While ECHL fans, coaches and media often lament the impact “injuries and call-ups” have on the roster of their favorite team, the reality is that roster movement is a fact of life at all levels of professional hockey.
A quick look at the numbers through January 31 shows that the average NHL team had used 30.06 players so far this year including 19 teams that had used more than 30 players.
In the AHL the average stood at 33.96 players per team with four teams using 40 or more players including San Antonio, which has been at or near the top of its division for more of the season.
By comparison, the ECHL average per team was at 34.89 players with just one team, Elmira, having used more than 40 players.
So far, there have been 88 players on NHL contract who have played in the ECHL in the 2010-11 season. Of those 88 players, 63 of them have been recalled at least once, with the total number of recalls of NHL contracted players standing at 85 total recalls.
Additionally, there have been 99 players on AHL contract who have played in the ECHL in the 2010-11 season. Of those 99 players, 54 of them have been recalled at least once, with the total number of recalls of AHL contracted players standing at 85 total recalls.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins recently went through an extended period without gifted All-Stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, those players were not replaced with NHL All-Stars but rather by players recalled from their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In addition, other team members played an increased role. The same is true in the ECHL. Opportunities exist for players to step up and play a bigger role, especially on offense, when players are recalled. The fact recalls and roster movement are so prevalent means the ECHL is the League the best young players want to play in due to the opportunities for movement.
Often overlooked is the fact that many players recalled often return to bolster ECHL rosters, particularly come playoff time, allowing fans the opportunity to witness great talent at a critical time of year.
The last two Kelly Cup champions are good examples. In 2009, the South Carolina Stingrays defeated the Alaska Aces to win their third Kelly Cup title thanks in large part to the goaltending of James Reimer, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Reimer was in Toronto of the American Hockey League until late in the season, when he returned to the ECHL and posted a 2.17 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in eight appearances during the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Last season’s champion, the Cincinnati Cyclones, often shuttled players back and forth between their two AHL affiliates, Milwaukee and Hamilton, and saw the Bulldogs also advance to the AHL’s Western Conference Finals. Cincinnati was able to persevere and captured its second Kelly Cup championship in the last three seasons, defeating Idaho in five games.
In the end, injuries, recalls and reassignments are a fact of life in professional hockey. However, the level of play and competition is at a high level each night, whether in Pittsburgh with an All-Star or in the ECHL without an All-Star on recall. In both cases, those who remain step up to compete at a high level each night and provide a winning environment and top notch entertainment.