Fans who do not follow NHL hockey at the “I am starving for stuff to read even in August level” might assume that roster spots for the opening night roster are divvied out solely on merit. Obviously that is not completely the case with all of the strange contractual stuff. First, players on 1-way contracts get a priority because even if sent to the minors, the NHL team still pays the NHL salary. There is no cost savings. Second, players who must clear waivers to return to the minors are sometimes given roster preference out of fear that they will be scooped up by another team. Finally, there is the case of Canadian junior players which applies to Haydn Fleury.
The NHL’s agreement with Canadian juniors says the following for 18-19-year old Canadian junior players (basically in 1st 2 years after being drafted if drafted when eligible at 18):
1) If they do not make the NHL roster, they must be returned to their Canadian junior team.
2) That is to say that they cannot instead be sent to the AHL.
3) Once they are returned to Canadian juniors, they cannot be recalled until the Canadian junior season is over. (There is an injury emergency clause, but because of its terms it is rarely able to be used.)
In addition to that, the CBA rules are such that once a player plays 10 games at the NHL level it counts as a full year of service on the 3-year entry level contract and also for years of service calculations for free agency, arbitration rights, etc.
The result of this is that NHL teams get a 9-game free look at Canadian junior players at which point they need to make a call on whether they want to burn a full year of the entry level deal.
So how does this relate to Haydn Fleury and his chances to make the opening night Carolina Hurricanes roster? At least in terms of October, it could help his chances. All of the other Canes prospects still competing for NHL roster spots have the ability to travel back and forth between the NHL and AHL during the season. If Fleury is sent down (to juniors), he is gone for good.
So if the Hurricanes want to throw Haydn Fleury even a small bone for his work last season in juniors and a decent summer in Raleigh, it would need to happen for opening night.
With Hanifin, Murphy, Slavin and maybe even Pesce seemingly rising above Fleury right now, it could be a moot point. He arguably rated the lowest of the remaining defense prospects in play this weekend. It is possible that he just might not be high enough up the depth chart when final cuts are made to justify it. But if he is close and the Canes think he can benefit from a bit more time in NHL level practices or possibly with NHL regular season ice time, the legalese of NHL/Canadian juniors could be the tiebreaker that at least gets him a short stint in the NHL.
Ironically, the same legalese could make it smart for Ron Francis not to go past the 9-game limit that triggers a full year of NHL service. A number of the most promising blue line prospects (Hanifin, Pesce, Slavin) will all be up for new contracts in 3 years. It might be better financially to roll Fleury’s start forward another year and at least push 1 contract negotiation back 4 years.