division: Fort Wayne Komets (inedpeendent), Indy Fuel (Chicago), Kalamazoo Wings (Tampa Bay), Quad City Mallards (Minnesota), Toledo Walleye (Detroit), Tulsa Oilers (Winnipeg), Wichita Thunder (Ottawa)
- Mountain Division: Alaska Aces (Vancouver), Allen Americans (San Jose), Colorado Eagles (Colorado), Idaho Steelheads (Dallas), Missouri Mavericks (NY Islanders), Rapid City Rush (Arizona), Utah Grizzlies (Anaheim)
- North Division: Adirondack Thunder (Calgary), Brampton Beast (Montreal), Elmira Jackals (Buffalo), Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles), Reading Royals (Philadelphia), Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh)
- South Division: Atlanta Gladiators (Boston), Cincinnati Cyclones (Nashville), Florida Everblades (Carolina), Greenville Swamp Rabbits (NY Rangers), Norfolk Admirals (Edmonton), Orlando Solar Bears (Toronto), South Carolina Stingrays (Washington)
Enjoy the season!