With the possibility of a lockout of National Hockey League players growing larger (see story this page), American Hockey League fans are left wondering how the AHL and its teams would be affected by a failure to launch the 2012-13 NHL season.
First of all, a lockout/work stoppage in the NHL would not extend to the AHL, which has its own collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Hockey Players Association (PHPA), the union representing minor leaguers.
Now to the next most-asked question regarding the subject: Which NHLers might show up in the AHL in the event of a lockout?
The simple answer: Players with two-way NHL/AHL deals, since the minor-league portion of those contracts would come under that AHL/PHPA agreement.
Of course, things are never quite that simple.
You still have to work out how the situation regarding waiver-eligible players could colour the landscape, and how European options might come into play for some who could otherwise be easily assigned to the AHL (during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, nearly 400 NHLers headed across the Atlantic), and how many current unsigned NHL free agents might opt for an AHL deal, and how such players might affect the official “veteran” quotas on AHL teams.
It’s not even safe to say every player on an entry-level NHL contract could be sent to the minors, even though all such deals are two-way and all players in the category don’t have to pass through waivers in order to play in the AHL.
That’s because some players with entry-level deals — at least by existing rules — won’t be age-eligible to play in the AHL. An example is Winnipeg Jets’ top prospect Mark Scheifele, who is signed by the Jets and could play for Winnipeg this fall if the NHL season does go ahead. However, under the current CBA, Scheifele — who doesn’t turn 20 until March — couldn’t start the season in the AHL and couldn’t play for the St. John’s IceCaps until his junior season is finished (as was the case this past spring, when Scheifele joined the IceCaps for the playoffs).
But the NHL-CHL transfer agreement (and with it, the under-20 guideline) is also expiring, leading to debate about whether NHL teams could assign contracted teens like Scheifele to the minors in the event of a lockout.
But even if NHL clubs could technically do so, they might not be willing to jeopardize their carefully-built relationships with major junior hockey for what might be some very short-term developmental benefits.
So, obviously, this could become more than a bit tangly, although you can safely assume that if Gary Bettman et al do what they threaten and lock out players on Sept. 15, there will be a goodly number of big-league calibre players sent to AHL clubs, as was the case in 2004-05 when the likes of Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury and Mike Cammalleri ended up in the minor league.
And in case you are wondering, there is only one player who played full-time with the Jets last season and still has an effective entry-level deal: forward Alexander Burmistrov.
Other NHL organizations — the Edmonton Oilers, for example (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz) — have far more youngsters who fall under that column heading.
Hey, even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could wind up with the Oilers’ farm team in Oklahoma City even though he’s only 19. Remember, Patrice Bergeron played for the Providence Bruins as a 19-year-old during the 2004-05 lockout because he had spent a full season with Boston as an 18-year-old.
Just another twist for the tangle.