The Maple Leafs have assigned goaltender Petr Mrázek to the Toronto Marlies (AHL) on an LTIR conditioning loan.— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) December 3, 2021
By doing this today, as you can learn below in the rules about LTIR loans, he can stay with the Marlies for their Sunday game only without an extension. Saturday’s game has been postponed. There is also an opportunity for him to get in a lot of practice time while the Leafs are on the road.
Update number two:
Mikheyev will travel with the team this weekend, Keefe says. Not expected to play but to get integrated with the group again.— David Alter (@dalter) December 3, 2021
This may mean he’s going right back into the NHL without a conditioning loan, which is likely easier for him, since they can play him on the fourth line to ease him in.
Keefe says as Mrázek ramps up toward his return, the plan will be to get him in some games with the Marlies (Conditioning stint)— David Alter (@dalter) November 30, 2021
Both Petr Mrázek and Ilya Mikheyev have missed most or all of the regular season, and won’t be able to just jump back in the lineup. They both could end up in the AHL on a conditioning stint, so it’s time to re-learn how this works.
There are two types of conditioning loans. If a player is on IR, where they count against the salary cap, and are getting ready to return to playing action, or if they just get scratched a lot, they can go on a regular conditioning loan.
This standard form of the loan lasts for 14 consecutive days. The player is sent to the AHL, plays in whatever games he’s assigned and then returns to the NHL at the end. His salary is paid as if he’s in the NHL, and the player counts against the salary cap and the 23-man roster limit — whereas on IR he does not. A team has to have the kind of cap situation that allows for enough players as extras to make this possible.
The Commissioner has the right to investigate the circumstances of any loan, so teams cannot use the loan to evade waivers or the salary cap. Players must consent to conditioning loans as well.
The other type of loan is for players on LTIR. In this case, the player stays on LTIR while in the minors. One slight caveat is that, for teams operating with a lot of cap space, they don’t benefit from invoking LTIR for players, and very occasionally someone who was never on LTIR is loaned under these rules. The crucial point is that this loan is for a player who has been out of playing action for 10 games and 24 days (the LTIR minimums).
The player must consent to this loan, and he is paid like he’s in the NHL still. While on this loan, the player remains on LTIR.
The loan lasts for up to six days and three games, and either maximum will trigger the end of the loan. This loan is used to determine a player’s fitness to return off of LTIR, not to keep a rarely used player in shape. Teams are allowed to ask for an extension of two more games, and that happens often.
Just like in the first type of the loan, the Commissioner can investigate at any time to ensure the loan is legitimate.
The Marlies just had their Saturday game postponed due to schedule disruptions caused by other teams’ Covid outbreaks. This means that if Mrázek were to be sent down this weekend, which I think might be the plan, six days only covers the Sunday game and the one on Friday, December 10. That might be enough for a goalie.
If Mikheyev needs to go to the minors before his return, they might choose to wait until December 10, and then six days gets them three games in a row, or they could begin on the December 11, and have three games over that period. The weekend of December 10, 11 and 12 are road games however — the famous AHL three-in-three all played in different places. Is Ilya Mikheyev ready to sit in the Russian section of the Marlies bus for a gruelling roadie? Maybe he’d have fun.
Further complicating this, the Leafs move west on December 13 for four games running through December 19.
One extra wrinkle is the rules around the roster freeze which have to be navigated so that players can be sent down whenever these two actually come off of LTIR. That’s a problem for another day when those dates come closer, however.
The Wiggle Room
All of this is a little easier than it seems, because while the rules around these loans, particularly the LTIR kind, are strict and Gary Bettman can always ask for proof a player should be on LTIR, there is nothing codified about returning to the NHL playing roster after the loan ends. So, a player can be absolutely fine and play six AHL games with great success, then return to the NHL and stay on LTIR until it’s convenient to reinstate him.
The reality is the CBA just neglects to say you have to actually take the player off of LTIR if they’re fit in the AHL. You can just take your time, wait for the medical clearance which any bureaucracy knows how to ensure takes the time it needs to take, and for a very brief time, you get to circumvent the cap.
The Leafs have tough decisions to make when both players are healthy, so it won’t be surprising if they take their time.
In general the conditioning loan process is a simple, necessary one, that isn’t shady or hinky or anything else. It does absolutely contribute to the ability of NHL teams to leave extra players sitting unplayed, however. You can create a doghouse in the pressbox more easily when you aren’t going to physically destroy the player. You can have a backup goalie you never play when you can send him off for two weeks to the AHL two or three times a year.
But at the same time, legitimate injuries need careful management. Just ask Mrázek what happens if you play when you think you’re ready, and you aren’t.
When we have more information on when Mrázek and Mikheyev will return, and what the roster implications are, we’ll cover that for you.