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The Carolina Hurricanes relationship with its AHL affiliate is going to be a whole different animal starting this year. And I'm not talking Rats versus Polar Bears.
First and most obvious is proximity. In about 2 1/2 hours you can get there from here, and vice versa. A quick check around the league shows that several teams enjoy that sort of convenience including the Maple Leafs/Marlies (both in Toronto), Rangers/Hartford (CT) Wolfpack, the Bruins/ Providence (RI) Bruins, and the Penguins/WBS Penguins. In the Western conference, the Dallas Stars/Texas (Austin) Stars and the Blackhawks/Rockford Ice Hogs are among others, though it's not nearly as easy as in the northeast. How do the Los Angeles Kings plan call-ups when they have to anticipate travel to and from Manchester, New Hampshire?
While the Carolina fans have been exploring the best ways to enjoy double the live hockey action, the Hurricanes management has also made it clear that many of the players will be "enjoying" the best of both worlds. Beyond learning the best strategy to get around Greensboro traffic on I-85, the other roadmap they'll be double checking is known as Article 13 of the CBA, titled "Waivers and Loans of Players to Minor League Clubs".
After the jump, I've put together a couple reference charts to see exactly how each player fits into the arrangement.
Basically we can divide the players into two categories.
1) Exempt from Waivers.
Players who are "Exempt" can be moved back and forth between the NHL and AHL teams without any waiting period, and more importantly without allowing their contracts to be "picked up" by another NHL franchise. One intention of the Waiver process is that it gives more veteran players a way out of their current team, if the parent team doesn't have room for them at the NHL level while another team might, the most familiar recent example being Michael Leighton. Players who are younger and/or have less NHL experience have not yet earned that privilege and pretty much get moved according to the needs of their club. The club has invested in their training and taken the risk that they will be full NHLers someday, and this ability to move their prospects back and forth without a hitch is part of the toolkit available to management in the development of younger players.
Here is the list of players who are exempt from waivers.
|EXEMPT from WAIVERS (as of 9/25/10)|
|Pos||Name||NHL games||Age||Pro seasons|
|(Gray cells indicate 2-way contracts)|
2) Eligible for Waivers (and Re-Entry waivers)
The CBA devotes a number of pages and examples to explain how to determine if a player is waiver eligible. As I said above, eligibility is earned after so many seasons as a pro, playing at either the AHL or NHL level, or sooner if more NHL games are played. It also varies according to the age a player was when he signed his first pro contract.
There are two main kinds of Waivers written into the CBA: Regular Waivers and Re-Entry Waivers. An eligible NHL player is placed on Regular Waivers before being "loaned" to the team's AHL club. During the waiver period, that player maybe "claimed" by another club. The player's contract is then transferred to the new NHL organization exactly as written. Examples of Regular Waivers were seen with Stephane Yelle last October and even Aaron Ward in December. Neither were claimed, and after thirty calendar days/ten games both players remained on the NHL roster of the Hurricanes and the waivers expired. Back in 2008-09, Jussi Jokinen was placed on waivers twice by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He never was sent to Norfolk, but it indicated to the whole world of hockey that his services were no longer required.
Why bother, especially if the veteran player never goes to the AHL team? Certainly it is an effective way for management to clear salary or open a roster spot for a more qualified player, but perhaps the real use for a GM is to send a message to an under-performing player that not another team in the NHL has any need (or room) for him either, at least according to the terms of the existing contract. Ouch.
In Jokinen's case back in 2009, he was not claimed either time and so 'Canes GM Jim Rutherford then approached the Lightning with a trade offer (Wade Brookbank and Josef Melichar), which allowed Carolina to dump salary while in exchange, JR took Jokinen off the Tampa Bay club's hands. Well played, sir.
If management's intention is to send the player to the AHL club, that player cannot be sent down until after a one-day waiting period (assuming the player is not claimed). Interestingly, a player may request to enter into discussions with a competing club to determine what opportunities might exist elsewhere.
The second type of waivers we hear about is called "Re-Entry Waivers". Before a waiver-eligible player can be moved [back] up from the AHL to the NHL, he must be placed on re-entry waivers for 24 hours. Competing clubs can then "pick him up," this time claiming the player at 50% off. That is, the originating club is obligated to pay half the player's salary for the remainder of the term while the new club pays the player the remaining half. Again, this was what happened with Michael Leighton going to the Philadelphia Flyers in December 2009. This is also what "happened" to Sean Avery when he was no longer welcome in the Dallas Stars room and found himself back with the New York Rangers.
This is where that road from Charlotte to Raleigh becomes a bit more hazardous for Rutherford. In the case of many prospects that are valuable to the organization, but are waiver-eligible, calling them up from Charlotte exposes them to the risk they won't ever make it to Raleigh. We have heard Rutherford refer to this when he signed Jiri Tlusty to a one-way contract in early June and when Brett Carson was signed to a two-way last week.
And because sometimes I see comments that confuse two-way contracts and waiver eligibility, keep in mind they have nothing to do with each other. Two-ways only refer to different pay scales depending on the level, and nothing more.
Two last items to keep in mind. The waiver process takes affect twelve days prior to the first game of the NHL Regular season. The Hurricanes first game is Noon EDT on October 7th. Counting backwards twelve days is September 25th, a Saturday. The pre-season schedule is packed that week for the Hurricanes, and this cut-off may be one reason why. While it's not clear to me if waiver-eligible players can be sent to Charlotte after that game in Atlanta which is the third in three days in three cities, (the ol' back-to-back-to-back), that may be a "weekend of significance" for the players listed on the chart below.
The second footnote, building on a point I made at the top, is that not only do the number of years played determine waiver eligibility. The more you play with the top club, the faster you get there. Brandon Sutter has122 career NHL games after two years as a pro. He will become eligible when he reaches the 160 mark, which, if he plays all games, will happen January 3, 2011, before his 22nd birthday. While none of us can imagine he would ever be returned to Charlotte at this point, it's a nice reminder that he is indeed on the fast track.
Here is the list of players who are eligible for waivers. Of particular note are recent NHL regulars Brett Carson and Patrick Dwyer, AHL All-stars Justin Peters, Jerome Samson and Jonathan Matsumoto, and recent goalie acquisition Justin Pogge.
|ELIGIBLE FOR WAIVERS (as of 9/25/10)|
|Pos||Name||NHL games||Age||Pro seasons|
|(Gray cells indicate 2-way contracts)|
The CBA waiver guidelines are predictably complex, and address the procedures for many unusual conditions. One in particular that we might see is that, in the event an injury or suspension prohibits the NHL team from playing a full 20-man roster, an "Emergency" call-up is allowed with modified rules that bypass some of these requirements.
Oskar Osala is one player on a 2-way contract who benefits nicely when called up to the NHL club (photo by LTD)
More than Pride and Recognition
Finally, while from the outside this seems like it is all about career achievement, pride and every young hockey player's dream to play in the NHL, there is also another motivator for these kids on a two-way contract. Here's one more chart comparing dollars/game which, while simplified, shows that getting the call up to Raleigh is a pretty nice financial windfall for a young man.
You might also note that those one-way contracts are conspicuous in the context of the Charlotte payroll.
|2010-11 Contract Comparison||NHL salary||NHL $/game||AHL salary||AHL $/game||Notes|
|Nicolas Blanchard||$500,000||$6,098||$60,000||$750||$75K guaranty|
|Casey Borer||$500,000||$6,098||$65,000||$813||$75K guaranty|
|Justin Peters||$500,000||$6,098||$105,000||$1,313||$225k guaranty|
|Justin Pogge||$500,000||$6,098||$85,000||$1,063||$105k guaranty|
NB: There are numerous additional details and specifics to the waiver process contained in Article 13, and it isn't my intention to address all of them (or even suggest I understand all of them) with this primer. Hopefully it gives us all a reference to help predict the choices and consequences for this next season. Don't forget your seatbelt.
Thanks to Bob and Cory for their help, and the late arrival of Capgeek.com's beta-version Waiver calculator to confirm my findings.