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Former Solar Bears on the move via free agent frenzy, trades

Tuesday, August 3rd
Former Solar Bears on the move via free agent frenzy, trades

It’s been less than a week since NHL free agency opened, and already we have seen an active free agent pool and trade market result in the shuffling of several names that should be familiar to Orlando Solar Bears fans.

Read on to see who’s going where, along with some information about a potential goaltender that may be bound for Orlando next season.

Let’s recap:

Somppi stays with Lightning

Gibson stays in the sunshine

The first name to drop as free agency opened was former Solar Bears goalie Christopher Gibson.

Gibson will not get his name on the Stanley Cup as the No. 3 goalie behind Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney this past year, but the now-former Bolt joins former Solar Bears forward Mason Marchment in Sunrise. it will be hard for Gibson to likely find NHL playing time this season, as he will presumably find himself behind former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky and top goaltending prospect Spencer Knight, and will likely compete for time with Samuel Montembault with the AHL Charlotte Checkers.

Sparks goes Hollywood

It was a brief homecoming of sorts for Garret Sparks after the beloved goaltender returned to Orlando on an ECHL contract to begin the 2020-21 season, and he parlayed his strong play in six games (4-1-1, .915 save percentage) into an AHL contract with the Stockton Heat.

The netminder inked a one-year, two-way pact with the L.A. Kings on Wednesday afternoon, and finds himself with his third NHL club.

Stephens comes home

After splitting the 2020-21 season between the Solar Bears and the Syracuse Crunch, Devante Stephens is headed to his home province of British Columbia after signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Vancouver Canucks. He most likely will be penciled in to play for their new affiliate in neighboring Abbotsford, but injuries to the Canucks blue line could always open up the possibility for him to make his NHL debut after he was originally drafted by Buffalo in 2015.

Kuemper heads to the Mile High city

The departure of Phillip Grubbauer left the Colorado Avalanche with a vacancy in net that they filled via the acquisition of Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday evening. While he dealt with an injury that sidelined him for part of the season with the Coyotes, Kuemper rebounded on the international stage, leading Canada to the gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Championship. The Avalanche - with Kuemper in net - are currently the favorites to win the 2022 Stanley Cup.

Reaves to the Big Apple

Ryan Reaves, who played briefly for the Solar Bears during the 2012-13 lockout, is headed to New York after developing a cult following with the Vegas Golden Knights. Coming off the heels of his fourth season in Sin City, Reaves was moved by the Golden Knights to the Rangers and promptly signed to a contract extension. Now, the man who had the most hits in the NHL last season joins a Rangers team that has attempted to adopt a tougher on-ice presence, and he’ll get a chance to showcase that grit when they face the Washington Capitals (and Tom Wilson) on opening night at Madison Square Garden.

Bolts send Martin to Vancouver

With a logjam of up-and-coming goaltenders in the Lightning pipeline, Tampa Bay general manager Julien BriseBois moved Spencer Martin, who appeared in a handful of games for Orlando at the start of the 2019-20 campaign, to the Vancouver Canucks, where he presumably will platoon in Abbotsford on Saturday.

What is important to note about this move is that it helps crystalize part of the goaltending depth chart for the Solar Bears for the 2021-22 season. Typically, NHL clubs will often utilize their ECHL affiliates to develop at least one goaltender within their system.

Two days prior to dealing Martin, BriseBois spoke with Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns and offered this nugget of information:

It would appear that trading Martin has opened the door for the Lightning to assign Miftakhov, a 21-year-old Russian plucked in the sixth round of the 2020 draft, to the Solar Bears for next season. Miftakhov spent the majority of last season in Russia’s VHL (the top minor league in the nation), but also appeared in seven games in the KHL (arguably the second-best league in the world after the NHL) with Ak Bars Kazan, where he went 4-2-0 in seven appearances with a .917 save percentage.

If Miftakhov can adjust to the speed and angles of the North American ice surfaces, the Solar Bears may have a rock-solid option in net for the coming season thanks to the I-4 connection.

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