The Komets are close to finalizing an affiliation agreement with an NHL team, which could be a boon to their roster – especially after failing to re-sign Brady Shaw.
Shaw has agreed to terms with the Esbjerg Energy, a team in Denmark. He plans to leave the U.S. on Aug. 6, and the regular season there is scheduled to open Sept. 16. Voted MVP by his Fort Wayne teammates, Shaw totaled 27 goals and 62 points in 48 games last season.
“I feel like the guaranteed season and the guaranteed paycheck played a big factor in my decision,” Shaw said Wednesday night. “I lost a lot of sleep deciding what to do because of how hard it is to step away from an offer from Fort Wayne. The organization, the city and, most importantly, the fans make it fun to come to the rink every day and really enjoy what you're doing.”
While lucrative offers from European teams are often attractive to players, many were hesitant earlier in the summer about going overseas because of uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Fort Wayne's general manager, David Franke, said he's noticed an uptick in overseas interest from players because they haven't been paid since March and the number of COVID-19 cases have been spiking in the U.S.
“I think (Shaw) was our best player last year. So, yeah, it's definitely a loss. But I understand where he's coming from and I can't fault him on it,” Franke said. “He's got to do what's best for him, as all the guys will that go over there. If he wants to come back here, we'll take him for sure, but right now he's scheduled for Denmark.”
The Komets maintain the rights to Shaw until next summer. They also have made contract offers to all-star Shawn St-Amant and Brett McKenzie, though both have been hoping for American Hockey League deals.
The Komets' roster so far is loaded with 17 players, including Shawn Szydlowski, Marco Roy, A.J. Jenks, Kyle Haas and Blake Siebenaler.
“The team they're putting together is going to be fun to watch, and there are so many great guys in that locker room. I really appreciate the way I was treated from the top down, and I owe a lot of my future success to the time I spent in Fort Wayne,” Shaw said. “(Coach Ben Boudreau and assistant Olivier Legault) have that team going in the right direction, and they're both going to have a ton of success coaching. I appreciate all the time and effort they put into me that helped me get to this next step of my career.”
The Komets' season is scheduled to begin Oct. 16 at Indianapolis, depending on the status of COVID-19, including social-distancing guidelines that could make it difficult to get enough fans into arenas to make it financially feasible.
The lower-level Southern Professional Hockey League announced Tuesday it has pushed its season until December. The ECHL's Board of Governors will meet next week to discuss whether it will keep targeting an October start.
Asked about the status of an affiliation agreement, Franke said: “I'm not going to say with who, but we're getting very close to a final agreement.”
Last season, the Komets were affiliated with the Vegas Golden Knights and had a less-formal working agreement with the Los Angeles Kings. The Komets would like to work with only one team this season – both Vegas and L.A. have been in the mix – so that Fort Wayne has more control over its roster and less player movement to and from the AHL.
While Fort Wayne has rookie goaltender Stefanos Lekkas under contract, an affiliate would provide at least one more netminder.
“Especially with everything in flux at our level and at the NHL and AHL levels – of course, the NHL is going to try and play the (2019-20) playoffs still here – everything in the (affiliation) agreement is important to us,” Franke said. “From the goaltending, to the number of players who come here, to the number of training camp spots (we get for our players at AHL camps), all that kind of stuff is important.”