The Maine Mariners, the New York Rangers affiliate in the ECHL, will not participate in that league’s season in 2021. As first reported by Jeff Marek of Sportsnet, The ECHL has announced that the entire North division of the league has decided not to participate this season. In addition to the Mariners, the other teams and their NHL affiliates are the Adirondack Thunder, an affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, the Brampton Beast (Ottawa Senators), Newfoundland Growlers (Toronto Maple Leafs), Reading Royals (Philadelphia Flyers), and Worcester Railers (New York Islanders). These six teams join the Atlanta Gladiators (Boston Bruins) and Norfolk Admirals (independent) who had already opted out.
“As we continue to navigate the continually changing regulations across North America, we recognize the difficult nature of this decision,” said ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin. “While some of our teams’ host cities have allowed upcoming plans to include fans inside arenas, we, unfortunately, do not see the same path for these highly-affected areas in the Northeast.”
The 6 teams from the #ECHL North Division have elected to suspend play for the 2020-21 Season under the League's COVID-19 policy.
— ECHL (@ECHL) November 18, 2020
More on the ECHL situation – Expect the entire North Division to cease operations for the season. That's Adirondack, Brampton, Maine, Newfoundland, Reading and Worcester. Official announcement expected around 2ET.
— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) November 18, 2020
This currently leaves the league has 18 teams left to play this year, with 13 of those expected to start next month. The schedule will kick off on December 11 and consist of 72 games for the 13 teams.
Today’s announcement casts a shadow around the league’s ability to go through with this plan. This also means that the Rangers and other NHL teams who are partnered with these minor league affiliates will find it much more difficult to find playing time for some of their young players. The ECHL has been especially important for the development of goaltenders and the cancellation will affect the Blueshirts young netminders such as Tyler Wall. The news also affects that Ranger’s AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, as the Mariners were the source for their call-ups. The league has reported that about 678 players have played at least one game in the NHL after appearing in the ECHL.
However, the league announced that under the terms of the ECHL/PHPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, all players from the Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Maine Mariners, Newfoundland Growlers, Reading Royals, and Worcester Railers are free agents for the 2020-21 season immediately. The Mariners did not have any goaltenders listed on their pre-season roster.
The league, which combined teams from the defunct Atlantic Coast Hockey League and All-American Hockey League, began to play as the East Coast Hockey League in 1988. The ECHL and the AHL are the only minor leagues recognized by the collective bargaining agreement between the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association, meaning any player signed to an entry-level NHL contract and designated for assignment must report to a club in either the ECHL or the AHL.