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The Toronto Marlies and the AHL's veteran player rules

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It's time for a refresher on who is allowed to play in an AHL game.

Christian Bonin - TSGPhoto.com

With so many players on the Marlies roster, many with hundreds of professional games of experience, now is a good time to take another read through the AHL’s rules about 'veteran players'.

What is a "development player"?

The AHL is explicitly tasked to be a "development league" and that mission comes with codified rules about which players can dress for any given game.

Here is the explanation from the AHL website:

Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a 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 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.

There’s a lot to unpack in that short paragraph.

First, and most important given recent events, this rule applies to skaters only. Goaltenders are not a part of the rule. The arrival of Karri Ramo on a try-out contract will not restrict any other Marlies players from playing in a game, though it does prevent one of the Marlies other goaltenders from playing.

The next important item is the last sentence, noting that the total number of games played is calculated including only "regular-season totals as of the start of the season". So, if a skater has played 320 professional games at the start of the AHL season, he will still qualify as a "development player" for the whole season, regardless of the fact his next game played will push him out of that category.

Speaking of "development players," you can see there are two tiers. In general, a player must have 260 or fewer "professional games" played at the start of the season to qualify as a development player, but you can squeeze in one more with fewer than 320 games (I have seen this referred to as the "veteran exempt" player). This rule is applied to limit the number of veterans only. A coach can have all the skaters in a game be rookies if he wants, but he cannot have more than six of the eighteen skaters with more than 260 professional games played, and at least one of those six has to have played less than 320. If there are none in the 261-320 range then only five are allowed.

What counts as a "professional game"?

As you can see above, it’s spelled out fairly explicitly in the rule: AHL, NHL, and "European Elite League" games.

The first thing of note is that ECHL games do not count. A practical example from the Marlies is Byron Froese. Prior to the start of this season, Froese had played in 56 NHL games, 147 AHL games, and 83 ECHL games (all regular-season games only). That’s a total of 286 games, but since the ECHL games do not count for this calculation Froese is noted as having only played 203 "professional games," and is therefore a "development player" for this season.

I assume "European Elite Leagues" are the likes of the KHL, or Sweden’s SHL, but exclude their own respective development leagues, the VHL, and HockeyAllsvenskan, but there isn’t an explicit list anywhere I can find that spells out the precise leagues that count. It would be amusing if there is someday a dispute over whether or not Nathan Walker’s seven games played with the Sydney Ice Dogs of the Australian Ice Hockey League count as "professional games". I’m sure Sasky Stewart would fight to insist they do!

There is one additional detail on the website of the Professional Hockey Players Association, the organization which represents AHL and ECHL players for collective bargaining.

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 an overage year) shall not have such games count in the calculation of the two hundred and sixty (260) regular season games.

This is a bit confusing as you could interpret "eligible" to mean they were of the right age, or that they were drafted in the CHL import draft. I am not certain. However, for the Marlies this season, it doesn’t matter. Kasperi Kapanen played in the Finnish Liiga for a few seasons, but, even including all of those games, he still isn’t anywhere near the 260 mark yet. The same applies to Andreas Johnsson and his 160 games in the SHL. Even if those do all count, and he plays every Marlies game this season, he will still be a "development player" next season.

If you do know the precise explanation of the above, feel free to drop it in the comments.

Who counts as what on the Marlies?

For the Marlies it is pretty cut and dry who is a "veteran" and who is a "development player". No one actually falls into that 261-320 "veteran exempt" range. I have included totals with and without "European Elite league games" in this table since it is not clear to me how they are count as noted above.

Player Position NHL Games AHL Games EU Games Total ex-EU Total inc. EU
Brooks Laich F 764 144 19 908 927
Milan Michalek F 747 7 21 754 775
Marc-Andre Cliche F 151 385 0 536 536
Richard Clune F 139 395 0 534 534
Colin Greening F 286 112 17 398 415
Colin Smith F 1 206 0 207 207
Byron Froese F 56 147 0 203 203
Andreas Johnson F 0 0 160 0 160
Kasperi Kapanen F 9 48 101 57 158
Brendan Leipsic F 6 139 0 145 145
Kerby Rychel F 37 88 0 125 125
Tobias Lindberg F 6 56 0 62 62
Frederik Gauthier F 0 56 0 56 56
Mason Marchment F 0 3 0 3 3
Trevor Moore F 0 0 0 0 0
Dmytro Timashov F 0 0 0 0 0
Player Position NHL Games AHL Games EU Games Total ex-EU Total inc. EU
Andrew Campbell D 42 520 0 562 562
Viktor Loov D 4 129 42 133 175
William Wrenn D 0 95 0 95 95
Rinat Valiev D 10 62 0 72 72
Justin Holl D 0 62 0 62 62
Andrew Nielsen D 0 5 0 5 5
Ty Stanton D 0 4 0 4 4
Travis Dermott (injured)
D 0 0 0 0 0

All data from HockeyDB. * Note that there are some EU Elite League games for players you may not expect, like Brooks Laich. Those came from playing in Europe during NHL lockouts.

What impact is this having on the team?

In total there are six players who are over both the 260 and 320 professional game mark. One of them must sit out every game, but the decision of which one is complicated by the fact five of those six are forwards. The one defenceman is Marlies' Captain Andrew Campbell, a rather pivotal part of the team's defence, especially with Travis Dermott out with an injury.

In general, with Campbell in, it means at least one of the veteran forwards must sit out every game for the Marlies to stay within the rules. They have all drawn in to play some games so far. Marc-Andre Cliche has the fewest with four, Colin Greening the most with 18.

While Ramo arriving isn't changing the status quo, Keefe still has to juggle the roster to get the veteran forward players on the ice for games through the end of this season or until some pressure is released via trades, or a call-up of a player like Milan Michalek to the Maple Leafs.