A few Orlando/Toronto items to unpack in this edition of the blog:
The first days of July every summer mark when NHL clubs go out and sign the highly-sought-after marquee names that are available.
Orlando’s affiliate in Toronto is no exception – the Maple Leafs made some additions to their lineup at the NHL levels, notably grabbing longtime San Jose Sharks mainstay Patrick Marleau and plucking Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Ron Hainsey from Pittsburgh.
Several former Solar Bears were also involved in NHL-level transactions since free agency opened on July 1.
Let’s review, shall we?
- Garret Sparks – The Maple Leafs needed to shore up depth in goal, so they brought back Sparks for two more years. It’s presumed that Sparks and Kasimir Kaskisuo will tag-team between the pipes this season for the Marlies.
- Darcy Kuemper – Kuemper was briefly assigned to Orlando during his sophomore pro season in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign before eventually making his NHL debut with the Wild after the work-stoppage had ended. Now, he’ll take his talents to Los Angeles, where he’ll back up Jonathan Quick next season after signing a one-year deal.
- Alex Gallant – Gallant’s time in Orlando was brief – the scrappy forward played only one game with the Solar Bears before he was dealt to the Utah Grizzlies during the 2014-15 season, but he inked his first NHL deal, a two-way contract with Tampa Bay, on July 1. My guess is he will be destined for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse, but if the stars are aligned, we could see another former Solar Bears player make their NHL debut in 2017-18.
- Mike Liambas – Liambas’ NHL debut with the Nashville Predators last season was celebrated by the Solar Bears faithful. On the second day of free agency, Liambas signed a one-year, two-way pact with Anaheim; he’ll likely spend the bulk of the upcoming season in San Diego with the Gulls as the team’s enforcer.
What’s interesting is that with the Maple Leafs’ numerous additions, the team is almost up against the 50-contract limit imposed to NHL teams after signing 2017 first-round pick Timothy Liljegren to an entry-level deal on Wednesday, putting Toronto at 49 contracts.
How does this pertain to the Solar Bears? Currently, the Maple Leafs have only four goaltenders under NHL contract for next season: Frederik Andersen, Curtis McElhinney, Kaskisuo and Sparks.
Barring any major transactions that the Maple Leafs orchestrate prior to the start of the season that will free up slots for NHL contracts, my guess is that the netminder in question will be under an AHL contract with the Marlies, not unlike when Rob Madore played for the Solar Bears two seasons ago, when Sparks and Antoine Bibeau were the two primary goalies playing for the Marlies. In the event of an injury or call-up, Madore was readily available for a recall to the AHL when needed.
The Maple Leafs’ Development Camp wrapped up Wednesday at the MasterCard Centre.
This year’s camp featured a new arrangement, as the camp was divided into two distinct groups: Team Clark, consisting of Toronto draft picks, while Team Sittler was comprised of free agent invitees. The final two days of camp featured scrimmages between the two squads.
Last summer, seven members of Toronto’s Development Camp roster would subsequently suit up for Orlando in 2016-17. With 57 players in total participating in this year’s camp, one has to wonder which of these young men will be bound for the City Beautiful for this coming season. In fact, two members of the 2016-17 Solar Bears – Mason Marchment and Jeff King – were on the Development Camp roster.
In terms of preliminary forecasting, one player who I could see playing part of next season with the Solar Bears is former Maple Leafs draft pick J.J. Piccinich.
He’s an interesting case, as he was drafted by Toronto when he had committed to playing college hockey at Boston University. However, Piccinich left the Terriers after his freshman season and has spent the last two years playing major junior for the OHL’s London Knights. Toronto still has exclusive NHL rights to him until next summer (when he would have graduated from BU had he stayed), so the Marlies signed him to a two-year AHL deal earlier this offseason.
He scored a pretty nifty goal for Team Clark in Tuesday’s scrimmage, which can be found below.
Solar Bears head coach Drake Berehowsky was among the personnel helping lead the camp along with Maple Leafs director of player development Scott Pellerin, and while the Leafs stuck to primarily interviewing their own personnel, I hope to have some comments from Drake in the next edition of the blog. For now, here’s Pellerin’s thoughts:
Elsewhere in the hockey world:
- Keep dreaming, guys. I want a Maserati, but it’s not happening.
— Florida Everblades (@FL_Everblades) July 11, 2017
- Orlando’s newest in-state rival announced their NHL affiliate last week. Jacksonville now joins Orlando as the second ECHL team in Florida with a Canadian affiliate.
- More affiliation news, as the Kalamazoo Wings announced Wednesday that they’ve reached an agreement with the Vancouver Canucks and Utica Comets.
- In terms of South Division news, the Stingrays announced the return of Patrick Gaul for the upcoming season on Wednesday. Gaul should be a familiar name for Solar Bears fans by this point, as he has suited up for the Stingrays for as long as Orlando’s had an ECHL team.
- The ECHL’s leading scorer for the last three seasons is heading overseas. Chad Costello was a home-run signing for Allen’s Steve Martinson back in 2014, helping lead the Americans to back-to-back Kelly Cups; now he’s taking his talents to Germany. It’ll be interesting to see how Costello’s departure affects the balance of power in the Western Conference.