As they begin building their roster for next season, the Komets are focused on re-signing players before they investigate potential free agents. But the Komets are constructing their roster with knowledge that their best-laid plans could be upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
Shawn Szydlowski, the longest-tenured Komets player, is among Fort Wayne's targets to bring back.
“I expect Szyd to come back into the fold. I think that will happen and you know we're talking right now,” general manager David Franke said. “We're concentrating on our players from last year and, at the same time, starting to target guys that we'd like to go after once we have our (NHL) affiliation done and once we get to that point.”
Szydlowski, 29, who has spent seven seasons with the Komets, had 15 goals and 56 points in 55 games this season. He was the ECHL's leading scorer and MVP in 2017-18, when he totaled 31 goals and 79 points in 64 games.
“He's a guy we definitely want to work at getting back and he's still a very powerful player for us,” Franke said. “I thought he had a good year. He knows that we want to win a championship bad and that's what he wants to do.”
Szydlowski is certainly not the only player Fort Wayne wants to re-sign – team MVP Brady Shaw, All-Star Shawn St-Amant, captain A.J. Jenks and Anthony Petruzzelli are particular targets – and there will be more clarity in the coming weeks.
“You've got to have that core group of guys, and I think we hit on some good guys from last year's team that will go into that new core-building of the team,” Franke said.
The Komets can begin re-signing players June 16.
Although free agents can be signed that day, too, a fuller picture of available talent will come July 1, after all ECHL teams have made qualifying offers to returning players.
The Komets were 31-23-8, in third place in the Central Division and poised to clinch a playoff spot when the coronavirus pandemic forced cancellation of play with 10 games left.
The ECHL is proceeding with its normal offseason schedule with the hope that the 2020-21 season begins on time. The Komets are slated to open at Indianapolis on Oct. 16 and start their home slate at Memorial Coliseum on Oct. 17 against the Indy Fuel.
Of course, safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus could throw a wrench in that. And the ECHL may have to be willing to begin play before the NHL and American Hockey League start back up. The NHL season may be delayed until January, commissioner Gary Bettman said this week.
“We are proceeding here, not only with the signing of the players and the recruiting, but with our whole staff getting ready. We're zeroing in on starting on time in the middle of October,” Franke said.
“I think we have to be in that mode. We can't just sit back and wait till the league makes a decision. No team in the league, or no organization, can do that. We're proceeding that we're going to open when we're supposed to open.”
If the ECHL begins play in October, and the NHL and AHL do it later, the Komets may have to play exclusively with ECHL-contracted players and no higher-level prospects.
“There are so many things involved if we're going to be able to open on time,” Franke said, “but that's what we're gearing up for.”
The Komets have been affiliated with the Vegas Golden Knights the last two seasons. They had a less formal agreement with the Los Angeles Kings this past season.
Franke is certain he wants to work with only one NHL team next season, as it will limit the daily uncertainty about which players will be in Fort Wayne and allow the Komets to carry at least one independently signed goaltender.
It's most likely that the Komets would affiliate again with the Golden Knights or with the Kings.
While the relationship with the Golden Knights has been spotty – they haven't sent much talent to Fort Wayne – the belief is that would improve now that the Chicago Wolves won't be the AHL intermediary. Vegas bought the AHL team in San Antonio and moved it to Henderson, Nevada, and Thursday that team unveiled its name, the Silver Knights.
While affiliation negotiations last year were completed in August, Franke expects a quicker resolution this year. Knowing who he'll be dealing with should aid in constructing the Fort Wayne roster, even if he may not have NHL- or AHL-contracted players at the Coliseum for many months.
“We'll get this done a lot sooner than we did last year, just because we've had more time to talk to people and work on it,” Franke said. “I don't want this thing to drag out all summer.”