The first real step in putting together a roster for next season was taken Monday when the Komets turned in their list of protected players to the ECHL.
“Since (our last game on) the 11th of March, we've kind of targeted this as the next official thing,” coach Ben Boudreau said. “Everything other than that has just been conversations.
“It's finally really interesting to have something concrete to talk about and something to look forward to and discuss every single day because we all miss hockey. Finally, something's formal here that we have to formally submit.”
While the Komets' list was predictable – only defenseman Taylor Doherty wasn't among their 18 – it's a clerically important date that allows fans to glean who other teams didn't, or couldn't, protect and may be available to be signed.
Only players who were on ECHL contracts this season could be protected, and teams could shield an unlimited number of such players.
The Komets had a bevy of players on NHL or American Hockey League contracts – such as Max Gottlieb, Mason Bergh, Brad Morrison and Cole Kehler – and they couldn't be protected. If they're on expiring contracts, the Komets could pursue them. And the Komets are also allowed now to speak with similar players from other 2019-20 ECHL teams.
Althought the ECHL hasn't yet released every team's protected list, among those who will be available are Alex Breton, the Defenseman of the Year from the Allen Americans, and Cedric Lacroix, who was with the Toledo Walleye.
“There are people that you want to pick up the phone to right away now, without breaking any tampering rules,” Boudreau said, “and at least find out what their plans or intentions are for next year.”
A more important upcoming date is June 15, when season-ending rosters are due. Teams can name up to 20 players, so that already won't be a problem for Fort Wayne, but the Komets won't be able to hold on to the rights to Ryan Lowney or Kyle Hope since they didn't skate in the ECHL this season.
The window between June 16 and July 1 is crucial since Fort Wayne can re-sign players then and not have to spend any of their eight qualifying offer slots to keep their rights.
The players Fort Wayne placed on its protected list Monday included forwards Brady Shaw, Anthony Petruzzelli, Brett McKenzie, Shawn Szydlowski, Matthew Boudens, A.J. Jenks, Shawn St-Amant, Alan Lyszczarczyk, Brad Ross and Hope; defensemen Chase Stewart, Jason Binkley, Adam Henry, Kyle Haas, Gabriel Verpaelst, Olivier Galipeau and Lowney; and goaltender Stefanos Lekkas.
Binkley and Ross began this season with Fort Wayne but departed for Europe. Keeping them protected Monday ensured the Komets keep their exclusive rights at least a couple more weeks, if not another year by making them qualifying offers.
“If there's not interest with us, or maybe interest with somebody else, there may be value in the fact that you own their rights,” Boudreau said.
Doherty played 26 games before finishing the season in Austria.
The Komets are slated to begin the season Oct. 16 at Indianapolis, but that could change depending on the state of the coronavirus pandemic.