ALLEN, TX – 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 2016-17 version of the Allen Americans.
Today, season ending rosters are due to the league office by 3:00 pm EDT and tomorrow is the first day to sign players for next season. Each team’s season ending roster can include up to 20 players. Any player not included on the season ending roster submitted today will become a free agent.
Until June 30, the rights for the players on the season ending roster remain with Allen but on June 30 Head Coach and GM Steve 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 June 30 as possible. The eight players will be given qualifying offers which for most part must be 5% above their salary from this past season. The qualifying offer period is from June 30 to August 1st. Any player on the season ending roster who does not sign a new contract or receive a qualifying offer by June 30 becomes an unrestricted free agent.
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 in the next week but may not be announced until later. Another thing that happened this week was satisfying all “future considerations” trades. There were several of these that had to resolved by last Monday. Future consideration could mean sending a player or it could be sending money. From what I have heard one player off this year’s roster was traded as a result of a future considerations deal.
Martinson just completed his twentieth year as a professional hockey coach and his results speak wonders about his ability to recruit players. He has won 10 championships and has only missed the playoffs one time in 20 years. The one time he missed the playoffs was in 2011-12 with the expansion franchise Chicago Express (ECHL). 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 (their first year in the league) so the last part of the season was played knowing they were not returning. As coach always says, “Not an excuse, just the facts.”
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 2016-17 Allen Americans team is determining a budget. While the salary cap is a given cost ($12,600 per week), housing and insurance can cost 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. If there isn’t an ownership change one of the goals for the coming year will most likely be to reduce the cost of housing.
With four straight championships you might think everything would be positive in putting the 2016-17 team together, but that is not the case. Some of the players want to try playing in the AHL or Europe. 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 ownership and is spelled out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). This season the salary cap was $12,400 per week to be shared by all players on the active roster. Next season, the salary cap will increase to $12,600. 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 final five times in seven years and won four 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 for a player 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. 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 in a great facility in the seven 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. Allen had 25 players from their roster spend time in the AHL in their two ECHL championship seasons. Our goal is to see you progress in your hockey career.
– While 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 in a place where you 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 30 minutes of your apartment. Fishing is great.
– We will help with whatever your post hockey career interests are through our intern program and you will be able to develop business contacts while you are still playing that will be useful after you retire. The DFW metroplex is a great place to build a post career network.
– There is a great fan base that supports the team and the players.
With four straight championships to his credit, 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 because he has been around minor pro hockey for so long 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 are players that come in and have a career year in Allen. Whether it is young guys or experienced players, 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 finished this season with three veterans (Chad Costello, Gary Steffes and Casey Pierro-Zabotel) and have two players (Tristan King & Matthew Register) who will become veterans next season. A decision will have to be made as to which veterans will be re-signed. It is always good to have at least one veteran slot available for new players that might want to come to Allen.
Here is my opinion of how Martinson will approach recruitment for next season:
– Look for fewer married players on the roster next season if there is not an ownership changes.
– 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. It is likely there will more players returning than in the past.
– When you win the championship everyone feels they deserve a raise but with the salary cap increasing just $200 that is not possible. While it is important that the players are dealt with fairly and are paid what they are worth based on ECHL salaries, everyone will not get a pay raise or they will get just the 5% raise required when qualifying the eight players.
– Because of salary cap issues Martinson played much 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.
– Players 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 when they are ready to sign.
– 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 June 30.
– With the average salary being about $630 per week ($12,600 divided by 20 players) finding good rookie 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.
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 20 years and it will work again in year 21 as he puts together the 2016-2017 team.
DID YOU KNOW: The Allen Americans won the Kelly Cup this season in large part because of the strength of their power play. In the championship final they were 7-24 (29.2%) on the power play. However, that was not the case in 2014 when they won the Central Hockey League championship. They set a record by not scoring a single power play goal in the championship finals (0-26).