NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The hockey offseason landscape is different from what anyone has ever seen. The adjusted NHL playoffs and continued restrictions due to COVID-19 continue to keep the hockey world in limbo. Forward progress towards the 2020-21 season is starting but what route the hockey world takes to get to opening night remains to be seen.
The South Carolina Stingrays have started their journey to opening night by placing 20 players on their season-ending roster. Basically every player eligible that they could place on the roster ended up on that roster. The 20 players on the roster give plenty of options for the Stingrays coaching staff headed into free agency. Eight of the players will receive qualifying offers (QOs). Those offers will protect the ECHL rights of those players for the Stingrays giving the Stingrays the ability to sign them or trade them as they deem fit to build their roster. Players are currently able to sign ECHL contracts and if they sign prior to the QO deadline, they do not count against the eight offer limit.
The players on the season-ending roster are:
Defensemen: Tom Parisi, Jordan Klimek, Neal Goff, Jesse Lees, and Jaynen Rissling.
Forwards: Marly Quince, Alexandre Boivin, Max Novak, Branden Troock, Mark Cooper, Scott Davidson, Dan DeSalvo, Andrew Cherniwchan, Dylan Steman, Alec Marsh, Cameron Askew, Tim Harrison, Nick Saracino, Casey Bailey, and Dante Hannoun.
Here’s my take on who might receive a qualifying offer:
Defensemen: Tom Parisi, Jordan Klimek, and Jesse Lees.
Forwards: Branden Troock, Mark Cooper, Nick Saracino, Casey Bailey and Dante Hannoun.
Your favorite player didn’t make the list? Mine either. I believe several players will sign without needing an offer issued to them. I believe players such as Cherniwchan, Harrison, Novak, and Askew will sign to stay in SC for a variety of personal reasons.
The defensemen were a tough pick. The Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears sent down some incredibly talented blueliners last year. Replacing Tommy Hughes, Eddie Wittchow, Kristofers Bindulis, and Tariq Hammond will be difficult. I wanted to put Goff and Rissling on my list but scoring defensemen are a hot commodity and Parisi, Klimek and Lees fit that category. All three could see themselves in an AHL camp and be great players for SC or excellent trading pieces if they sign outside the organization.
The forwards were an even tougher call because there are so many talented players to pick from. Many have ties to the organization that will cause them to sign without the need for an offer. Matthew Weis and Cole Ully were phenomenal depth players sent down by Hershey and their scoring will need to be replaced.
DeSalvo was tough, but he is a veteran player and the rules for them are a little different. A qualifying offer on a veteran player is almost a wasted opportunity as they are able to shop their skills around once the initial offer expires. He and Cooper were an unofficial package deal last year. If Cooper is back, I would expect DeSalvo to sign as well.
Bailey is not an ECHL player by any stretch of the imagination, but if he comes back from Europe, South Carolina will want to have his services available before he is picked back up by an AHL team.
Hannoun, whose rights were picked up last December when he left the Atlanta Gladiators for Europe, would also be a hedge bet should he return to the US to play. Troock and Cooper are both bubble AHL/ECHL players that are proven game-changers at the ECHL level. Having them back in North Charleston would go a long way in keeping the team at the peak level they were at for the majority of last season.
Saracino was the Wheeling Nailers captain last year. He fought off some injuries and only saw action in about half of their games. He has seen AHL action in half of his four years in the professional ranks. He also played with Parisi and current Bear Brian Pinho in college at Providence. Had he played the entire season he would have been on pace to lead the Nailers in scoring.
Both goalies, Logan Thompson and Parker Milner, were under AHL contracts last year. The recently retired Milner, who may find himself in the ECHL Hall of Fame one day, will be a critical void to fill. Thompson was as good as or arguably better than Milner last year but he has not been re-signed as of yet. As such, the Stingrays will be reliant on free agency or more NHL/AHL players assigned by the Caps or Bears to fill the crease. A contender to be assigned in South Carolina next year is Hunter Shepard from University Minnesota-Duluth who has reportedly signed an AHL contract with the Bears. The winner of back-to-back national championships, Shepard was a captain as a goalie, something that is unheard of in hockey. Last season, he was 22-10-2 with a .918 save percentage, a 2.18 goals against average, and a pair of shutouts.