While almost every other ECHL team is wondering how a potential National Hockey League lockout will affect them, the Fort Wayne Komets don't have to worry too much about that.
The Komets could have tried for American Hockey League affiliations, which would have provided groups of players for next season but likely not until sometime during training camp. That's a lot of hoping that someone good comes along, especially with NHL labor uncertainty making everything unpredictable. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday the players will be locked out if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't signed by Sept. 15.
Though almost every other ECHL team is expected to rely on affiliations with NHL and AHL teams to fill their rosters, the Komets decided to go for more stability, signing a roster of free agents they could have more control over. That continued Thursday with the signings of forwards Stephon Thorne and Jean-Philipp Chabot and announcing that goaltender Kenny Reiter is likely to be assigned to the team by Bridgeport of the AHL. Reiter is the younger brother of former Komet goaltender Kevin Reiter.
Komets General Manager David Franke would rather go with players he knows who have a proven histories of production over unknown rookies. With the talent available, he decided there was no reason to wait on what might come out of AHL camps.
``We want to make sure we know who the players are who are going to play here, and we don't want to be at the last second with here's a guy, here's a guy and here's a guy,'' Franke said. ``You know darn well during the course of the year there's going to be a lot of movement from the ECHL to the AHL if players get hurt.''
Many ECHL teams think they know whom they are getting for their initial rosters, but they can't be sure until sometime after training camp starts Sept. 28. That's not where the Komets wanted to be skating into their first ECHL season, leaving their ability to compete up to someone else to decide which players they are going to get.
If the NHL starts the season with labor unrest, that means players on NHL and AHL two-way contracts (they get paid different rates for which league they play in) will start in the AHL. Players on AHL and ECHL two-way contracts will start in the ECHL, and likely even more younger players will be shoved down the minor league system.
Though the Komets will not be affiliated, they could still benefit if the NHL and AHL teams send down more players than their ECHL affiliates can handle. That happened several times in the past during NHL labor stoppages.
``If we get some calls on players who are affiliated even if we aren't affiliated, we'll still be able to react to it because right now we don't have a lot of commitments to the AHL teams,'' Franke said.
The Komets currently have 10 forwards, four defensemen and two goaltenders on their preseason roster. They continue to talk with defenseman Frankie DeAngelis and some more defensemen, Franke said. The Komets are also going to have players in camp from Dayton of the Federal Hockey League and former Komets assistant Gary Graham's team in Pensacola of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
``I think what we'll have here is a lot of competition in training camp for jobs,'' Franke said. ``That's a good thing. We're already very competitive up front, and we'll make sure by the time we're going into camp that we'll be competitive on the defensive end, too.''