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Training camp rules: How does it all work, again?

With training camp about to start in Toronto with medicals today, here’s an update on the rules that govern how teams run their camps.

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs
You see the strangest players on the ice in pre-season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are about to start training camp, first with medicals and then a trip to Niagara Falls for the weekend. Most training camps are a little less fan-focused than this year’s Leafs event, but no matter where they are, public, private or one big road trip, they have rules about how they are run.

It’s all in the CBA

The rules are the result of the tension between the players' interests, the teams', and the league's desire to make money as an entertainment product. Training camp has all three things going on at once, but there are some protections against the league running an even longer schedule of meaningless pre-season games for the ticket revenue, or the teams demanding too much practice time.

The length of training camp is determined by Article 15 in the CBA. The maximum is 20 days for regular returning players, and 27 for everyone else.

There are some other interesting rules in Article 15 that limit the amount of ice time in the first few days of camp and prohibit on-ice activites on the very first day. Every player also gets one day off in each half of the training camp period.

The unwritten rules

The player protection motive for those rules is obvious, but they seem quaint now in light of the common practice of informal skates held by nearly every NHL team prior to training camp. This season, the pretence that these skates are run by the players and have nothing to do with the team has gotten so threadbare, it's hard not to just laugh at it.

The Leafs brass line up on the observation area overlooking the ice at the MCC and watch every bit of action on the ice. Patrick Marleau appeared, and there was no question of what line he would work out on. The "informal" workouts look almost exactly like a practice, with drills and scrimmages, and the only thing missing is Mike Babcock at centre ice shouting instructions.

Meanwhile off in Denver, Matt Duchene is considered to be this close to already holding out because he didn't attend the Avalanche's informal skate.

Colorado's captain Gabe Landeskog told the Denver Post, “Nobody has to be here but it’s a tradition that everybody gets in early, shows up (for captain’s skates) and is excited to get going,”

And as we all know, the rules don't apply to tradition in the NHL. Formalizing these informal practices so they can be regulated might be a topic under consideration for the next CBA.

Pre-season games

There are rules about the number of exhibition games. They always seem exciting at first, but once the first couple are in the bag, they just become the rice cakes of hockey. They look like they should be a satisfying snack, but they really aren't no matter how much jam you slather on top.

The Leafs training camp is in Niagara Falls for the first weekend, so the practices and drills that are held in the first few days before the exhibition games take over are a fan-focused event.

The Leafs schedule for the games is better than it has been in some time. There are no split squad games, no games with long travel times like the past couple of years, and the only unusual thing is the use of Ricoh Coliseum as a venue while the ACC is occupied.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2017 Pre-season Schedule

Opponent Date Time Location
Opponent Date Time Location
Ottawa Senators 9/18/17 7:30 p.m. Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa
Ottawa Senators 9/19/17 7:30 p.m. ACC, Toronto
Buffalo Sabres 9/22/17 7:30 p.m. Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto
Buffalo Sabres 9/23/17 7:00 p.m. KeyBank Center, Buffalo
Montréal Canadiens 9/25/17 7:30 p.m. Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto
Montréal Canadiens 9/27/17 7:00 p.m. Centré Videotron, Québec City
Detroit Red Wings 9/29/17 7:30 p.m. Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Detroit Red Wings 9/30/17 7:00 p.m. Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto

One curious quirk of this year's schedule is that the Marlies play two exhibition games at the exact same time as the last two Leafs games. To put an NHL regular roster player, termed a "50-game player" in the CBA, onto the roster for those games, they must be placed on waivers first, but this is a rare event.

There has been no official word yet if the Leafs are going to run a minor league camp separate from the NHL camp, or when that will split off, but the likelihood is that the roster for the Marlies exhibition games will be exclusively AHL-contracted players for those two games, with a heavy emphasis on players heading off to the Orlando Solar Bears.

The veteran rule

Not all those AHL players will wait for the end of the month to get in a game. NHL teams are allowed to have anyone on their training camp roster, including their AHL-contracted players, dress for NHL exhibition games. You may see Rich Clune play for the Leafs again this fall, or Martins Dzierkals or JJ Piccinich. This is particularly useful for getting enough goalies to cover games on consecutive days or meeting the veteran rule. Anyone on a professional try-out (PTO) is allowed to play.

Last year, the NHL suspended the veteran rule because of the World Cup of Hockey, but that rule will be back in effect, meaning eight veterans have to dress for every game. Veterans are:

  • Skaters who played 30 NHL games the previous year
  • Goalies who dressed in 50 NHL games or played in 30 NHL games the previous year
  • Any player who has played 100 or more NHL games
  • A current year first round pick

So, that means Timothy Liljegren counts as a veteran, but none of the European free agent signings to NHL contracts, no matter their age or professional experience, do.

So far, the Leafs have made no moves to add any NHL-level players on a PTO. They don't have any extra SPC space to speak of, so it's not likely they are looking to add anyone unless the player would take an AHL contract, but the Leafs have given PTOs to players as favours in the past -- Brandon Prust the most recent example. Unless there is a centre out there who hasn’t been signed, or the Leafs decide they need an extra goalie on hand, I doubt there will be any PTOs this season.

No stats for games at non-NHL rinks

In the past, no official scorer’s stats are kept for the pre-season games at non-NHL rinks. That means all those games at Ricoh will have goals, assists, and perhaps SOG, provided. No one will be able to dissect anyone’s pre-season Corsi percentage to see if it reveals anything for most of the Leafs pre-season.

You have to go

Training Camp is mandatory, and players who fail to report without permission do lose pay. So if there are any holdouts this year, they get poorer every day.