No one likes to see former NHL players and prospects reduced to signing ECHL contracts to continue their pro hockey careers, but as the off-season wears on, opportunities are drying up and more players are being forced to make the difficult drop-off from a two-way big league contract to a one-way “AA” contract. Young goaltender Adam Carlson and veteran forward Pierre-Cedric Labrie are the latest names to endure this fate, as each of their new teams announced one-year contracts with the players today.
Carlson, 24, is no stranger to the ECHL. In fact, when he joins the Rapid City Rush, it will be his fourth different team in the league in a calendar year. Carlson suited up for the South Carolina Stingrays, Indy Fuel, and Kansas City Mavericks last season, while playing on a two-way contract with the Washington Capitals. While he did get into six games with the Caps’ AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, his pedestrian numbers in a small sample size weren’t eniugh to secure an AHL contract this off-season. A former star in the NAHL and a one-year standout at Mercyhurst University, Carlson was a well-regarded prospect when he signed with Washington in 2016. He was even fourth in the organization’s depth chart for a time behind Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, and Vitek Vanecek. However, when the Capitals did not qualify him this off-season, it was clear Carlson was not going to be in the NHL any time soon. Still young and developing, Carlson’s pro dreams are not quite dead but he has his work cut out for him to get back into NHL consideration.
Labrie is in a very different situation. The 31-year-old winger has already had a taste of the NHL and has played in over 670 pro games. Yet, in all that time, Labrie has never suited up in the ECHL. The veteran left wing was undrafted out of the QMJHL, but signed an entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks as soon as he left juniors. Since, Labrie has made a career for himself in the AHL, playing for seven different teams over 11 years, all while playing on a two-way NHL contract for all but two seasons. Labrie has 196 points over his AHL career, including a career-high 35 in 2011-12. That same year, he also made his NHL debut, skating in 14 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In three seasons in the Lightning organizations, Labrie played in 46 games with Tampa, contributing five points. So, when the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder announced that they had signed Labrie, it was big news for the team. Unlike most players on one-way ECHL contracts, Labrie has NHL time, years of AHL experience as a leader and producer, and has never before played at that level. Unfortunately, it seems the market simply never developed for the veteran forward, though it is surprising to see such a well-traveled pro (and Patrick Roy’s son-in-law) wind up at the AA level at 31 years old.