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August 22, 2014

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ECHL landscape to change with end of NHL lockout

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It took 113 days, but the NHL lockout is all but over.

An agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players Association on a new collective bargaining agreement was reached early Sunday after a marathon session of talks that lasted a little more than 16 hours in New York.

The deal still needs to be ratified, but for all intents and purposes, there will be NHL games played this season as early as Jan. 12.

The ripple effect of player movement will be felt all along the minor league hockey systems such as the ECHL and American Hockey League (the NHL's version of Triple A), as many players will move among the three leagues.

"The (ECHL) landscape is going to change big time," said Las Vegas Wranglers general manager and coach Ryan Mougenel, who, like many others in the hockey community, was incessantly checking his phone for updates on the ongoing negotiations Saturday.

The Las Vegas Wranglers, who lost 4-0 to the Utah Grizzlies on Sunday, shouldn't be affected much by the player shuffle.

The Wranglers last season declared independence and don't have an AHL or NHL affiliate, meaning most — if not all — of the current Wranglers will stay in Las Vegas amid the changing ECHL.

"It'll affect us a little bit, but not like other teams in our league,' Mougenel said . "(The others) will be devastated. ... We stayed consistent. I had a lot of opportunity to add NHL players, and I chose not to."

That's not to say the Wranglers won't lose players.

The Wranglers had one player (Scott Campbell) called up to the AHL this season. Goalie Mark Owuya also will leave the team to rejoin the Toronto Maple Leafs system.

Mougenel expects that some of his players will be called for a shot at the AHL.

"I had five phone calls (Sunday morning) on a lot of different players," Mougenel said. "We have to make sure it's the right fit for our players."

The end of the lockout doesn't necessarily mean that the Wranglers will become instant Kelly Cup favorites.

There is still plenty of work to be done to improve on their 15-15-1-3 record and move up the Western Conference standings, especially after Sunday's debacle.

The Wranglers were simply dominated, being outshot 44-25. To make matters worse, the game was plagued by a bevy of penalties, including an ugly incident with 5:57 to play in the game.

Adam Huxley — the Wranglers' resident tough guy — checked a player and delivered what appeared to be another blow to a downed player.

Josh Burrows came to his teammate's defense and engaged Huxley in a fight in which Burrows was cut. After both men were shuttled off the ice, Utah coach Kevin Colley was given a game-misconduct penalty. Then Brad Mills grabbed the Grizzlies' entire supply of sticks and threw them onto the ice. He confronted an official and shoved him; Mills then was ejected.

The teams combined for 36 penalties and seven game misconducts.

"Tonight was unacceptable," Mougenel said of his team's performance. "We weren't ready to play."

Paul Delos Santos can be reached at 990-2416 or [email protected]. Follow Paul on Twitter at twitter.com/pauliedelos.

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