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What’s in a Name?

January 29th, 2018

“I will not play in the ECHL”, starts the call, “I’m on an NHL contract, and guys never come back from that league”.  I have had this conversation many times over an 18-year career as an NHL agent, sometimes warranted, and other times simply guided by a stigma that shouldn’t exist.

Let me explain:  The East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) has been in existence for 30 years, and counted 66 players on NHL opening day rosters this past October. Even still, young players, who are simply basing their assumptions on hearsay, will fight tooth and nail not to be assigned to the “coast”.  The league itself has gone through many changes and mutations over the years, taking its lumps as a dead-end league for a few years and even living through a period of being designated as a “goon league”, but I don’t agree with any of these assumptions.

Yes, there are teams in the ECHL with sub-par coaching and sub-par accommodations, but for the most part, it is a great developmental league that has benefitted players over the years.  The players who have been assigned there and have not respected the league have quickly learned that it will eat them up.  I agree that the ECHL has had some low moments in the past, sometimes known as a league where older, “never give up” players simply collected paychecks, and younger players picked up bad habits on and off the ice, but times have changed, and the ECHL now plays an important role in the development of many young players who are not quite ready for the more highly-regarded American Hockey League (AHL).

“Would you rather play every other game, and maybe 5 minutes per game in the AHL, or play 20 minutes plus in the ECHL and develop your trade?” I often ask my clients.

Many will keep asking for the AHL, but the ego is usually doing the talking.  I have had great NHL players like Rich Peverley, Deryk Engelland, Philipp Grubauer and Logan Shaw ply their trade in the ECHL, and become more complete players because of it.  The coaches in the ECHL (40 of which are now working for NHL teams) are way underpaid… they act as coach, GM, travel coordinator, secretary, etc. for the most part, and are usually stretched thin.  I have an enormous amount of respect for the job that they do, and many are great teachers who have graduated (or soon will be graduating) to the AHL and NHL.

So why change the name of the ECHL?  Firstly, my reasons are purely for optics, and not related to historical reasons. My apologies to the league founders.

My reasons: Because the league is all over North America geographically for one, and more importantly, it should be known that it is one of the most important developmental leagues for the NHL in the world, depending on where a player finds himself in the process.

The AHL is the other important developmental league, and considered a step above the ECHL, but not all players are ready for the AHL in their first pro season.

Why not go to the baseball system and use “AAA” for the AHL and “AA” for the ECHL?  I truly think it would eliminate the stigma of the past, and reinforce that the ascension to the NHL is truly a process that is different for every player.  You rarely hear baseball players referring negatively to a certain league because of its name, mainly because it is clear where they are in a certain stage of the process, and there are no stigmas attached to the process itself.

As we try to reinforce with all our clients, as agents, that we are trying to prepare them as pro athletes to have “staying power” while progressing through a process, I think that the message needs to be reinforced by the leagues they are playing in, and by the moniker used to describe these leagues.  The ECHL is not for every young player turning pro, but there should be no shame in playing in a league that will help them become the complete player they need to be to make the next step. Welcome to the “NHL AA Developmental League”, sounds like you are on your way…

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