While everyone else in the ECHL may be panicking today, the Fort Wayne Komets hope the resolution of the National Hockey League lockout is perfect timing.
So far this season, the lockout has super-sized the ECHL with five or six regular American Hockey League players on almost every team. Now, maybe, the ECHL will play like a more representative Class AA minor league when the NHL calls up players from the AHL, and the AHL recalls those players from the ECHL.
Because the Komets have only one AHL affiliate, they may be better prepared for what comes next than a lot of ECHL teams. Fort Wayne hopes to lose fewer players to the AHL this week than North Division foes Kalamazoo, Evansville, Cincinnati and Toledo which all have two AHL affiliates. They've had the advantage through the first half of the season with extra AHL players, but the Komets are hoping that changes, especially since they are about to start a string of 11-straight games against division rivals on Wednesday.
Other than those expectations, there are few clues what will happen next.
``Things will start happening (today), and I think this could be a week-long process,'' Komets General Manager David Franke said before Sunday's game. ``It could even be a two- or three-week process. I know the NHL teams are meeting now and planning out their training camps. We'll just have to see what happens. Some teams in this league could lose six or seven players, but no one knows anything for sure yet.''
Even the players don't know anything, especially the Anaheim- and Norfolk-affiliated players in Fort Wayne. Anaheim coach and former Komet player and coach Bruce Boudreau didn't get home from a scouting trip until late last night, and he only knows that he'll be in meetings all day. Until the Ducks know something, their American Hockey League farm team in Norfolk won't know anything, and the Admirals can't tell the Komets anything.
Though they've had plenty of time for planning, NHL teams will spend this morning designing their training camp rosters and then the afternoon notifying players. They'll need some extra players for training camp, but maybe not nearly as many as a regular training camp, and they may keep more players than usual because there will be a ton of injuries during the first month of the season.
``I think there will be a lot of pulled groins and hamstrings with only one week to prepare for a three- four-game a week season,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``I think there will be a lot of injuries.''
It's possible Anaheim will keep more players, too, because the Ducks' farm team is across the country in Norfolk, especially since NHL teams will likely play only conference opponents. Basically, the NHL teams are going to play the type of schedule the Komets are going through now with nine games in 14 days. That's the only way to complete a 48- or 50-game schedule in the next three months.
Though they will likely lose Corey Elkins, Nick Schaus and possibly Ryan Hegarty to Norfolk recalls, the Komets might have some other long-term advantages. That could leave Garrett Klotz, Luca Caputi (injured), Marco Cousineau and Kenny Reiter in Fort Wayne. Cousineau (Ducks) and Reiter (New York Islanders) are considered to be the fifth goaltenders in their organizations, and may remain in Fort Wayne. Even if one goes up, the Komets still have Charlie Effinger.
The Komets are also going to benefit from playing so many young defensemen in the first half. Daniel Maggio might get an AHL tryout, but the rest of the core will remain. After playing against so many talented forwards in the first half, they could blossom in the second half and are already playing better.
Should Fort Wayne need players, it's likely the Komets would call for help from Dayton of the Federal Hockey League or Pensacola of the Southern Professional Hockey League. That means players like Brayden Metz, Patrick Knowlton and Jeremy Gates who performed well in the Komets' training camp could get a call from Fort Wayne, maybe even in time for Wednesday's game in Evansville.
Maybe what the NHL resolution really means is that ECHL teams may try to reload by signing the best college players at the end of the NCAA schedule. There's a gap there the Komets may be ready to take advantage of.