Dec 7: Official now, the ECHL has announced that the three teams have elected to suspend play for the 2020-21 season. All three are expected back for the 2021-22 season, but players signed to ECHL contracts with the clubs are now free agents.
Dec 6: With eight ECHL teams already having suspended operations due to COVID-19 for the 2020-21 season, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek reports that three more teams have announced they will not play next season, including the Cincinnati Cyclones (Buffalo Sabres affiliate), Idaho Steelheads (Dallas Stars) and the Kalamazoo Wings (Vancouver Canucks).
That makes it 11 out of 26 teams, almost half the league that has bowed out due to the pandemic. Marek also adds that two other teams, the Fort Wayne Komets (Vegas Golden Knights) and the Toledo Walleye (Detroit Red Wings), have not decided their status yet, meaning it could be half the league if both teams suspend their operations. Much of that concern stems from teams’ financial success as much of their financial gains comes from ticket sales, which is a major problem as many cities are not allowing fans to attend sporting events.
The other eight ECHL teams that backed out earlier this year were the Worcester Railers (New York Islanders), Maine Mariners (New York Rangers), Reading Royals (Philadelphia Flyers), Newfoundland Growlers (Toronto Maple Leafs), Adirondack Thunder (New Jersey Devils), Brampton Beast (Ottawa Senators), Atlanta Gladiators (Boston Bruins) and the Norfolk Admirals (no affiliation).
While the ECHL is the “AA” version of hockey teams, it’s a major hit to NHL teams who have used the league as a way to develop prospects who might not be ready for AHL action yet and is especially beneficial to goaltenders who need seasoning out of junior leagues, such as Buffalo’s Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. While top prospects are likely to find some work, other young players could have a much more challenging time finding a team they can play for this upcoming season, which will definitely hurt their development.