The stomach flu is a helluva equalizer, and it got me last week. So, this week’s takeaways piece will look at the last two weeks in the ECHL. I’ll give you my league award winners, too.
Let’s get ‘er rollin’!
1. McKenna Leaving ECHL in Good Spot, but Challenges Exist
As we reported last Wednesday, ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna will be leaving his post at the end of this season. During his time in the league, McKenna presided over the “consolidation” of the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL) and the Central Hockey Leagues (CHL,) transformed the league from one where it was for players on the back-end of their careers to one that helps players develop, helped league attendance & saw sponsorship dollars grow.
Presumably, the search is underway for who will fill the shoes left by McKenna and one would have to think that the search/announcement of a new commissioner would be done quickly, so there is an orderly transition. Still, by any and all measure, McKenna should be revered in the same way as Commissioner-Emeritus Patrick Kelly.
A couple of names to watch in the ECHL Commissioner job hunt; Southern Professional Hockey League President Jim Combs and current ECHL Chief Operating Officer Ryan Crelin.
Before the next person takes their turn in the hot seat, however, it’s time to look at a couple of challenges that exist in the ECHL.
First, as we’ve hit on endlessly for the last couple of years, the league needs to identify and seek out new markets west of the Mississippi River to help out the teams they “absorbed” four years ago from the old Central Hockey League. At the start of the new commissioner’s tenure, there will only be seven teams (or 25% of the league) west of the Mississippi River. Not only would additional teams help out with travel costs, but it will also help out with the problem of scheduling six-game series between division rivals in the middle of the season (and all the associated issues that come with that — see Allen/Wichita from late December.)
Second, work with the NHL to enhance the development of players at the ECHL level. Far too often, players on NHL or AHL contracts are sent to the ECHL level and only seen by a goalie or player development coach every so often and are called up when something impressive happens. The ECHL product would improve even more if the NHL doubled down on the product at this level and it could be done by having permanent support staff (strength and conditioning coaches, nutrition coaches, etc.) to assist the players or a permanent video coach to enforce the systems the organization likes to run.
Finally, I love the idea that a former writer here at The Sin Bin, Scotty Wazz, had: Have the new commissioner do a “listening tour” with ordinary fans, booster club members, media, players and find out what the league can do to improve the fan experience. If there is one thing McKenna may not have done enough of, it’s listening to the stakeholders outside the boardroom.
Stay with The Sin Bin for more on the search for a new ECHL Commissioner.
2. Handicapping the Early Race for ECHL MVP
It’s never too early to start looking at the race for ECHL MVP. The field is beginning to round into shape as we approach the final full month of the season. Here’s a look at three candidates we’re watching.
Fort Wayne’s Shawn Szydlowski recently used a five-game point streak to rack up 11 points (2G, 9A) to surge to the top of the scoring pylon in the ECHL. 15 of his 60 points have come on special teams and he is tied for the Komets’ team lead with four game-winning goals.
Likely Rookie of the Year Justin Danforth is quickly proving he’s too good to be in the ECHL. The Cincinnati Cyclones forward currently leads all rookie scorers with 58 points (28G, 30A) on the campaign, he leads the Cyclones with five game-winning goals and is two points off the ECHL scoring lead entering play Tuesday night.
Colorado Eagles’ forward Michael Joly continues to have his name firmly entrenched in the conversation for ECHL MVP. The second-year forward leads all ECHL players with 12 special-teams goals and ten game-winning goals. Joly’s impressive run has hit the skids of late, only being held to two points (1G, 1A) in his last six games. Coincidentally, the Eagles’ are on a five-game losing streak.
3. Will the Real Wichita Thunder Defense Please Stand Up?
It has been one hellaciously bad road trip for the Wichita Thunder defense. Since leaving Wichita after their game on February 2, the Thunder have allowed 30 goals (an average of 6/game) through five games of their six-game road trip through the Central Division.
The defense played very well in their Sunday afternoon contest with the Toledo Walleye, allowing just one goal on 34 shots.
Overall, the Thunder sits in the middle of the pack for goals allowed, an average of 3.23/game through 48 games this season. The defense also allows the eighth most shots per game in the ECHL, an average of 33.75/game. If it weren’t for the goaltending and the fact that offense continues to churn out three to four goals per game, it’s safe to assume this team would likely be on par with the 2016-17 club.
As it stands, with the trade deadline less than a month away, there remains a chance Malcolm Cameron could make a move or two to shore up the back end.
Here are my choices for the league’s weekly awards.
Goalie of the Week – Parker Milner (SC): In a three-game week that saw the South Carolina Stingrays go unbeaten, Parker Milner was great. The Stingrays’ netminder went 2-0-0 with a shutout, a 1.00 goals against average and a .978 save percentage. Milner has won seven of his last eight starts, including four straight, has a 1.06 goals against average, two shutouts and a .951 save percentage.
Player of the Week – Justin Danforth (CIN): As I mentioned in the MVP section, Justin Danforth continued his hold on the ECHL rookie scoring lead by collecting another eight points (3G, 5A) in three games last week, including a four-point effort against the Wichita Thunder on Saturday night.