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The Malik Report

ECHL teams like the Toledo Walleye are holding amateur try-outs

The ECHL is a professional sports league that pays a living wage ($30,000-40,000), but it isn't necessarily a sports league whose primary purpose involves developing players for NHL affiliates. The Toledo Walleye, for example, take up to six players from the Red Wings' pipeline and six from the Chicago Blackhawks' pipeline, but they tend to carry fewer players, and as such, usually a third-or-so of their roster is made up of NHL prospects, and the rest are Walleye-contracted players.

And as players can earn more money in the AHL or in Europe, leagues like the ECHL, the currently-constructed IHL and the Central Hockey League have to find different ways of finding "diamonds in the rough." The Toledo Blade's Mark Monroe notes that the Walleye are holding a camp for any and all try-outs that pay a registration fee, and the Walleye have some local hopefuls in attendance:

Matt Trautlein knows he's a long shot to make the Toledo Walleye roster but the young defenseman still hopes to open some eyes at the team's annual free-agent camp. Trautlein of Waterville is among 80 hopefuls participating in the ECHL team's two-day tryout session this weekend. This is the fifth year the team has hosted the free-agent camp at the Huntington Center.

Trautlein, a 2012 graduate of Anthony Wayne High School, also attended the camp last summer.

“The main goal is to get to noticed and open up some opportunities,” Trautlein said. “I want people to see what I can do.”

The players participate in on ice training, practices, and scrimmages led by Walleye coach Nick Vitucci.

“We created this to find a diamond in the rough,” Vitucci said. “We try to provide them with professional-style practices and games.”

One of those hopefuls who attended the camp last August eventually earned a spot on the Walleye roster. Sylvania native Tyler Pilmore made his pro debut in Toledo and skated in two games for the Walleye last season. He signed a one-year contract to play for his hometown team again this season.

Monroe continues and adds a charitable note:

The Walleye coaches and players will participate in the third annual Andrew Gulch Memorial Golf Outing to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association on Aug. 24 at Bedford Hills Golf Club. Registration begins at 11 a.m. and a shotgun start is at 1 p.m.

The hockey-themed golf outing will feature current Walleye players, and former Toledo Storm and Goaldiggers players that will join a foursome. The groups will compete in "hockey challenges."


Hockey-wise, the NHL's previous CBA really changed the dynamics of "minor league hockey," because the more restrictive rules regarding the retention of players' rights (over shorter periods of time) and the $105,000 re-entry waiver cap for AHL veterans changed American Hockey League teams from organizations that were really split 50-50 between NHL players and professionals who were earning their living playing minor pro hockey to a more developmentally-oriented league--and that had a ripple effect on ECHL teams as well as NHL teams chose to turn their AHL affiliates into prospect repositories and developmental arms, yielding fewer players assigned to the ECHL.

The resulting restrictions in AHL salaries and punitive rules toward AHL veterans' statuses--as eligible to be both plucked off the waiver wire by other teams and yet have their previous employers end up paying half o their NHL cap hits--yielded a surge of borderline NHL prospects and/or players-at-large heading to Europe to chase bigger paydays, especially with the establishment of the KHL. The NHL's new CBA offers more time for teams to hold on to European prospects (4 years instead of 2) and eliminates the re-entry waiver system, but it remains to be seen whether we're going to see any sort of return to more veteran-laden AHL teams and prospects heading to the ECHL.

For the present moment, players like Jan Mursak, T.J. Hensick, Shawn Belle, Chad Kolarik and Derek Meech continue to head to Europe to earn more money than they would be offered at the AHL level, and even some NHL players have left North America because the reduction in the NHL's salary cap from $70.2 to $64.3 million has so many teams either "capped out" or finding themselves having committed as much salary to retaining players as their budgets allow.

I know that many Wings fans were shocked when Mursak headed to Amur Khabarovsk, a KHL team named for the Amur River that separates Khabarovsk from China's northeastern border (Khabarovsk is so far "east" that it's located northeast of North Korea and north of Japan), but he may be earning a million dollars or more as something of a "marquee" signing for a far-flung KHL team. The Wings couldn't have offered him that much to stay in the AHL, and as long as the petro-dollars keep flowing, borderline NHL prospects are going to head to Europe on a regular basis because that's where they can maximize their earning potential.

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Primis's avatar

The IHL mercifully doesn’t exist anymore.  It was absorbed 3 years ago into the CHL, and then last season two of the ex-IHL teams left the CHL or the ECHL (Fort Wayne and Evansville), which ended any remaining ties the IHL 2.0 had to claim existing, because the remaining franchises just become full-fledged CHL.

I could go on for pages about why the IHL 2.0 was a sham, but, suffice to say it was revealed shortly before its demise that Fort Wayne was funding and running like half the teams in the league & was the de facto league offices, which tells you everything you needed to know about league parity and fairness.  Brendan Savage actually had a big hand in pulling back the curtain on it all and Fort Wayne people haaaaaaaaated Savage’s guts for it even more than they already did.

Amateur tryouts sounds dumb probably but… every once and a while someone completely falls through the cracks.  5 years ago the Kalamazoo Wings (then in the IHL 2.0) gave a mid-season tryout to a guy from Michigan that’d been playing rec league hockey and had just a little NCAA Div. 3 experience, then went FIVE YEARS not playing organized hockey outside of rec league in Howell, MI.  He had a two-game tryout with Flint but didn’t catch on (and Flint was a dreadful team, FWIW).

He latched on in Kalamazoo though, was a key 3rd liner to their playoffs, and landed a full deal the next season when Kzoo switched to the ECHL, and lo’ and behold was among the league leaders in scoring that season (at least until frequent AHL call-ups interrupted it).  He’s been playing in the ECHL and AHL since, including 2 stints with the Griffins.  So we’re not just talking fringe “AA” level guys with spot duty even, you can find some good everyday contributors even sometimes.

So guys like Trent Daavettila are out there.  He won’t ever be an NHLer but, playing ECHL hockey with some AHL call-ups is pretty freaking good if you ask me.  And that’s what those amateur tryouts offer, be they preseason or midseason.  For all the talk about NHL scouting, it’s still not so hot at the lower levels because they just don’t have the resources.

Posted by Primis on 08/12/13 at 09:34 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.