|(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)|
The Texas Stars are an American Hockey League (AHL) team. They are the minor league affiliate of the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League (NHL). In minor league systems, teams are often referred to using the baseball nomenclature of "A"s to refer to level. If you were to follow that naming scheme, Texas is the AAA affiliate of the Dallas Stars.
Because of this affiliation, most of the players that make up the Texas Stars' roster are on a contract to the Dallas Stars and are assigned on loan to the AHL team. They can be called up at any time to fill roster spots on the Dallas Stars.
The AA level in North American is occupied by two leagues. The ECHL, formerly the East Coast Hockey League, is the main AA league. The Central Hockey League (CHL) also lays claim to the AA level but has fewer teams and fewer NHL affiliations with which to back up that argument.
The Dallas and Texas Stars are affiliated with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. From 2009-2013, Texas was also affiliated with the Allen Americans of the CHL, but this affiliation ended in the summer of 2013. Players on either Dallas or Texas contracts can be assigned to the ECHL. Players on non-entry level NHL contracts cannot be assigned to the ECHL without their permission.
There are several single A leagues in North America. The most prominent is the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). The Steelheads head coach and GM, Brad Ralph, coached there before Idaho and often calls players from the SPHL when injuries occur. Others include the Federal Hockey League (FHL) and Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (LNAH).
There are a number of other leagues in North America and Europe that are not affiliated with this system but affect it nonetheless. In North America, the most common one you will hear is the 'major junior' system or the Canadian Hockey League. This is a vast hockey 'meta-league' that spans three leagues, the Ontario, Western and Quebec Major Junior Hockey Leagues. Generally, players 16-20 years old play in major junior. This is commonly where players are drafted from. There is an agreement for player transfer between major junior and the NHL/AHL/ECHL that will be discussed below.
The most common European leagues you might hear of include the Swedish (SHL) and Kontinental (KHL). Others include SM-liiga in Finland and DEL in Germany.
Standard Player Contract (SPC)
The standard contract that an AHL-only player signs to play with an AHL club. These can be two-way or one-way to the ECHL. Usually contract details for these deals are not released, unlike the NHL. These contracts are typically one-year in length. Some rare two-year contracts are signed. Maxime Fortunus and Landon Wilson are two Texas examples.
Minimum salaries for players on SPCs are set by the AHL Collective Bargaining Agreement. For 2013-14, this number is $41,500 for US-based clubs or $43,000 for Canadian clubs. There is no salary cap.
Two-way and one-way contracts
NHL and AHL contracts contracts can be either two-way or one-way. The 'way' of the contract does not mean a player cannot be assigned to a lower league. It simply affects the players' pay in that lower league were they to be assigned.
A player on a two-way contract has two levels of salary based on the league they are playing in. For NHL contracts, players in the AHL usually receive league minimum or not much more when they play in the NHL and anywhere between a tenth to a fifth of that in the AHL. A good example of this is Cameron Gaunce for 2013-14. All NHL contract numbers are available via CapGeek.
Players on one-way contracts have one salary, the salary of the highest level contract they have signed, regardless of where they play. They can still be assigned to the minor leagues, but the one-way contract acts as a guarantee for them and a deterrent for the GM sending them down. A good example of this was Andrew Raycroft in the 2011-12 season, who was assigned to the Texas Stars but still made his $600,000 salary while starting in the AHL.
|Aaron Rome came to Texas on a conditioning loan in early 2013-14|
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Players in the NHL may be assigned to the AHL for the purposes of 'conditioning loans' on occasion. These loans are mostly commonly done when a player is coming off an injury and needs some game action to get back to playing condition. The NHL's CBA sets out the rules for conditioning loans, which may not extend longer than 14 days. No loans may occur without player permission. Occasionally these loans occur when a player is not injured but just needs some game action to stay in shape. Players receive their NHL salary while on conditioning loans.
Professional or Amateur Tryout Agreement (PTO/ATO)
PTOs are usually used in season to add players for short periods of time due to injury, suspension or callup of players already on the AHL roster. Usually these players come from the ECHL for the Texas Stars but less commonly have come from the CHL.
PTOs last 25 games. At that point, players must sign a PTO or SPC to continue playing with the AHL club. Teams are limited to signing players to two consecutive PTOs. After two (50 games), the team must sign the player to an SPC or release him. Players can be released from a PTO at any time for the purposes of returning to their minor league team or signing an AHL SPC or NHL contract.
ATOs are usually signed at the end of the contract with players who are coming out of college or major junior. Often, these players are draft picks of the affiliated NHL club and will join the club to get a headstart on what will be their team for the coming season. Texas examples include Jack Campbell or Austin Smith. ATO players can also be undrafted. Texas examples of this include Stephen Schultz and Cody Chupp.
Minimum salaries for players on tryouts are set by the AHL Collective Bargaining Agreement. For 2013-14, this number is $32,500 for US-based clubs or $33,750 for Canadian clubs. For PTO players, those numbers are pro-rated by day.
Restricted free agency and qualifying offers
When an NHL contract expires, players become one of two types of free agent: restricted or unrestricted. As you might imagine, unrestricted free agents have no conditions on which team they can sign with. For restricted free agents, the team gets 'first right of refusal' on the players' contract. Players that the NHL club would like to sign to a contract will receive 'qualifying offers'. The Wikipedia entry on restricted free agency does a pretty good job explaining how this works and possible outcomes.
Eligibility for Players Drafted from Major Junior
Players are eligible for the NHL Draft at 18 years old. Players drafted out of any league other than the Canadian Hockey League are eligible to start playing in the AHL immediately after the draft. Some of these leagues might include European leagues, NAHL, junior programs and the USHL. However, players drafted from the WHL, OHL or QMJHL are subject to the NHL-CHL Transfer Agreement. The agreement states that these players cannot leave their major junior teams to play anywhere other than the NHL until they are 20 years old. It makes sense for the CHL and helps protect their player talent pool from erosion. Without the agreement, much of the drafted talent from the CHL would move to the AHL or ECHL immediately after the draft. Given that drafted players are usually the best players on a team, this would significantly erode the talent base for the entire CHL. The agreement does not prevent players from heading to the NHL though.
For some Texas examples here, there are many. Scott Glennie and Brett Ritchie both had to complete their fourth year in major junior before joining Texas. Players like Jack Campbell and Jamie Oleksiak, who played in major junior but still came to the AHL before turning 20, fall into the cracks of the agreement because they were not in the CHL when they were drafted. Campbell was in the USNDTP and Oleksiak at Northeastern University.
Here's the language that the AHL uses on its website to describe the veteran rule:
Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a regular-season game, at least 13 must be qualified as "development players." Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL, IHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season.Essentially, a hockey team is most usually made up of 12 forwards, 6 defensemen and 2 goalies. Goalies are exempt from the veteran rule. For the 18 remaining skaters, the veteran rule states that 12 of those players must have played fewer than 260 regular season pro games. Of the remaining 6, one of those must have played fewer than 320 regular season pro games. Of the remaining 5 at that point, there are no restrictions on how many games have been played. All measures are taken at the beginning of the season and don't change as the season goes on.
|Travis Morin qualifies as a veteran under the veteran rule.|
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The 320 games player rule was added in the 2007 PHPA CBA negotiation to allow one "tweener" player.
Injuries in the AHL
Unlike the NHL or ECHL, there are no roster limits for the AHL. Clubs may carry as many players as they want. As a counterpoint, NHL rosters are limited to 23 players.
As a consequence of this fact, the AHL has no injured reserve. Therefore, injury information is much harder to acquire officially from teams because they do not have to publicly state which players are injured in order to maintain their roster numbers.
AHL Playoff Format
The American Hockey League's current playoff format is outlined on TheAHL.com.
There are some interesting notes on the playoff format though. Due to travel costs, teams meeting in the playoffs that are further than 300 highway miles apart play seven game series in a 2-3-2 format. This means that two games are played at the home arena of the higher seeded team, followed by three straight at the lower seeded team and closing with two at the higher seed, if necessary. Teams that are close still play the traditional 2-2-1-1-1 format of the NHL and MLB.
In 2011-12, the league changed the length of all opening round series to five games instead of seven. This had no change for 'close' teams. They simply changed to a 2-2-1 format. For teams that would have played 2-3-2 format, this meant a big change.
In order to guarantee that every team in the playoffs gets at least one home game, the series cannot go 3-2 because it is possible for one team to sweep and never make it to the lower seeded teams' home arena. Instead, teams play a 2-3 format, where the higher seeded team comes home for games 3, 4 and 5. This means that the higher seeded team could be facing elimination coming home for their first home game.
The Texas Stars played a 2-3 series in the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs against Milwaukee. The Stars won the series 3-1.
The NHL trade deadline is usually sometime in late February or early March. Players on NHL contract playing in the AHL may be involved in deals. Those players traded are usually called up, traded and then reassigned to the new team's AHL affiliate.
|Mathieu Tousignant was late season reassignment in the 2012-13 season.|
(Credit: Ron Byrd/Texas Stars)
Until the 2012-13 season, player eligibility for the AHL playoffs was governed by the 'Clear Day' roster. For the 2013 playoffs, the Clear Day roster was eliminated and new playoff eligibility rules took place.
In summary and for historical purposes, the Clear Day roster was declared list of the 22 players that the team intended to use in the playoffs that was due one week after the NHL trade deadline. All the players had to have been on the roster at some point during the season. No other players could participate in the remainder of the season or the playoffs for the AHL club unless at least three players already on the roster could not due to injury, suspension or NHL callup.
Starting in 2013, the AHL moved to the following rules:
The AHL’s trade and loan deadline is [one week after the NHL deadline]. Following the deadline, no player may be acquired via trade between member clubs, and no AHL club may accept a player on loan from a club other than its NHL affiliate.There is one important clause in there: "plus signed draft choices". This means that players like Valeri Nichushkin, who was drafted by the Dallas Stars and consequently signed, can join the Texas Stars for the playoffs after the Dallas Stars are no longer playing even though he did not play for Texas in the regular season.
In addition, the AHL’s playoff roster deadline is [the day after the last day of the regular season], by which time all 16 playoff teams must submit to the league a list of playoff-eligible players. Only those players on a team’s playoff eligibility list, plus signed draft choices and players signed to amateur tryout contracts, are eligible to compete in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Players from lower professional leagues can also be added if they played in at least eight games in the AHL and/or a lower league in 2012-13.
The AHL’s Clear Day roster restrictions have been removed. Any eligible player on a club’s roster may participate at any time during the remainder of the regular season and the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Waivers are one of the most confusing concepts in all transactions in the professional hockey world. Let's start with a basic understanding. It is in every player's interest to have the best chance at playing in the NHL if their talent dictates they can do so. On the other side, it is in every team's interest to keep as many NHL quality players as they can in their organization. Waivers allow players who are destined to be assigned to the AHL and who have the talent to play in the NHL the chance to move to another organization that has need for their talents at the NHL level.
Let's start at the beginning of the season. All players on NHL contracts are considered to be on the NHL roster. In order to assign these players to the AHL, some of these players must 'pass through' waivers. There are complicated rules for determining whether a player has to pass through waivers, which you can read in the CBA. The best resource for determining it is the CapGeek Waiver Calculator.
Suffice it to say that most players on their entry-level contracts (the first contract most players sign, usually three years in length and two-way in nature) are waiver-exempt. Players who are not waiver-exempt are usually your more veteran players. When a player is placed on waivers, they are usually destined for assignment in a lower league. When this happens, the player is on waivers for a 24-hour period, which ends at 11 AM CST on the day after the player is placed on waivers.
During this time, any other NHL team has the right to place a waiver claim on the player. By submitting a waiver claim, the NHL team is saying that they would like to bring the player into their organization and use them in the NHL. If the player is claimed, he must be on that team's NHL roster for at least 30 days following the claim. If the new teams intends on sending the player down to the minors after that 30 day period, he must again be placed on waivers and pass through in order to be assigned.
|Former Star Luke Gazdic was claimed off waivers by Edmonton before the 2013-14 season.|
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Once a player clears waivers in a season, the clock starts on when he will have to clear waivers again. This prevents a player from clearing waivers at the start of the season because no one knew him and then having a great season only to be assigned to the AHL at any time by the NHL club.
If a player has already cleared waivers once in a season, he must clear waivers in order to be assigned if he has played ten or more NHL games since the last time he cleared waivers or if more than 30 days have passed since the last time he cleared waivers.
Up until the summer of 2012, there were two flavors of icing: touch and no-touch. The NHL and AHL were two of the only leagues in the world to still use touch icing. At a basic level, when a player dumps the puck into the offensive zone from the opposite side of the center line and it crosses the goal line without another player touching it, icing occurs.
What triggers the whistle is the difference in the two types. In touch icing, a player from the defensive club must be the first to touch the puck, at which point the referee will blow the play dead and there will be a faceoff in the offending team's zone. In no-touch icing, the play is blown dead the instant the puck crosses the goal line.
Safety is the primary motivator for most league moving to no-touch icing. Players trying to "beat out the call" will race with defensemen to reach the puck, often resulting in nasty collisions with the end boards.
Hybrid icing was instituted fully in the NHL and AHL for the 2013-14 regular season. Essentially, in the event of a potential icing violation, should a defending player be the first to reach the end zone face-off dots, the play will be completed, provided the puck has crossed the goal line at that point.
This description led many to believe that hybrid icing was a "race to the faceoff dots." However, the linesman is actually making a determination of which player more likely to make it to the puck first. A case where this might apply would be a puck being rimmed around the boards. While the defensive player may reach the dots first, icing may be waived because the offensive player is more likely to reach the puck first.
Let's take a look at a diagram.
This is a hypothetical example of the above description. If the puck (red) were rimmed around the boards in a clock wise fashion, you can see that the defensive (green) player may be the first to the dots but the offensive player (yellow) would be first the puck. That is what matters in hybrid icing.
Teams in the AHL change much more often than in the NHL. Clubs relocate, change names or close down entirely with much more regularity. The Texas Stars have been fortunate to be in the AHL during a period of relative calm. The AHL has featured 29 or 30 teams all five years the Stars have been in the league.
However, due to relocations (Houston to Des Moines, addition of OKC), the Stars have played in a different 'division' either in name or content pretty much every year they have been in the league. This is a factor of both the league's fluidity and the Stars' location geographically in the country. Some of the reasons for those changes are expanded on here.
Interconference play in the AHL
The Texas Stars have only played two Eastern Conference teams in franchise history: Hershey and Syracuse. I have written on both sides of the argument. You can read those analyses here:
- From March 2011: The Case for More AHL Cross-Conference Play
- From July 2011: In Defense of the AHL Schedule Matrix
All-Star game roster selection
The American Hockey League usually selects two All-Star teams and pits them against each other in a midseason exhibition game. For the past several years, this has been an Eastern v. Western Conference matchup. A few years in the past, it had been a PlanetUSA v. Canada matchup, which put Canadian AHL players up against AHLers from the rest of the world.
Usually, there are approximately 48 players selected in total for the game, 24 from each conference. This means that each team gets at least one All-Star. During Texas's franchise history, Hershey once received five players (09-10).
In 2013-14, the All-Star game coincides with the Olympic break in the NHL and SHL. This is allowing the AHL to setup a game against a team from the Swedish league. Consequently, only twenty players were selected for the roster.
Rosters are selected by a group of league GMs and coaches.
- Training camp and early season transactions...