Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is part 2 of 2 looking at the Hurricanes depth that lies on the dividing line between the NHL and AHL. Part 1 made an attempt to categorize the 23 Carolina Hurricanes players who fit roughly in this group. If you missed that article, you can find it HERE.
In a simple world, the decision on which players win the last few NHL roster spots would be fair tryout. But the reality is that it does not work that way. First, NHL teams has some incentive to allocate NHL ice time with the aim of developing players, especially those with the potential to be difference-makers. In addition, multiple ‘NHL hockey rules’ can have a significant impact on who stays at the NHL level. One of the challenges of having a good system and successfully developing players is that eventually a team cannot use all of them at the NHL level and because of the NHL rules can be subject to losing some of those players for nothing in those situations.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at some of those complexities that are coming into to play with the Hurricanes increasing depth that does not all fit on the NHL roster.
Quick overview of key NHL rules
One-way versus two-way contracts
Two-way simply means that a player has a different salary at the AHL versus NHL level. All contracts for prospects that have yet to reach the NHL level are two-way. For example, a player might earn $800,000 at the NHL level and $70,000 at the AHL level. Established NHL players have one-way contracts such that they get paid their full NHL salary even if sent to the AHL. Important to note is that whether a player has a one-way or two-way contract has no impact on whether he can be sent to the AHL. It just means that if he is sent to the AHL, he will still be paid his NHL salary.
Impact: The impact is that a team can save some money by sending down to the AHL players on two-way contracts versus one-way contracts, so a team has financial incentive to keep players on one-way contracts at the NHL level over players on two-way contracts.
Example: Let’s say a team has one roster spot left and must decide between a player with a one-way, $700,000 contract or a player with with two-way contract with an NHL salary of $700,000 and an AHL salary of $70,000. If the team, sends down the player on the two-way contract, it will save $630,000 (over the course of a full season) by paying the $70,000 AHL salary instead of the $700,000 salary.
Waivers in the NHL is a requirement that certain players must ‘clear waivers’ before being sent to the AHL. What that means is that any of the other 30 teams in the NHL can claim a player who must clear waivers. That team must be willing to keep that player at the NHL level. If the acquiring team tries to send that player to the AHL later, he must again go on waivers. There is no compensation for players claimed off of waivers. The upshot is that a team runs the risk of losing certain players in trying to send them to the AHL. But players are waiver-exempt which means they do not need to clear waivers up until a certain level of experience/games played. So in general, younger prospects can be sent to the AHL without clearing waivers, but older players with more experience must clear waivers to make it to the AHL.
Impact: For players with enough experience, there is a risk of losing them for nothing in the waivers process in trying to send them to the AHL.
Example: Last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs had three potential NHL goalies in Fredrick Andersen, Garret Sparks and Curtis McElhinney. Only wanting to keep a normal two goalies on the NHL roster, they decided to try to send McElhinney to the AHL and in the process placed him on waivers. With Scott Darling dinged up, the Hurricanes claimed McElhinney off of waivers and were able to add a player at no cost.
I will not go into all of the details, but this FAQ at CapFriendly has the experience requirements for waivers to be required. And this article from the vault at Canes and Coffee covers a few other contract legalese items.
AHL/NHL fringe considerations for the 2019-20 Hurricanes roster
Petr Mrazek: Mrazek will obviously be at the NHL level, so there is nothing to consider there. Past Mrazek, the Hurricanes have a bit of a logjam at the goalie position.
James Reimer: Reimer is on a one-way contract and would need to clear waivers to go to the AHL. The Hurricanes might actually be okay with unloading his contract for nothing to clear salary cap space, but the issue is that he would likely go unclaimed and become a very expensive AHL goalie because of his one-way contract.
Alex Nedeljkovic: He has one more year of being waivers exempt which is significant in two ways. First, it is possible for him to develop for another year or part of it on an AHL salary and without risk of being lost on waivers to get there. The exemption from waivers also makes it possible for Nedeljkovic to play the majority of the 2019-20 season in the AHL but be recalled for short stints or as an injury fill in to get some NHL experience. And he can shuttle back and forth between the AHL and NHL without needing to clear waivers.
Anton Forsberg: Forsberg has yet to sign a 2019-20 contract and would need to clear waivers to go to the AHL. His contract is TBD but should be a two-way deal that pays an appropriate salary if he ends up at the AHL.
How I think it shakes out: My best guess is that the Hurricanes would prefer to save Reimer’s salary and use Nedeljkovic as the backup at the NHL level. The team would save $2.4 million (actual cost not cap hit) over a full season in 2019-20 and equally significantly would eliminate having to pay Reimer the same in 2020-21 with $2.25 million guaranteed even if there is a lockout. If unable to trade Reimer, plan B would likely be to start Nedeljkovic in the AHL with Reimer as the NHL backup. There is no issue getting Nedeljkovic to the AHL, but Forsberg would need to clear waivers.
The Hurricanes have four sure NHLers to start the season in Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk. Trevor van Riemsdyk is also certain to be at the NHL level, but might or might not be ready after shoulder surgery to start the season. That leaves the Hurricanes needing to fill two or three slots assuming a healthy extra. There are multiple players in the mix each with different considerations.
Haydn Fleury: Fleury is now on a one-way contract and more significantly would need to clear waivers to go to the AHL. As young player with high draft pedigree, another team would certainly take a chance on him and his inexpensive $850,000 contract. As such, I would be very surprised to see the Hurricanes put Fleury on waivers with intent of returning the AHL. If push came to shove in that regard, the Canes would likely be better off trading him to at least net a return.
Gustav Forsling: Forsling is in a somewhat similar position. He is different in that he is on a two-way contract, so he would have an appropriate AHL salary if he made it there. But he must clear waivers and could be a risk to be claimed as a player who is only 23 years old and with 122 games of NHL experience.
Roland McKeown: McKeown is potentially the most interesting situation. He is yet to be signed, but should be on a two-way contract once that happens. But the bigger issue is that he is another who will need to clear waivers to go to the AHL. As such, a rebuilding team with room on the blue line could claim him at no cost to give him an NHL tryout.
Jake Bean: Bean had a promising 2018-19 in his rookie season in the AHL. He also has the potential to be a boost for the power play. But as a player on a two-way contract who is still exempt from waivers, he could well be pushed to the AHL to start the season until the team makes adjustments with regard to the players who must clear waivers.
How I think it shakes out: If van Riemsdyk is not ready to start the season, I would expect the team to keep and audition all of Fleury, Forsling and McKeown. McKeown has the least experience, but has generally stepped up his game when given NHL ice time. He is also the only right shot of the group of four highlighted above. I could see the team trading one of Fleury, Forsling or McKeown if there is even a modest return versus risking losing one for nothing on waivers. Ultimately, Bean needs to see NHL ice time in 2019-20, but might have to wait for the situation to shake out. My best guess is that one of the three defensemen gets traded at some point to clear the backlog.
If everyone is healthy, I count 11 forwards certain to be at the NHL level. (Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Dzingel, Brock McGinn, Warren Foegele, Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Martinook) If Justin Williams re-signs, that would make 12 which would leave room for only one more to carry 13 on the roster.
So here too there is a bit of a logjam with a few players trying to seize a roster spot.
Saku Maenalanen: Maenalanen played well down the stretch and in the playoffs. At least in his rookie season he was limited offensively which makes him capable but not a sure thing to be in the lineup. He is waiting on his new contract which I expect will be a two-way deal. He might not be happy with it after performing well at the NHL level, but he is waivers exempt and could head to Charlotte at least short-term if needed.
Martin Necas: After a strong rebound after being sent down the AHL in 2018-19, Necas figures to again get a look in training camp. He is on a two-way contract and waivers exempt which makes it possible for him to move freely between the AHL and NHL. As such, he will need to earn his spot. If he does not, more time developing in the AHL is possible.
The field: If Necas does not seize an opportunity and especially if Williams does not return, the door pops open for a dark horse to rise up from the prospect pool and seize an opportunity in training camp.
How I think it shakes out: I think ideally the team would like Necas to seize and keep a role. If that happens and Williams returns, it then takes an injury to make another spot open for competition. If Necas does not rise up and/or if Williams does not return, Maenalanen would be default #1. Clark Bishop could be default #2 as a player whose skill set is a good match for Brind’Amour’s system. But that could also crack the door open for a younger prospect to rise up in training camp and seize a spot. The younger prospects are all on two-way contracts and are waivers exempt, so the possibility is there for one of them to win an early season NHL audition.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think the team can/will trade James Reimer to make room for Alex Nedeljkovic at the NHL level? Or will Nedeljkovic have to show some patience until room is made at the NHL level or injury makes an opening?
2) On defense, what do you think the team will do with having three players in Haydn Fleury, Gustav Forsling and Roland McKeown who have the risk of being claimed off of waivers? Might a trade be in order either before the season starts or shortly thereafter?
3) How do you think things shake out at forward between Justin Williams re-signing, Martin Necas being ready and otherwise?