One of the great things about the FPHL and SPHL is that they bring professional hockey to markets that often would otherwise have no shot at having hockey in town.
And with that comes a lot of new fans, and people who aren’t in touch with all of the rules or just how things work in hockey. Throw in that leagues like the FPHL and SPHL play under different rules than the NHL or other affiliated hockey leagues and it can be confusing, leaving fans with a number of questions about how things work, especially when it comes to rosters.
And that’s all OK! And we want to help, so we decided to reach out to a couple sources within each league to get the lowdown on how rosters in each league work, from the size on game night, to call-ups, and even trades.
We hope this helps, and so the next time someone has a question about any of these things below, you can look smart and have the answer.
Each league skates 18 players on game day, but roster construction and rules are very different
When the puck drops, barring crazy injuries or some other last-minute oddity, both leagues will feature rosters with 18 players. Typically, but not always, those 18 players are made up of 10 forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies. So there is an extra forward who will get a few minutes throughout the game, but also sort of acts as insurance if an injury happens, making sure the team will have a full three lines so no player has to start double shifting.
But when it’s not game day, the rosters are constructed very differently.
The FPHL this season expanded rosters to 25 total players, but only 18 dress on game night. Those players that are in spots 19 to 25 on the roster are sort of reserves for their teams, available and ready to be called on if an injury or call-up to the SPHL happens. How much they practice with their respective teams varies from coach to coach for each team, and not every team will take full advantage of the full 25 roster spots.
In the SPHL, rosters are quite a bit smaller, but more active. SPHL limits rosters to just 19 players on the active roster, meaning that every night there is a game, there is one healthy scratch who does not play. That player practices with the team daily, and even travels with them on road trips in case of injuries or player call-ups to the ECHL. While the SPHL has smaller rosters, it doesn’t limit ways teams can sign players. SPHL teams are permitted to sign up to 50 players in a season to what is called an SPC, a Standard Player Contact, meaning once signed, they are officially on the roster. In addition to that, they have the ability to sign five players to PTOs, Player Tryouts, and five players to three-game tryouts, giving teams the chance to see up to 60 different players in a season. Most don’t come close to using that full number.
Protected lists mean nothing when it comes to actually playing
Before the season and training camp even starts, each team in the FPHL and SPHL are required to submit a protected list of players. Players must have been a member of the team the prior season to be eligible for protection. In the SPHL teams are allowed to protect 13 players heading into the season, meaning there is always roster movement and not the same 19 players returning every season, but non-protected players can always re-sign with their previous team if they want.
In the FPHL, after the season ends team rosters were 21 to end the season due to teams expanding rosters to 20 for the playoffs, plus one PTO, and then the team also retains the rights to any call-ups and team suspensions/IR spots, so protected lists can vary from team to team in the FPHL. Then throw in that they only got to protect 12 of those 20+ players in the most recent FPHL expansion draft, and there’s a ton of player movement in the FPHL, especially since players are doing all they can to move to a higher league.
Now that that’s all out of the way about how many players each team protects, take those lists with a HUGE grain of salt. Those lists just give you those player rights within each league, but does not mean they have to play there. If you protect a player and he gets an offer to play in the SPHL, ECHL, or a league in Europe, they are free to go sign there. But if they are cut and looking to sign back in the SPHL or FPHL, that team that protected them before the season is the only team they can play with, unless their rights are traded or released.
So it’s entirely possible that a team might save a roster spot or use a protected spot, and that player never suits up for them during the season. A good example of this is Josh Pietrantonio, who was protected by Carolina in the FPHL, but has not played a game for a couple reasons, and only recently started playing this season after Birmingham of the SPHL signed him recently.
Call-ups are entirely at the decision of the player, and the team losing a player gets no help
When the SPHL or ECHL needs a player from a lower league, just because they want a player doesn’t mean they are going to get him. The team in the ECHL or SPHL calls up the coach of the player they want in the SPHL or FPHL, who then relays that information to the player.
From there, the player’s choice is the only one that matters. If they want to move up to the ECHL or SPHL, off they go and they get to their new team as fast as they can. If they don’t want to go up, for whatever reason, then the process repeats until the team in the higher league fills that roster spot.
Then once a player is gone, the team who loses the player is basically SOL. They don’t get someone assigned to them from the league, or first dibs on the next good free agent or prospect or whatever, they have to sign someone else or bring someone else to the active roster. In the FPHL, this is where you dip into those extra players we mentioned earlier, and in the SPHL, it’s where that 19th player might step in to the active roster, and then the team will need to sign a new player to fill that spot. But again, there is no help from the league or team who calls up the player, just the way of the world in the lowest rungs of pro hockey.
Trades often involve anything and everything but players
Often if you check the FPHL or SPHL transactions page you’ll see a player is traded for “future considerations” or “cash considerations.”
At one point last year a fan in the FPHL asked, “I noticed we made a trade earlier in the year with Mentor for future considerations, are there any players on that team we might want?” And that is not at all how it works, especially in the FPHL and SPHL. Future considerations or cash considerations can mean a ton of different things. Players have been traded for sticks, hotel rooms, cash as little as $1, and who knows what else. Teams often have players that they don’t need or have a spot for, and another team wants them and will trade literally anything to get them. As one source in the FPHL put it, “A player’s worth can sometimes be measured in pucks in the Fed.”
So the next time you see a player traded for future considerations, or cash considerations, that trade has likely already been completed, and for far less than you would think a team normally gets back in a trade.
So there’s a basic primer on how rosters in the FPHL and SPHL start to get constructed, and the next time somebody has a question about how they got a player or how they’ll fill a spot, you have the answers to help them out.