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Understanding Conditioning Stints

NHL teams sometimes send players to the AHL to see what condition their condition is in.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Now that we have an AHL in operation all over North America, it’s time to relearn what conditioning stints are, and why teams use them.

Conditioning stints became somewhat famous in Leafs Land when everything Lou Lamoriello did was assumed to be some clever scheme to circumvent the CBA. And it is true that our article tag “roster shenanigans” was born from one of his schemes. But conditioning stints have been around since the old CBA that predates the 2013 edition that is still (in modified form) in effect. And they are even more essential to the NHL this season than ever before.

With players on Taxi Squads who have barely played in 11 months and players starting AHL seasons without a real training camp, conditioning is a concern for everyone. There are two types of Conditioning Loans where a player in the NHL is sent to the AHL. There is no real need to use this loan for players on the Taxi Squad, since they are already in the AHL for purposes of waivers. But it may affect salary, so we might see it done.

Waivers and salary are the main reasons why the loans exist. They are essentially an exemption from waiver rules that can be used, not to circumvent roster limits or the salary cap, but to get a player some game minutes without risking losing them to a waiver claim.

Conditioning Loan

The 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. 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.

“LTIR” Conditioning Loan

This loan is just for players who is “on the Bona Fide Long-Term Inujry/Illness Exception” which is the thing we all call LTIR. One slight caveat of that 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. So either maximum may trigger the end of the loan. This loan is only to determine a player’s fitness to return off of LTIR. 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.

Roster Shenanigans

One of the players on the Leafs who sat unplayed for a long period was Nikita Shoshnikov. He was a healthy scratch, then put on LTIR, then sent on a conditioning loan of the second type. He absolutely tore up the AHL. It wasn’t even remotely possible that he wasn’t fit to play, in fact he was so fit to play, he was fitter than the rest of the team. And when the loan end, he stayed on LTIR for some time until he was traded to St. Louis.

That was the day the roster shenanigans name was born.

Soshnikov, hilariously (not for him, likely) went through the identical process the next fall on the Blues. And they dawdled about bringing him back off of LTIR as well. Because he wasn’t in the overheated market of Toronto anymore, he ultimately cleared waivers, exited the NHL, and has a lovely KHL career going with a contract in Moscow for two years. It’s not actually difficult to see why he isn’t rushing back to the NHL.

The reality is the CBA just neglects to say you have to actually take the player off of LTIR if they’re fit. You can just take your time, wait for the medical clearance which any bureaucracy knows how to make take the time it needs to take, and for a very brief time, you get to circumvent the cap.

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. 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 (Montreal used to do this when Carey Price was good).

On the other hand, we’ve now entrenched the Taxi Squad idea and fallen in love with extended rosters. Players need to play. So either we have a three-on-three Taxi Squad scrimmage in the intermission of every NHL game — like bubble hockey at AHL games — or those players all need to be loaned out as some point to get in real games.

And now you know everything there is to know about checking what condition your condition is in.