The Toronto Maple Leafs will continue to have the best team brand in hockey under their watchful eye, as the organization announced an extension of their affiliation with the Orlando Solar Bears this afternoon.
From the official press release:
“Our relationship with the Solar Bears has been very beneficial,” said Toronto Maple Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas. “There have been a number of players called up from Orlando who have helped contribute to a successful Marlies season. We’ve been extremely happy in the development of our prospects and in also working with head coach Anthony Noreen and the Orlando ownership and management.”“We are thrilled about the opportunity to continue our affiliation with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies,” Solar Bears Chairman/CEO Joe Haleski said. “The players provided to us by both clubs will serve to enhance our efforts to bring a championship hockey team to Orlando.”
To Dubas’ point, the Marlies have had multiple regular Solar Bears fill in gaps for the Marlies this year, including goaltenders Ryan Massa and Rob Madore along with skaters Eric Faille, TJ Foster, Jack Rodewald, Rylan Schwart, and Eric Baier. Marlies regulars Garret Sparks and James Martin had brief assignments with the team, as did Ryan Rupert before he was traded in the Dion Phaneuf deal.
Dubas spent some time this offseason talking about his ambitions for a “baseball-like” model for the organization, which would see the team sign a significant staff to play in the ECHL in hopes of unearthing some gems that may have been overlooked prior. Toronto’s one significant hit in this regard was Justin Holl, who has been stellar on the Marlies blue line this year, but he proved that well before training camp.
Nevertheless, the Leafs organization provided Anthony Moreen with a young and eager roster who ended the year with a 33-30-9 record. Not exactly world-beating, but a curious roster nonetheless.
The deal is a one-year agreement, though it gives the Leafs an option to stick around for a second season if they please. It’ll be interesting to see if they take the option, given the proximity of the Brampton Beast. Many assumed that they’d pounce on the opportunity to steal the Beast away from the Montreal Canadiens, but the league’s most local club has struggled to stay afloat financially and would likely require significant MLSE investment if not total ownership to stay afloat. Meanwhile, the Solar Bears are beloved in Orlando, do well financially, are top-3 in ECHL attendance and the players are treated to top-flight arena and training facilities.
For now, though, it’s another twelve months of being able to appreciate that spectacular name and those spectacular jerseys.