It is striking how quickly the Allen Americans have moved from championship, to celebration, to scattering for the summer. It has been just one week and the conversation has already turned to next season and putting together the 2015-16 version of the Allen Americans.
Steve Martinson just completed his nineteenth year as a professional hockey coach and his results speak wonders about his ability to recruit players. He has won nine championships and has only missed the playoffs one time in nineteen years. The one time he missed the playoffs was in 2011-2012 with the Chicago Express (ECHL) when he had six players promoted to the AHL and six other players sustain season ending injuries. To make matters worse the team decided they were going to fold at the end of the season so the last part of the season was played knowing they were not returning. As coach always says, “Not an excuse, just the facts.”
After a week of championship celebrations Martinson has started talking to players this week to have a conversation about next season. Early signings could take place before the week is out.
Recruiting is the most important aspect of the job for a general manager/head coach and Martinson does it all year-long. Everyday he is in contact with players and agents. Whether it is telephone calls, texts or social media he maintains contact with as many players as possible and this is the case both in the off season and during the season.
The starting point to putting together the 2015-2016 Allen Americans team is determining a budget. While the salary cap is a given cost, housing and insurance costs the team more than the players salary. A big cost factor is how many married players are on the team. Married players get their own apartment while the single guys share an apartment. Health insurance is much cheaper for single players and married guys without children than it is for families. One of the goals for the coming year will most likely be to reduce the cost of housing and insurance.
With three straight championships you might think everything would be positive in putting the 2015-2016 team together but that is not the case. Many of the players want to try playing in the AHL or Europe. Brian McMillin has already been signed by a team in Dijon, France with more surely to come. Being on a championship team gives players leverage to pursue these opportunities. So you have a situation where some players want time to find other opportunities before committing to Allen.
Another issue facing Martinson is after winning the Kelly Cup all of the players feel they deserve a raise in pay however the amount available for salaries will increase by just $200 per week for the entire team. The salary cap is set by the Professional Hockey Players Association (PHPA) and the ECHL and is spelled out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). This season the salary cap was $12,200 per week to be shared by all players on the active roster. Next season the salary cap will increase to $12,400. That is an average increase of just $10 per week per player.
What is Steve Martinson’s secret to recruiting? Have as many tools in your recruiting tool kit as possible. With the salary cap, competing based on salary is not the key to success as a player can always find a team willing to pay $50 or $100 more per week. The key to getting the best players is having other reasons to have them want to play for your team. Here are some of the many tools Steve Martinson uses when making a pitch to players.
– Allen has never missed the playoffs and has been to the championship finals four times in six years and won three straight championships. You can count on many additional weeks of pay as Allen makes a deep playoff run along with a couple of extra months of lodging and playoff bonuses. This can total $10,000 – $15,000 more in compensation over a team that does not make the playoffs.
– You will play an upbeat, aggressive offensive system in Allen that is also dedicated to defensive hockey. Points you score in the ECHL won’t keep you in the American Hockey League (AHL) but points will get you noticed. You have to be able to play without the puck and you have to understand the game and that is what we will help you with in Allen. With our system you will have plenty of opportunity to get points. Allen led the Central Hockey League in goals scored in 2013-2014 and led the ECHL in goals scored this year (2014-2015). We won’t handcuff you in the third period with a lead. We will take less risk but we will keep our foot on the gas. If you want to play in a system where you can score a lot of points come to Allen.
– You will play for a great organization and you will play in a great facility in the six-year-old Allen Event Center which is surrounded by shopping and restaurants.
– You will play for a team that has a history of moving players to the AHL. We had fifteen different players from our roster spend time in the AHL this year. Our goal is to see you progress in your hockey career.
– Playing in the Dallas Metroplex you have access to whatever interests you may have including the Stars, Cowboys, Mavericks and Rangers. Playing where you have a major international airport makes it easier for you and your friends and family to travel in and out of DFW and for players to get to AHL cities quickly if called up.
– You will live on a golf course and can play golf year around. Average high temperature during the hockey season is 79 in October, 66 in November, 57 in December, 55 in January, 61 in February, 69 in March, 77 in April and 84 in May. It is a great place to live whether your are single or married.
– If you like to fish there are plenty of opportunities within fifteen minutes of your apartment. Fishing is great.
– We will help with whatever your post hockey career interests are through our intern program. We had four players participate in the intern program this past season.
– There is a great fan base that supports the team and the players.
With three straight championships to his credit Steve Martinson will have plenty of players and agents calling him this summer. When you have a successful program in a great location a lot of players will want to play in Allen.
Given Martinson’s longevity in minor pro hockey, he has a real advantage when it comes to recruiting. But even with the contacts he has developed over the years he spends many hours going over data to determine who to recruit. He has a couple of techniques that he uses to find those diamonds in the rough, players who have underperformed but will thrive in his system and players that have not been used in the right way on their current teams. It is no coincidence that each year there several players that come in and have a career year in Allen. Whether it is young guys like Lavoie, Lessard, Asuchak, Baker, Hanson or experienced players like Costello and Steffes they thrive in the Martinson system.
Another issue the coach needs to be aware of is the veteran status of each player as the number of veterans on the team is limited to just four. A veteran is defined as a player with more than 260 regular season professional games ( for games in Europe only the top six leagues count). The Americans started this season with four veterans (Costello, Combs, Tyler & Trevor Ludwig) and have two players (Schaafsma & Steffes) that will become veterans next season. Combs was not replaced when he left for Europe and Tyler Ludwig is retiring so there are four veterans on the final roster. A decision will have to be made whether to re-sign all four veterans.
Until July 1st all of the Allen American player’s rights for the ECHL remain with Allen (unless the rights are traded) but on July 1st Martinson has to submit to the league a list of no more than eight players he wants to protect. These eight names do not include players that have already signed. Because only eight players can be protected there is incentive to get as many players signed by July 1st as possible. The eight players will be given qualifying offers which for most part must be 5% above their salary from last season. The qualifying offer period is from July 1st to August 1st. The rules are a little different for players with 39 or fewer games, 40 or more games and veterans but in almost all cases the offer must include a 5% salary increase.
Here is my opinion of how Martinson will approach recruitment for next season.
– Look for fewer married players, especially married players with children, on the roster next season.
– Coach Martinson will be loyal to the players that helped bring the Kelly Cup championship to Allen. That doesn’t mean everyone wishing to return will be signed but he will reach out to everyone to see what they want to do.
– When you win the championship everyone feels they deserve a raise but with the salary cap increasing just $200 that is not possible. Some players will be asked to play for less money because CHL salaries were typically higher than ECHL salaries. To get good players to sign in the CHL a coach had to offer more salary than the player would have gotten if they signed in the ECHL. It is important that the players are dealt with fairly and are paid what they are worth based on ECHL salaries.
– Because of salary cap issues Martinson played most of last season with fewer players than were allowed. He would prefer to have a full roster next season. Because players assigned to Allen by San Jose with NHL/AHL contracts cost the Americans only $525 per week against the salary cap (the rest of their salary is paid by the parent club) having 4-6 of these players will actually help.
– Those that are ready to sign immediately will be the top priority. Those that wait run the risk of other players being signed and a slot not being available or money not being available.
– Coach Martinson will strive to get as many players signed as quickly as possible. A good goal would be to have the top two lines, four defensemen and a goalie signed by July 1st.
– With the average salary being about $620 per week ($12,400 divided by 20 players) finding good young players that make less than the average is critical so you can pay the top end guys.
– Popularity of players with the fans is not a big factor when it comes time to signing. It is strictly based on performance. You can always find another popular player.
– If Martinson finds a good player at the right price they will get signed right away.
– With just four veteran slots available the decision on veterans will be a difficult one.
– The affiliation with San Jose will continue though it has not been formalized yet. Allen will have players assigned for development from the beginning of the season unlike last year when some players from Worcester were sent to other teams because Allen came to the ECHL very late.
One thing is certain, Steve Martinson will have the same type of team as he has always had. They will compete hard, be physical and be difficult to play against. The team will be tough but also skillful. He recruits guys that understand you must work hard, be in great shape, follow the system, be a team guy and finish checks. He builds his teams to have depth rather than a few super stars. This approach has worked for nineteen years and it will work again in year twenty as he puts together the 2015-2016 team.