( Mirco Mueller signs his contract, photo San Jose Sharks)
As we enter the second half of the hockey season and the injuries to the big clubs mount, the trickle down effect begins. Minor League affiliates start sending up players to fill the roster and the affiliates of the minor leagues in turn are called upon to replenish the lines. In the ECHL, change and flux are something a fan has to expect, you can never become too attached. While we want all players to make it to the show, sometimes it is bittersweet. That top scorer for your ECHL team won’t be there that long, he’ll get the Call-Up. He may be back and you secretly hope he will, but in your heart you hope he stays up and gets one step closer to Living the Dream.
Tracking all the transactions that take place with a minor league team is a daily game of catch-up and understanding all the lingo that goes along with player movement can be a bit tricky. Here is a sample conversation you could walk into:
“Hey, did you hear, Joe Bucky got the call-up to Almost Big Club”
“Oh that is great for him! Did he get a PTO with them?”
“Ya, I think so, I’m hoping it will turn into a SPC for him later though.”
If you want to follow the minor leagues and not feel lost when your friends get together to talk hockey shop, becoming familiar with the transaction sheets and the basics of player contracts will make you the life of the party.
Let’s start with a few essential links, these are the pages I visit everyday (yes, I do!) and new transactions are always listed by 4:30pm EST
The AHL Transactions page
The ECHL Transactions page
Here is a what they look like and these will be helpful as we work through the different terms as a reference.
If you want to know all the ins and outs of player contracts and enjoy reading legal-eze, you will have hours of fun pouring through the NHLPA CBA. This was what was the sticking point in contract negotiations last year and why half the season was missed.
I am really happy the players have this meaty document that is conveniently available as a PDF, but let’s get down to the essence. Litter Box Cats has a cut to the bone detail of the Waiver process for the NHL, which I found very useful for understanding why a team might put a player like now former Minnesota Wild Zenon Konopka on waivers and how he then ended up with the Buffalo Sabres.
The Basic Contracts are as follows:
ATO- this is an Amateur Try-Out agreement, and is for players who are coming in from college and have never played at the professional level. These type of contracts are common at the end of the season as many players try to break in to the pro leagues after the college or junior season is over. The ECHL, AHL and NHL all use ATOs.
PTO-this is a Professional Try-Out agreement and is only found in the AHL, it is very common for a player at the ECHL level to get a PTO with the AHL affiliate. There is a limit to the number of games played at 25 and a player can only sign two PTOs per season.
SPC- this is a Standard Player Contract and is a contract with either the AHL or ECHL team
Many players have what is called a two-way contract, which means that if for instance they have an ECHL/AHL contract then when they play for the ECHL club they receive ECHL salary, when they play up at the AHL, they receive the AHL salary. This also works between the AHL/NHL.
If a player has a one-way contract, it means that no matter what league they play at, they receive the same salary, pretty straightforward.
When wading through the Daily Transactions from the ECHL and AHL, there are several terms that might need sorting out.
Recall- this means a player has a contract with the AHL team and after playing for the ECHL affiliate, is brought back up to play at the higher level.
On Loan- generally this is seen when an ECHL player is brought up to an AHL team and is allowed to play for a limited amount of games while still under contract with his “home” team. It can also work where an AHL contracted player is loaned to the lower league affiliate.
Reserve- a player on reserve sits out of the game and may be in effect for just one game or for several. A coach at the ECHL level can only have a limited number of players on the active roster so a coach generally will try to keep a couple players on reserve in case of injury to other players. Sometimes a player on reserve has a minor injury that they are rehabbing.
21-day IR- twenty one day injured reserve, this can be done retroactively but once a player is put on the 21 day IR they cannot be brought back into the lineup until the time has expired. This allows a coach to bring in another player without going over their player allotment.
Suspended by team- this one looks scary, but when it is found on the “Transactions” page and not the “Fines and Suspensions” page it means the player has broken their contract with their ECHL team in order to pursue another opportunity. It usually means they have signed with an overseas league, or moved to a different minor league i.e. CHL, SPHL.
Emergency backup goaltenders (EBUGs) are frequently seen at the ECHL level. A team is required to carry two goaltenders into a game but if the AHL affiliate needs one of the goaltenders, the lower team is left in a bit of a scramble. Emergency backup goaltenders can come in for 1 game or for a series and they are usually a local guy who may have played at an elite level when they were younger. They may help the team during a morning skate and will be there for warm-ups but won’t enter the game unless the starting goaltender is injured during the course of the game.
A good background on EBUGs can be found in a New York Times article “Emergency Backups to the Stars” by Matt Caputo.
Some backups have a rather colorful life, such as Las Vegas based Backup Goaltender Jay White, who is also a Neil Diamond impersonator. You can read up on him in Greg Wyshynski’s Puck Daddy piece.
Hopefully, after this brief rundown, the world of Hockey Transactions and contracts is a less scary place and the following will now make a whole lot more sense:
After coming over from a trade with the Idaho Steelheads, San Francisco points-leader Tyler Gron was called up to the Worcester Sharks and entered into a two way ECHL/AHL contract. Yanni Gourde has been loaned to the Worcester Sharks from the Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL) and has signed a PTO. San Francisco Bulls Forward Mark Lee has been suspended by the team and signed a tryout with the Schwenninger Wild Wings of the German Elite League.
Got all that! Time to Wow your friends.