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Jotting it Down with Jesse: Lightning Go Goalie Shopping

Wednesday, October 14th
Jotting it Down with Jesse: Lightning Go Goalie Shopping

With the NHL’s free agency period opening last week, there have been several high-profile signings that could very well shift the balance of power in the NHL and alter the fortunes of several franchises. Taylor Hall to the Buffalo Sabres. Alex Pietrangelo to the Vegas Golden Knights. T.J. Brodie to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Braden Holtby to the Vancouver Canucks.

Orlando’s NHL affiliate went out to shore up its goaltending depth by locking up two former Solar Bears goalies, re-signing Spencer Martin (2019-20) and grabbing Christopher Gibson (2013-14) on the open market.

In doing so, the Lightning likely solidified their depth chart for their American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse, and potentially helped crystalize Orlando’s goaltending situation.

Presently the Solar Bears have only rookie goaltender Michael Lackey under contract. But remember: the Crunch signed Clint Windsor to an AHL pact for 2020-21 in March.

With no recent update to the current timetable for the AHL to start on December 4, that would likely mean we could see Windsor loaned to Orlando to start the season. And with the NHL announcing a targeted start date of Jan. 1, it’s possible that the AHL, as the top developmental hockey league in North America, would push back its start date to be more in sync with the NHL.

Could that prompt the Crunch to have Windsor get some reps in Orlando early on? After finishing fourth in the ECHL with a .927 save percentage as a rookie last year, it’s safe to say Windsor would be welcomed with open arms in the Solar Bears locker room.

We’ll have Tampa Bay Lightning assistant general manager Stacy Roest on for tomorrow’s episode of the Bear Tracks podcast, and hopefully he can help shed some light on that.

Kaskisuo finds a new home; Sparks still waiting

Gibson and Martin weren’t the only former Solar Bears goaltenders on the move in the past week. Kasimir Kaskisuo, who become the sixth former Solar Bears player to reach the NHL last season when he suited up for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, singed a one-year pact with the Nashville Predators.

Oddly enough, he joins another former Solar Bears goaltender in Connor Ingram in Nashville. It appears that Kaskisuo will serve as the backup to Ingram, who has been given the keys to the starter role for their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee and appears to be on the cusp of making his NHL debut.

Still without an NHL contract for 2020-21 is Garret Sparks. After claiming the Calder Cup in 2018 with the Toronto Marlies while earning Goaltender of the Year honors in the AHL, Sparks appeared ready to ascend to the Maple Leafs as a full-time back-up in 2018-19, but that didn’t pan out, and the goaltender was moved to the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas opted not to re-sign Sparks following an underwhelming season largely spent in the AHL, and the goaltender is now an unrestricted free agent.

I could have seen Sparks landing with the New York Islanders organization due to his familiarity with general manager Lou Lamoriello and goaltending guru Piero Greco, both of whom Sparks knows from his time with Toronto. Any chance of that happening likely fizzled out with the Islanders signing Cory Schneider on Monday, as New York already has Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin with the big club and Jakub Skarek already penciled in with the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the start dates for the AHL and NHL, and a glut of goalies available on the free agent market, things might start to slow down for the forseeable future and it may be some time before Sparks secures his next NHL gig.

Of course, he always does have options outside of goaltending.

Schedule Update

With last Friday’s announcement regarding the start of the 2020-21 ECHL season, an announcement regarding the upcoming schedule for the team’s first 10-or-so games is expected to be announce tomorrow afternoon.

I can tell you this process is not too different from the league’s typical routine of building a schedule out in a non-COVID year. Each team submits a list of available arena dates and from there, all of the availability is compiled into a matrix of an initial draft. Teams review and request any possible changes to dates and after a few rounds of revisions the schedule is update.

Keep in mind that this year things are different, since Orlando is one of 13 teams that will be starting a full 72-game regular season schedule on December 11, while the rest of the teams that are waiting until mid-January will be playing a 62-game schedule. For now, we’ll call this initial slate the mini-season. It will be a good opportunity for the team to gel together, and with much of last season’s roster committed to returning for 2020-21, that should help the Solar Bears out of the gate.

Friendly reminder from your neighborhood Solar Bears broadcaster: ECHL.TV packages through FloSports are available now!

Jesse Liebman is the director of communications and broadcasting for the Orlando Solar Bears and enters his sixth season behind the microphone as the team’s play-by-play voice for the 2020-21 season. Use the form below to shoot him your questions, comments or blog ideas.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Solar Bears. All opinions expressed by Jesse Liebman are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Solar Bears or their Hockey Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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