ECHL free-agency opened just a few days ago and preparations are well underway to make the upcoming 2021-22 season the best and most exciting in Newfoundland Growlers team history.
Admittedly, it’s been a while since we have been in full “offseason mode”, so here are three things to keep in mind as the official ECHL offseason gets underway.
1. Don’t panic about our roster
If you look around at other ECHL twitter accounts this week, you will surely notice droves of excited fans cheering on their team’s newest signings for the upcoming season.
And you, Growlers Nation, our loyal faithful, are right to ask, “Well, where are the Growlers signings?!”
Don’t worry. We’re not falling behind our counterparts around the league. This is just the way the Growlers are built.
Look back at the early days of the Growlers’ tenure in the ECHL and how the first-ever opening-night roster was built.
Heading into the team’s first-ever training camp, the Growlers had just eight players signed to ECHL contracts just days before camp, and the end result of the season speaks volumes to the recruitment process and the proof that it works in terms of creating a competitive roster.
Even our Kelly Cup-winning goaltender Michael Garteig signed his contract less than a week before training camp began. Let’s trust the process.
Don’t get me wrong, we can’t wait for you to see who we’ve signed to ECHL contracts for this upcoming season. Just remember, it’s early in the offseason and we have a long way to go before training camp opens.
2. Keep an eye on the Marlies signings
The Growlers are once again affiliated with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the AHL’s Toronto Marlies for the 2021-22 season.
With that in mind, Growlers fans who are looking to predict the upcoming 2021-22 opening night roster may wish to look at the signings of the Toronto Marlies over the course of the next few weeks.
No, we don’t have any inside information of what may be coming down the pipe from Toronto just yet, but if history is any indication, some of the Marlies’ early signings could very well be sporting black, white, and gold on Opening Night.
Remember those eight ECHL signings that formed the core of that inaugural training camp? They were matched by a large group of 11 players reassigned from the Marlies and Maple Leafs.
Historically, the earliest Marlies signings of the offseason have been mostly Growlers signings.
For example, the Marlies announced the contracts of Scott Pooley, Derian Plouffe, Josh Kestner, Matt Bradley, and Brady Ferguson on the same day in the early offseason on June 18, 2018. All were in the Growlers’ opening night lineup and all were Kelly Cup champions by season’s end.
Of course, it is also important to use proper judgment and not to jump to conclusions with every early Marlies signing.
The Maple Leafs and Marlies are focused on building their own teams in addition to the Growlers roster, so let’s try not to jump to conclusions. For example, the Marlies signed their captain Rich Clune to a new AHL deal just a few days ago. Does that mean he might be a Growler because he was signed early? Absolutely not.
The Marlies and Maple Leafs’ hockey operations staff members are hard at work putting the building blocks in place for a successful season from top to bottom throughout the organization and there’s nothing wrong with taking a peek at the pipeline and making educated guesses on who we might see in Newfoundland.
3. Different Doesn’t Mean Bad
The dawn of a new season also brings forward a lot of changes, both internally and across the league.
Taking the prolonged offseason, the Maple Leafs and Marlies development plans and the Covid pandemic into account, don’t be surprised to see several new faces in the Growlers lineup this season.
As a part of the Maple Leafs family, the Growlers play a key role in developing future Marlies and Maple Leafs and an important part of the development of these players is seeing them graduate to the higher ranks and bringing in a new crop of talented youngsters to develop.
As a fan, we know it stings when your favourite player may only be in Newfoundland for a season or two. But the Maple Leafs’ commitment to player development means they will be looking to bring in another high-quality player to fill the role.
It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to the likes of Kristians Rubins and Hudson Elynuik among others as they graduated to become full-time Marlies this past season.
But their absence paved the way for the emergence of the next crop of Growlers superstars, like Justin Brazeau, Colt Conrad, and Riley Woods.
Throw a two-year-long offseason in the mix, and it’s not crazy to think that the Growlers roster could look very different this season as players developed their games elsewhere in 2020-21.
Even the Growlers’ division is going to look a whole lot different this season.
The hottest rivalry in the North Division for the last two seasons is no more, as the Brampton Beast folded amidst the global pandemic, but the North Division action looks to heat up in a big way this season with the addition of a new Canadian team, the Trois-Rivieres Lions.
The Growlers will face the Lions 16 times this season, so fans, that animosity that has built up toward Brampton over the last two seasons, you may now apply the same vitriol toward Trois-Rivieres.
But make sure you reserve some contempt for the Adirondack Thunder, because we will be seeing a lot more of them this season.
In the first two seasons combined, the Thunder and the Growlers met for 18 regular-season contests. In the upcoming 2021-22 ECHL season alone, the Growlers will nearly match that number, as this division rivalry heats up in a big way with 15 games against the Thunder, making them Public Enemy No. 2 for Growler fans.
All of these changes can certainly make the months ahead quite tumultuous as the Growlers seek their second Kelly Cup title, but with a partnership with a team as committed to development at all levels at the Maple Leafs as partners, there is no reason to feel anything other than excitement toward the upcoming season.