With the change from ECHL to the AHL there are a lot of new rules and special cases that come into play when it comes to who gets to play for the Stockton Heat.
Take two players who some fans have seen signed this offseason, defenseman Jakub Nakladal who inked his contract on May 20, 2015 and forward Louick Marcotte who signed his contract on June 8, 2015. Now you’re asking yourself why Marcotte was the first player signed to the Stockton Heat when clearly Nakladal’s contract came weeks prior to.
Well I’ll explain that at the end of this blog but first let’s get you some key contract terms and what YOU can expect to see as a new owner of an AHL team in your backyard.
Terms and Rules to know:
Amateur Tryout (ATO): Typically reserved for the end of the season, these tryouts allow amateur players to experience the AHL without losing their amateur status. Typically, players who sign these tryout agreements are straight from Junior Hockey programs or collegiate athletes who are looking to turn pro the following season.
AHL Roster Size: AHL rosters have no limits on a number of players; however teams can only suit up 18 skaters and two goalies per game. Of those 18 skaters, no more than six classified as veteran or veteran exempt may suit up (see veteran and veteran exempt). There is no injured reserve in the AHL.
CHL-NHL Agreement: There is an agreement in place between the Canadian Hockey League (Governing body of the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) specifying when a player is eligible to play on an AHL roster. Players drafted and playing for CHL teams are ineligible to play in the AHL or ECHL until they are 20 years old (by December 31st of that year) or have completed four years in major juniors. It gets even more complicated if a player is European. If a Euro player was drafted in the CHL draft before they’re drafted by an NHL club, the rule above applies to them. However if they’re drafted as a member of a European squad and choose to play for a CHL squad after they are drafted by an NHL team, they can report to the NHL team’s AHL or ECHL teams before the age limit kicks in. Let’s get a simple and most common example in. Drafted in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in the second round, 54th overall by the Calgary Flames is Hunter Smith, who just won a Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals. Born on September 11, 1995, Smith will be turning 20 prior to the December 31st cutoff making him eligible to play in either the AHL or stick with his junior team in the OHL. Typically it’s up to the parent club (in this case Calgary) along with the player and player’s agent to determine which route is best for the development of the player. They could opt to send Smith back to juniors; however the CHL has a rule stating that teams only are allowed three overage players (20-year-olds).
Emergency Recall Basis: Players who are waiver eligible can be called up from a minor league team to the NHL to play up to 10 NHL games while on emergency recall. Players that qualify do not have to be waived to be sent back to the minor leagues.
Entry Level Contract: these contracts are two-way contracts signed in the NHL. Players who sign these deals must be younger than 25 years-old on September 15 and must be signing their first NHL contract. These players who sign these deals are eligible to be sent back and forth between the NHL and AHL without having to clear waivers.
European Elite Leagues: The following leagues qualify as leagues that contribute to ones veteran or veteran exempt status. National League A (Switzerland), Czech Extraliga (Czech Republic), Slovak Extraliga (Slovakia), Kontinental Hockey League (Russia), Swedish Hockey League/Swedish Elite League (Sweden), SM-liiga (Finland) and Deutsche Eishockey Liga (Germany). (See Veteran and Veteran Exempt).
NHL Roster Size: NHL Rosters are limited to 23 active players, however, NHL teams can hold 50 player contracts per season which covers many of the players who play for the team’s AHL affiliate. Players who are signed to AHL contracts or two-way AHL-ECHL contracts cannot be called up unless they sign a standard player contract in the NHL.
One-Way: a one-way contract means a player is signed to an NHL team and collects an NHL salary even if the player is sent down to the AHL. This player must also clear the waiver wire (See Waivers)
Professional Tryout (PTO): Players in lower leagues can be loaned to a higher league team and sign PTO contracts. Teams may sign players to multiple 25-game PTO Agreements at any time during the season. Once a player completes their 25th game for a team, the player shall have the right to sign a regular AHL contract or a PTO with any other AHL team. For example, in 2013-14 Stockton Thunder forward Andrew Clark signed a PTO with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He played 35 games for the team, amassing 7 goals and 12 assists for 19 points. After he played in his 25th game, he was then eligible to sign an AHL contract or a PTO offer with any other team, meaning if Bridgeport wanted to protect his rights and be sure they keep him, they could have signed him to an AHL contract. When Clark completed Game #25 and still was not offered a contract, he could’ve signed an AHL contract with, say, the Hershey Bears, or sign a PTO with, say, the Providence Bruins.
Restricted Free Agents (RFA): Players that are designated as Restricted Free Agents see their exclusive rights belong to one team. These players are able to negotiate with other NHL teams however if said player agrees to a contract, he signs what is called an offer sheet. The player’s current team is notified and has seven days to determine if they wish to match with an identical contract to the new team’s offer sheet including length, salary and bonuses. If a team declines to match, they may be eligible for compensation from the new team via draft picks. To submit an offer sheet, a team must have the proper draft picks outlined and those picks must not belong to other NHL clubs (picks given to current team are based on salary). Clubs owing one draft selection must make that pick available to the now former team in the next draft. Clubs owing two draft selections in different rounds must also make their picks available in the next draft. Clubs owing three draft selections in different rounds must make their picks available in the next draft. Clubs owing two draft selections in the same round must have them available in the next three drafts. Clubs owing three draft selections in the same round must have them available in the next four drafts and so on. When a club owes two or more draft selections in the same round, the players prior club gets to choose which years in which such selections will be taken.
Rookies: Players who enter the season with fewer than 25 games of professional experience in North America (NHL or AHL) or fewer than 100 games of experience in a European Elite League qualify as an AHL rookie. For example, despite playing in 441 games for the Stockton Thunder, should Garet Hunt be offered a deal with the Stockton Heat, he’d be classified still as a rookie due to only playing 10 games in the AHL, however according to the Pro Hockey Players Association (PHPA), there are stipulations that prevent Hunt being eligible to win the “Rookie of the Year” award.
Two-Way: a two-way contract is a player who’s signed and eligible to play in a higher league and lower league. These contracts can be two-way NHL-AHL contracts or two-way AHL-ECHL contracts. The parent club (the higher league team) can opt to send a player to the lower league team. Salaries for these players are different in each league. For example, Louick Marcotte signed a two-way AHL-ECHL contract. When he plays in the AHL for the Heat, he’ll earn a higher salary then if he plays for the Adirondack Thunder in the ECHL. However he is eligible to play for both teams without having to clear any kind of waiver.
Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA): Players that are designated as Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA’s) have either never signed a standard player contract or a player who’s standard player contract has expired or has been bought out by a team. These players are not subject to any exclusive negotiating rights and are free to sign with any team.
Veteran: AHL game rosters can only suit up to six combined veterans or veteran exempt players in each game played. A veteran is someone who has played 321 or more professional games in the AHL, NHL, or elite European Leagues. The number of games is calculated before the new season begins and that status cannot change until the next season. Goalies are exempt from this rule. There is no rule for how many combined veterans or veteran exempt players a team can carry.
Veteran Exempt: AHL game rosters can only suit up to six combined veterans or veteran exempt players. A Veteran Exempt player has played in 261-320 games in the AHL, NHL or elite European Leagues (See European Elite Leagues). The number of games is calculated before the new season begins and that status cannot change until the next season. Goalies are exempt from this rule. There is no rule for how many combined veterans or veteran exempt players a team can carry.
Waivers: A labor procedure in which an NHL team makes a player’s contract and rights available to all other NHL teams before being assigned to a minor league affiliate. This process starts at noon Eastern Standard time and ends 24 hours later. If only one team claims the player, his contract will be transferred to the claiming team. If more than one team makes a claim, the player will be transferred to the team having the lowest percentage of possible points in the league standings at the time of the request. If a player clears waivers (meaning no team claims him) he can be sent down to the minors. He can be called back to the parent club at any time and only has to go through waivers again if he’s played 10 games since being called up or been on the parent club’s roster for 30 days or more. Not all players must be placed on waivers as there are exemptions in place for players based on when they signed their first NHL contracts (see the table below). It also doesn’t include players who are called up on Emergency Basis (see Emergency Recall Basis).
|Age||Goalie Years||Goalie Games||Skater Years||Skater Games|
So why was Marcotte the first Heat Player?
So now back to our question at hand. Why was Marcotte the Heat’s first signed player despite Nakladal signing weeks prior?
Simple, Nakladal is signed to a two-way entry level contract with the Calgary Flames. At age 27, he’s older than most players who sign their first NHL contract but knowing what we know from the above terms we can look into the future a bit.
For Nakladal, he signed his first contract after years of playing professionally in Europe. He can play for both the Stockton Heat and the Calgary Flames next season and is not subject to waivers based on the fact he signed his first contract at age 27 and there is no games limit. However after his year contract is up, Nakladal will be an Unrestricted Free Agent and is free to sign with any NHL club unless the Flames were to offer him a contract extension.
Marcotte on the other hand isn’t signed to one of the 50 contracts that the Calgary Flames can offer, but rather is signed to the Stockton Heat. He is eligible to play for the Heat and Thunder only. Should the Flames want to play Marcotte next season, he’d have to sign an entry level contract with the team.
That is why the Heat only have one player on the roster for next season. Certainly a good chance we see Nakladal in Stockton at some point but he’s not a Heat player, but a Flames player, much like most of our roster will be comprised of next season.
Some of this is really confusing (even for me) and some things still remain difficult to explain (the NHL waiver rules are pretty vast) so there is certainly going to be some growing that all of us as hockey fans in Stockton will have to do over the next few years.
Having top end talent is exciting but the differences between the AHL and ECHL go beyond just what occurs on the ice.
Get to know the (Canadian) Hockey Media!
For many of you, this might be your first introduction to how Canadian hockey media operates. Just as our attention in the USA focuses primarily on football with NFL players among the most recognizable and popular figures in the country. They can’t do anything without being noticed. Now think of how you learn about trades and free agent signings. If you said it was from the team, you know you’re lying because Adam Schefter and the NFL media have tweeted it hours, or even days, prior to the move.
Well this is how things work in Canada and many of you saw articles announcing Marcotte’s signing. Even his junior team in Gatineau announced a congratulatory message. Oh, and Marcotte himself…he did too.
However there are rules in place that prohibit teams from announcing until ever “I” is dotted and ever “t” is crossed. While the player may have signed the contract, there is still an approval process with the team and the AHL that must occur before any player announcement is made.
This part is actually no different than what we’re used to in the ECHL as the league must approve every contract and trade prior to me, as the Media Relations guy, making it public knowledge.
However now we are a part of the Calgary Flames umbrella, one of the most popular teams in the league due to their location north of us in Canada. Media will look for any story to report and you may see more news broken away from the team.
This isn’t because we don’t want to break our own news, or because we don’t want to let our fans know what’s going on. In fact, nothing makes me happier than announcing a player move and breaking news to our fans, as well as that player’s fans, that someone will be wearing our colors and represent our team on and off the ice.
However sometimes it just doesn’t work that way, and in the day we live in, it’s hard to keep things off of Twitter, Facebook and certainly away from the media. If you ever forget about how hockey is treated in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto (boy oh boy Toronto), Ottawa and of course Montreal (did I say boy oh boy Toronto…I meant boy oh boy Montreal) just remember these analogies:
Hockey is to Canada what Tim Tebow is to the USA.
Hockey is to Canada what football is to the USA.
Hockey is to Canada what futbol is to the world.
Hockey is to Canada what Kanye West and Kim Kardashian is to the USA.