The ECHL is proceeding as if next season will start on time – the Komets' home opener at Memorial Coliseum is slated for Oct. 17 – and the process of putting together a roster will ramp up next week.
Teams must turn in their lists of protected players by 3 p.m. Monday, kicking off a dizzying and confusing month of housekeeping that includes declaring season-ending rosters, completing outstanding player trades, signing players to contracts and making qualifying offers.
For the Komets, the key window of bringing back players is June 16, the first day they can sign player contracts, to June 30, when qualifying offers are due. The Komets can only extend qualifying offers to eight returning players to keep their rights, and players who have signed contracts for next season are exempt, so it behooves the Komets to get as many players signed before June 30 as possible to keep those valuable eight qualifying slots available.
“You try to get guys signed (to contracts) so that you don't have to worry about losing anybody because you only have eight spots to fill with a qualifying offer,” general manager David Franke said. “So we're going to want to try to get the other guys signed. And that's what we're working on right now. We're mainly working on signing players back from last year at this point. We're looking at other guys, but we want to get our roster going here, so that's what we're working on now.”
Shawn Szydlowski, Brady Shaw, A.J. Jenks, Shawn St-Amant, Anthony Petruzzelli and Kyle Haas are among Franke's targets, as he and coach Ben Boudreau try to maintain the nucleus of this season.
“We have a good list of guys from last year that we think are really going to be good players for us again,” Franke said, “and we're trying to rebuild our core, too. That was one of the reasons last year we had kind of a young team, or a younger team I'll say. We wanted to find guys that are maybe going to be able to fit and play here for three, four or five years.”
For Monday's protected list, the Komets will include almost every player whose rights they hold. Players qualified last summer, such as Ryan Lowney or Kyle Hope, who played in Europe, could be among them. Exclusions would be players who were on NHL or American Hockey League contracts this season, such as Dylan Ferguson or Mason Bergh, and players put on team suspension before last season, namely retired Jake Kamrass.
All 2019-20 trades for future considerations must be completed by June 12. Franke said the Komets have none outstanding.
The season-ending roster due June 15 will have up to 20 players who skated this season for the Komets, or were acquired by them, so Lowney or Hope wouldn't be eligible. Any players who receive a qualifying offer must be on that season-ending roster. If a player isn't signed or qualified by July 1, he becomes a free agent. If an unsigned player is qualified, the Komets retain his ECHL rights until June 15, 2021, though veteran players in that situation become free agents Aug. 1, 2020.
It's not uncommon for players to have it written into their contracts to be excluded from season-ending rosters, guaranteeing they become free agents. Last year, fans of the Komets panicked when Syzdlowski was left off the roster, but he re-signed less than a month later.
None of the four players qualified by the Komets last summer – Lowney, Hope, Kamrass and J.C. Campagna – played at the Coliseum this season. Campagna's rights were dealt to Norfolk for future considerations that turned into Gabriel Verpaelst. Had Lowney or Hope returned from Europe, Fort Wayne would have had their ECHL rights.