Photo from orlandosolarbearshockey.com
The Toronto Maple Leafs have made a decision that is part hockey, part business today, agreeing to a two year extension of their ECHL affiliation with the Orlando Solar Bears. This extension appears to also make the Leafs and Marlies their only affiliates, removing the Minnesota Wild organization from the mix.
Does This Matter?
Yes. Absolutely. Having a proper ECHL affiliate is a big deal. The NHL team may not have as much of an impact on the roster as they will with their AHL team (where 80-100% of the roster generally has NHL contracts), but the alternative is scattering your prospects all over the place.
In 2012/13, the Marlies had no affiliate, as Toronto’s agreement with the Reading Royals had expired. As a result, players were being tossed onto whatever team would take them at the time. You don’t get as much communication between coaches, and you don’t allow your players to get to know each other – something that could benefit them down the road.
This year, it was a different story. Six skaters and two goalies in the Leafs organization ended up playing for Orlando, and in most cases, had a familiar teammate with them. Of these eight, seven ended up spending time with the Marlies this year (Cam Abney being the exception).
In some cases, Orlando ended up as more than just a place for excess players to go. For MacLeod and Yeo, both got some games in while recovering from somewhat significant injuries. For both the goaltenders, it was a chance to assert themselves while getting increased minutes, rather than have to wait behind Drew MacIntyre in the AHL.
The Amway is the nicest arena I’ve ever played in and fan support is incredible. Orlando is more of a hockey city than people give them credit for. We were treated on par with the Magic. There’s a reason my game changed so much for the better after my short stint there.”
As well, the Solar Bears became a place to look at in the event that the Marlies needed fill-in players beyond their own group. Kory Nagy was signed to a Pro Try-Out when the Leafs’ chain of injuries and suspensions at centre forced them to gut the Marlies’ depth down the middle. When the defence group got a little short, Bryce Aneloski got the same treatment.
Even if you’re reading this and still don’t believe that having a familiar place to place more of your organization’s prospects in is a good idea, you have to admit one thing; this move is still worth it just for the brand. The Orlando Solar Bears have arguably the best name/jersey/logo combination in pro-hockey, at least as far as non “classic” teams go. If the Marlies are the little brother of the organization, the Solar Bears are the younger, yet effortlessly cooler cousin. They don’t even have to do anything right to be awesome. They’re the Orlando Solar Bears.