Since the advent of the salary cap following the 2004-05 lockout, it’s become increasingly important to find players on entry level deals that can slot into your team’s roster and contribute. Players on their ELCs are inexpensive and waiver exempt, providing their clubs with a lot of organizational flexibility.
The Calgary Flames have 16 players on their ELCs in 2020-21, but those players’ situations vary significantly.
Simply put, ELCs are a player’s first deal in the NHL’s system. All ELCs are two-way deals and for the most part, players are waiver exempt for the duration – Matthew Tkachuk was waiver eligible for the third season of his ELC because he spent the first two seasons in the NHL, which is basically the only way to meet the games-played requirement to become eligible during your ELC.
Players on ELCs are the easiest to float up and down from the NHL to the AHL, and they can even be sent to the ECHL without prior player approval to open up more ice time in the primary farm team. They’re a contract with a ton of flexibilty.
The Flames have ELC players everywhere but in goal, meaning they may not be placing a netminder with the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks.
The Flames’ prospects on ELCs tend to fall into a few broad categories.
The junior kids
Dustin Wolf and Jakob Pelletier are two of the organization’s most exciting prospects. But they’re both (a) under 20 and (b) spending the 2020-21 season in major junior. As such, their ELCs will slide and not start up until 2021-22.
Dillon Dube spent the majority of 2019-20 in the NHL, carving out a niche for himself on the third line and scoring sweet goals in the playoffs. He also grew a beard that made him look like a lumberjack. He’s got 74 games of waiver exemption yet, but unless the team needs to do any weird cap maneuvers there’s virtually zero chance Dube will head down to the AHL.
Juuso Valimaki spent all of 2019-20 injured, recovering from ACL surgery. But he’s playing in SM-Liiga in Finland and scoring sweet goals in the regular season. Valimaki was penciled in for an NHL job before he got injured and nothing we’ve seen or heard since his recovery makes it seem like that plan has changed.
On loan in Europe
Johannes Kinnvall is spending the first season of his ELC on loan to HV71 in Sweden. When NHL camps begin, he’s the only ELC player who’s staying in Europe.
North American freshmen
The Flames have four players destined for their first year in the ELC system and one who’s in their second year (but first in North America).
Carl-Johan Lerby spent 2019-20 on loan in Sweden, burning the first year of his deal with the Flames, but he’s coming over to start his North American journey. (It’s also the final year of his ELC.)
Meanwhile, four faces are brand-new pros: college signings Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman, 2018 sixth rounder Emilio Pettersen and seventh rounder Dmitry Zavgorodniy. The organization has high hopes for Mackey, who will be given every chance to play NHL games in 2020-21.
North American sophomores
Five players are going to be playing their second pro seasons in North America, returning after making their debuts with Stockton in 2019-20.
Alexander Yelesin played a handful of NHL games and could be look at as an NHL depth piece. Adam Ruzicka impressed late in the AHL’s regular season and earned a spot at Calgary’s Phase 3 training camp in July. Luke Philp, Eetu Tuulola and Martin Pospisil will all be pushing for call-ups as well.
2020-21 is the final year of Yelesin’s ELC.
North American third-years
Finally, Matthew Phillips is heading into the third year of his ELC. He had an eventful 2019-20 season: he scored at just shy of a point-per-game pace, he earned a call-up (but didn’t dress) and a spot at the AHL All-Star Game, but he also broke his kneecap. He might not be a shoo-in for an NHL job, but he’s probably the player who will push for NHL time more than anyone else on an ELC – even Mackey.