WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the National Hockey League not sending the planet’s best hockey players to participate in the 2018 Olympic Ice Hockey tournament, the American Hockey League is working to fill the void of players left off primarily the United States & Canadian rosters.
Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press reports that the AHL, at the direction of their Board of Governors, sent out a memo to teams that they could loan players on AHL contracts only to national teams so they could participate in next February’s games in Peyongchang, South Korea. The games will open on February 9 and run through February 25, but players would be allowed to go over starting February 5.
According to Whyno & National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, no final decision has been made on players who have two-way NHL-AHL contracts.
AHL Commissioner David Andrews told Whyno in April he expects to lose a “fair” amount of players but “we’re used to that. Every team in our league has usually got two or three guys who are on recalls to the NHL, so it’s not going to really change our competitive integrity or anything else.”
With the AHL issuing this directive, one immediately thinks of how this will affect AHL off-season recruiting? While the answer is likely “not much right now,” it is fair to speculate that teams will go on a “signing spree” of sorts during the month of January, to combat the volume of players leaving for South Korea. Unlike their counterparts in the ECHL, AHL clubs do not have a roster limit, so the only tie they are bound to is how much they want to spend money-wise.
Another possible ramification from this will be how it could impact ECHL & SPHL clubs. How significant could the call-ups be? Will coaches be allowed some roster and cap flexibility to sign players temporarily? Will there be a degradation in the style of play at the double-A and single-A levels?
While we do not know how significant ECHL-to-AHL call-ups will be, it is safe to say coaches will likely not get much help with cap or roster flexibility to sign players temporarily. According to ECHL Director of Communications Joe Babik, any changes to the cap or roster situation would need to voted on and approved by the league’s Board of Governors.
The teams that could be affected most are those who have multiple AHL-contracted players on their rosters. If teams are hit with multiple players leaving, the effect could be significant and felt throughout the lower two rungs of minor league hockey. There will undoubtedly be SPHL-to-ECHL call-ups and the style of play will deteriorate some what.
The possibility — nay, the likelihood exists that teams will also have college players, as well as those playing in Europe, on the roster too.