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AHL players can be loaned to their national teams for the Olympics

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NHL-contracted players, even those in the AHL, are still on the not going list.

Saginaw Spirit v London Knights Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Several reports surfaced on Tuesday about Olympic participation of players from the AHL. As you know, the NHL has firmly stated that they are not allowing any NHL players to go to the Olympics in February, but the AHL is taking a different tack.

Stephen Whyno with a report in the Washington Post sets the record straight, at least for now, on who could be going.

[AHL] President and CEO David Andrews confirmed through a league spokesman Wednesday that teams were informed they could loan players on AHL contracts to national teams for the purposes of participating in the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The AHL sent a memo to its 30 clubs saying players could only be loaned for Olympic participation from Feb. 5-26.

This is contrary to a CBC report that claimed that an NHL memo had stated players on NHL two-way contracts could be loaned to their national teams for the Olympics.

The report in the Washington Post, which matches the information provided by Sportsnet, seems to be accurate and refutes that CBC report:

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly denied a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report that the league had told its 31 teams that AHL players could be loaned to play in the Olympics. It was an AHL memo sent at the direction of that league’s board of governors.

The Post story also contains quotes from Andrews from few months ago suggesting they could lose a lot of players. The CBC story contains a lengthy section on Hockey Canada’s process for preparing for the Olympics that includes participation in some exhibition games next month as well as the second leg of the Euro Hockey Tour. The first leg, in Finland, was announced some months ago to be expanding to six teams including Canada and the Swiss.

Hopefuls will audition for Canada's management and coaching staff, set to be announced later this month, with the national team in tournaments in Sochi and St. Petersburg in August, and the Channel One Cup (formerly the Izvestia Tournament) in Moscow in mid-December.

Given those preparations, it does not seem likely that there are many Canadian players in the AHL on minor league deals who would so impress Hockey Canada that they would bump a team made up of players from the European leagues.

The USA might be a different story. There are many American hockey players in Europe, some in the KHL, the SHL and a group of very good players all in the Swiss league this year. Mark Arcobello, Broc Little, Drew Shore, Nathan Gerbe are all better than most players on AHL contracts. The KHL has a shorter list of American players of high quality too.

But that list isn’t long enough to completely preclude the USA from looking at the AHL. Of course, they can also draw on NCAA and Canadian junior players who are American. But the Marlies have two interesting and skilled American players who might interest USA Hockey.

J.J. Piccinich is playing under an AHL deal this season. He was a point per game player in the OHL, and has no pro experience yet, but he might be a forward they want to consider.

Michael Paliotta is a good defender with an NCAA and AHL record that might make him very attractive to USA Hockey. There are several good American defenders in the SHL and the KHL, but Paliotta is a seasoned pro unlike Piccinich, which might get him a look.

The trouble USA Hockey is going to have is finding a goaltender outside of the NCAA or the AHL they can use. There are none in the top European leagues that I can find. Garret Sparks, one of the better AHL goaltenders last year, is off the table, since he plays under an NHL deal.

At least he is for now. This is yet another example of the NHL seemingly making it up as they go along. If the reports are true that the NHL has not yet decided what to do about AHL players on NHL deals, all of this could change.

The Marlies play nine games in the period in question. If the NHL does decide to allow NHL contracted players on two-way deals to go, then the Marlies have a much longer list of potential losses, particularly their large number of Swedes.

Until the NHL makes their rules clear, we can only guess at who USA Hockey might choose as their goalie. Perhaps whoever sparkles in net at the WJC a month before? If so, Joseph Woll should be prepared to really, really put on a show if he makes the WJC this year.