You could hear the disappointment in Terrence Wallin’s voice as he contemplated the fallout of the decision the ECHL made to cancel the remainder of its season and the playoffs in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The 27-year-old assistant captain of the Maine Mariners has bills to pay like anyone else. He plans on getting married on August 15, too, and was depending on the income his final three paycheques would provide to help him cover some of the costs of that event.
But that money isn’t coming. And the potential earnings in bonus money for a long playoff run is obviously off the table now, too.
“The decision does not come lightly, as this is an emotional time for our players, coaches, member teams, fans and staff,” ECHL commissioner Ryan Crelin said in a statement released on ECHL.com Saturday. “At this point in the season, there has been immense dedication and countless hours committed in moving towards what is traditionally the most exciting part of the hockey year.
“With that said, however, as each passing day raises additional concerns for the safety of those in the ECHL community — and as we take precautionary measures in conjunction with our local authorities across the continent to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — it has become apparent that this is the prudent decision.”
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported after the announcement that ECHL players will only be paid for their services through Monday—final cheques will be mailed out next Tuesday—and as he pointed out on Twitter, that’s a serious blow to all of them with the average salary in the league being just over $600 a week.
These are players who are grinding it out in a third-tier professional league for the opportunity to work their way up the ranks and have to save their limited earnings to pay for the type of summer training that could potentially give them the boost they need to take a step towards higher earnings. They are players who have no choice but to work other jobs over the off-season just to support themselves.
Wallin, who’s higher up on the ECHL pay scale, figures he’s losing $4,000 net from here to the end of the regular season. And he knows it will be virtually impossible to make it up as the world as we know it comes to a screeching halt and governments enact policy that advises people to remain confined to their homes for the foreseeable future.
“We don’t play in the ECHL for the money, we play because we’re hockey players and that’s what we want to be doing. So that’s the most disappointing thing is not being able to play,” the Yardley, Penn., native said in a telephone interview with Sportsnet on Sunday. “But I think any guy on an ECHL contract would be lying if they didn’t say they’re a little unsettled with what the next month or two holds. They want us to all have summer jobs, but who’s hiring during this pandemic? It’s going to cause some trouble for guys, and losing out on a couple grand is a pretty big deal. It hurts.
“Us guys in this league, we really value our money. Every dollar matters to us, and to have it cut short is really upsetting.”
Wallin’s head coach, Riley Armstrong (brother of former NHLer and current Sportsnet analyst Colby Armstrong), feels for them.
“They put their blood, sweat and tears into it to not make a lot of money,” Armstrong said on Sunday, just minutes after conducting his final exit interview, which was held with several meters of space separating him from each player in accordance with universally recommended precautions for social distancing to help slow the spread of the virus.
“As a guy that played in the league (Armstrong spent parts of four seasons as a player in the ECHL), you ride the bus, you’re playing three (games) in three (nights), eight games in 10 days, and you work so hard. I know for us as a franchise and just coming into the league last year, we wanted to build ourselves as a playoff team, and we’re in a playoff spot right now (the Mariners ranked sixth in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the North Division) and that’s what everybody plays for. It’s to play for a trophy. I really feel for the guys on that. And, of course, the money is a concern.”
It wasn’t the only concern players raised with Armstrong, who’s also the assistant general manager of the Mariners.
After completing year-end physicals—again, in a virus-conscious environment and with all necessary precautions taken—Canadian players wanted to ensure they could travel home immediately and begin a 14-day self-quarantine once there. And American-based players were concerned about making domestic travel plans with policy on that front becoming more restrictive by the minute.
But with those concerns addressed, the conversation shifted back to the money.
“That’s something the players need to deal with the PHPA (Professional Hockey Players’ Association) on,” said Armstrong.
One ECHL player responded to Johnston’s tweets earlier on Sunday wondering if their annual dues to the PHPA would at least be refunded. The tone of his message was clearly one of disappointment with the association.
Wallin, who’s the player-representative for the Mariners, said he understood where Frazee was coming from and that he hoped more answers would come from a conference call that has been scheduled with the association for Monday morning.
More than anything, he hopes the PHPA has some recourse with the ECHL and that he and his fellow players can be compensated as they expected to be when they signed their contracts.
“I hope some of the reps of the PHPA can put a little bit of pressure on the league and get a little movement going on social media or something,” Wallin said. “A certain small percentage of our cheques goes towards the PHPA for dues, but that’s like the least of (my concern). I think we should be getting paid until at least the end of the regular season, which would be April 7. I think that the league should be able to pay us until at least then.”