(Credit: Texas Stars)

There are more than a few confusing concepts in professional hockey, especially at the minor league level, and a number of terms get thrown around without a second thought about what they actually mean. Here's a glossary to demystify a lot of those tough concepts.


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 hockey is the ECHL, formerly the East Coast Hockey League. The now-defunct Central Hockey League (CHL) laid claim to the AA level during its tenure but folded in 2014. Its remaining teams were absorbed by the ECHL.

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). Others include the Federal Hockey League (FHL) and Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (LNAH). There are no official affiliations between the A level and other levels.

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, DEL in Germany and EIHL in the UK.

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, which will be discussed below. 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. Defenseman Maxime Fortunus, forwards Landon Wilson and Curtis McKenzie and goalie Matt Murray are among previous Texas examples.

Minimum salaries for players on SPCs are set by the AHL Collective Bargaining Agreement. For 2022-23, this number is $52,500, paid in US dollars for all teams. There is no salary cap. Some AHL contracts are six figures, but many of those contracts are instead signed a two-way deals by the NHL team. Those are discussed below.

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. NHL contract numbers are available at CapFriendly.

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.

Recently, more veteran players on two-way contracts have received ever escalating 'guaranteed' salaries. For example, a player may sign a two-way for $700,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the AHL but with a guarantee of $250,000 no matter what. This protects the player from the whims of the roster not allowing them to make it to the NHL and also protects the club from having an NHL-value contract buried in the minors. These contracts were originally relatively rare and only enhanced the AHL value by 25 or 50k. As of 2022, some of these contracts have guarantees at over half a million.

Ben Bishop on a conditioning loan in December 2021
(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)

Conditioning Loans

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 during the 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 and quite often are pulled from the Idaho Steelheads. PTOs are also used for their literal purpose at the start of the season for tryouts. Successful PTO players for the Texas Stars include captain Travis Morin, who started on a PTO in Texas in 2009.

PTOs last 25 games. At that point, players must sign a new PTO or SPC to continue playing with the AHL club. 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.

For the Texas Stars, PTOs have become vanishingly rare in recent years as the team stocks their ECHL club in Idaho very well and hasn't found itself in a position where many injuries necessitate PTOs.

ATOs are usually signed toward the end of the season 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 head start on what will be their team for the coming season. Texas examples include Jack Campbell or Devin Shore. ATO players can also be undrafted.

100 Degree Hockey did a story for the AHL about ATOs that might prove useful to understanding them more.

Minimum salaries for players on tryouts are set by the AHL Collective Bargaining Agreement. For 2018-19, this number is $41,250 for US-based clubs or $53,625 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.

There is no restricted free agency in the AHL or ECHL. All players are unrestricted free agents at the end of their AHL or ECHL contracts. ECHL contracts, additionally, are limited to one year.

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 as it 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. This can get exceedingly complex with players like Julius Honka, who was drafted while playing for Swift Current of the WHL but was determined later to be on loan from his European team at the time. Therefore, he was deemed eligible immediately for AHL play.

Veteran Rule

Here's the language that the AHL uses on its website to describe the veteran rule:
Each Member Club must dress for each regularly scheduled or playoff game at least twelve (12) Players, other than goaltenders, who have played in a combined total of not more than two hundred and sixty (260) regular season game in the National Hockey League, American Hockey League, and any European Elite League, prior to the start of the season. Any player who participates in European Elite League games during a hockey season in which the Player would be eligible to play in the Canadian Hockey League (excluding over-age year) shall not have such games count in the calculation of the two hundred and sixty (260) regular season games. Players on loan from the National Hockey League for a first fourteen (14) conditioning period shall not be affected by the aforesaid experience requirement.
If the event a Club dresses fewer than eighteen (18) skaters, the number twelve (12) shall be reduced accordingly.
Beginning with the 2020-21 season Players who have not turned 25 years of age prior to July 1 of the upcoming season will be considered to meet the standard of the twelve player requirement under this section.
In the event a Club dresses fewer than eighteen (18) skaters, the number thirteen (13) shall be reduced accordingly.
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, there are no restrictions on how many games have been played. All measurements are taken at the beginning of the season and don't change as the season goes on.

Additionally, any games accumulated in European Elite Leagues during a season when the player would have been eligible to play in the Canadian major junior system (that is, under age 20) do not count toward the total.

Curtis McKenzie is a Texas example of an AHL veteran
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

With 72 games in an AHL season, two-hundred and sixty games is enough to get through a player's initial three-year entry-level contract (ELC) without hitting the rule. In fact, fourth year players are generally exempt from the rule, having played at most 246 regular season games to that point (82 NHL games per season over 3 seasons).

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

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 higher seeded team has the option to give up this advantage and start at home but it has only happened once and the #1 seeded Manchester Monarchs lost as a result. It's unlikely to happen again based on that alone.

With the departure of San Antonio from the league in 2020, Texas will always be playing 2-3 or 2-3-2 series formats.

Trade Deadline

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)

The AHL trade deadline is usually one week after the NHL trade deadline. That is for formal trades, which are less common in the AHL than in the NHL. More common are reassignments by the NHL club. Usually this happens late in the season with players who are at the end of their contracts. Ray Sawada, for example, was assigned to the IceCaps late in the season in 2011-12 to give him playoff experience before the end of the season. In return, Texas received a few players on assignment from Winnipeg.

Playoff eligibility

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.

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 [the current season].

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.
There is one important clause in there: "plus signed draft choices". This means players who played all year in Dallas can join the Texas Stars for the playoffs after the Dallas Stars are no longer playing even though they did not play for Texas in the regular season.


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.

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)

If, after the 24 hour period, no team has claimed the player, he is said to have 'cleared' waivers and can be assigned to the AHL. Some players are placed on waivers and then not assigned. This is due to the next set of rules.

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 the player has been in the NHL for more than 30 days since the last time he cleared waivers.

Division re-alignment

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 29-32 teams all years the Stars have been in the league.

However, due to relocations (e.g. Houston to Des Moines, the California shuffle), 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

Prior to the 2019-20 season, the Texas Stars had only played four Eastern Conference teams in franchise history: Hershey, Syracuse, St. John's and Toronto. We have written on both sides of the argument for more interconference play. You can read those analyses here:
Training camp

The concept of training camp in hockey functions very much as a waterfall. NHL camps open first, usually in late September with a collection of two or three team's worth of players who will ultimately either make the NHL roster or be assigned elsewhere in the hockey world.

Shortly after NHL camps start, several preseason games will have been played and then AHL camps will start. At this point, the NHL team will assign players to their AHL squad, also known as 'making cuts.' These players, and others who are only on AHL contracts, will start off AHL training camp. Some players who are on AHL-only contracts will be invited to NHL camps to create a stronger connection between all of the teams in the organization, regardless of contract. Many of the players in the NHL camp will ultimately play with those AHL players in the AHL, so they can start building chemistry earlier.

The same follows with ECHL camps. Signed draft picks of the NHL team may also attend camp but ultimately be reassigned to their junior team in Canada or overseas.

West Coast teams and the 68-game schedule

In 2015, the American Hockey League underwent a major change to move five teams westward to be closer to their parent clubs. These clubs had previously seen four or five hour long flights be the norm for their prospects to make it to the NHL rink. For example, the LA Kings had their affiliate in Manchester, NH. This was a 2 hour drive to Boston's Logan Airport and a 4-5 hour flight away. This means that Los Angeles had to carry more players on its active roster night by night because it could not get a player to the NHL in time for them to join them on any given night.

Those teams saw the model that Texas enjoys, where players can drive up in 3 hours or just fly in one, as a huge advantage and wanted that for themselves. They were ready to leave the league in order to make it happen.

As a result, there was a bargain struck. The teams would move west and stay in the AHL, but they would only play 68 games instead of the standard 76. This gave them more practice time, which was a main desire of the NHL clubs. Because of the travel involved to get to and from California by the rest of the league, the schedule diversity of the California teams is incredibly low with some only playing a total of eight teams all season.

This affected Texas highly from 2015-2018 as they were part of the Pacific Division and played against these teams and needed to vault over them to get to the playoffs thanks to the divisional format in the AHL. Playoff rankings were determined based on points percentage as opposed to raw points because of the imbalance of games.

Starting in 2018-19, all teams playing just 68 games played in the same division. As of 2022-23, all teams will play 72 games across the league.