September 16, 2012
In the city of Toronto, Canada, most hockey fans feel the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs should take on their farm team, the AHL’s Toronto Marlies at the start of the season with the winner playing in the NHL for the season. The reason for this is quite simple, the Marlies could very well be better than their parent club.
It looks like things will be a little different this year though with NHL players being locked out on Sept. 15 when their collective bargaining agreement expired. The Marlies, like many other American Hockey League teams will actually benefit for the lockout since most NHL clubs will be sending eligible players to their farm teams until the season gets underway…if it does.
The Maple Leafs have strengthened the Marlies by sending 22 players to the club including some of their brightest young prospects like Jake Gardiner, Carter Ashton, Joe Colborne, and Nazem Kadri. These players can be sent down to the AHL because they’re either on two-way or entry-level contracts. A two-way deal means they make a certain amount of money if they play in the NHL and a lower amount if they don’t make the team and play in the AHL.
Most of the other players the Leafs sent down are more or less minor leaguers to begin with and several others were sent back to their junior teams. These include Tyler Biggs, Morgan Rielly, David Broll, and Stuart Percy. The Leafs also said that they wouldn’t be laying off any of their staff during the lockout even though they have numerous front office types with fancy titles who don’t really do a whole lot. Of course, this could change if the lockout drags on.
The last time there was an NHL lockout back in 2004 the club’s media types and staff worked for the owners’ other teams. This isn’t too hard to do in Toronto since Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) also owns Toronto FC, the Toronto Raptors, and the Marlies. However, in other cities we may see some layoffs. For instance, the Calgary Flames announced that there will probably be some salary cuts for office staff or possible layoffs.
Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, and commissioner Gary Bettman won’t be getting paid during the lockout and the NHL may also decide later to lay off staff. On the other side of the fence, NHL Players Association boss Donald Fehr hasn’t received a paycheck since July 1. Sending eligible players to farm teams isn’t a bad idea since it allows them to develop their skills and confidence and theoretically they could catch up talent-wise with the league’s skilled players. This way they’ll be better prepared if and when the season faces off.
The Edmonton Oilers were another team that took advantage of the lockout to stock their AHL affiliate. Many of the club’s top stars are still relatively young and on entry-level contracts. This allowed the Oilers to assign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and Justin Schultz to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons. The Oilers assigned a total of 26 players to Oklahoma while Nail Yakupov, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, has been sent to the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). However, it’s expected that he may return to his homeland of Russia and play with a team in its Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
Other top players who were sent to the minors were Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes and Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils. Skinner, who was named the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2011, will be joining 27 other players who were assigned by Carolina. And while they’ll be taking huge pay cuts to play in the AHL, they’ll at least be getting a steady check while NHL veterans are locked out. Players who are on the injured reserve list can’t be sent to the minors even though their contracts may make them eligible. It was reported that the Winnipeg Jets assigned 13 players and the Philadelphia Flyers sent 26 down to their farm teams.
Teams also prepared for the work stoppage by making multiple signings just before Sept. 15. It was reported that several players were re-signed by NHL clubs at a total cost of $100 million. Players who benefited from this included forward Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks’ defenseman Cam Fowler, Nashville Predators defenseman Kevin Klein, Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis, and forward Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets.
Many NHL players who are locked out may end up signing with European teams as they did during previous lockouts, Several players have already signed to play in the KHL in Russia, including center Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and defenseman Sergei Gonchar of the Ottawa Senators. Both of these players have joined the Metallurg club which plays in the city of Magnitogorsk. These payers have signed for the season, but it’s likely that they’ll be released if the NHL settles its issues and a new CBA is signed. The 26-year-old Malkin is the league’s reigning MVP.
Forwards Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings and Jaromir Jagr of the Dallas Stars have also reportedly signed with Russian clubs. The KHL said the league rules allows teams to sign up to three NHL players each and there’s a salary cap on their contracts, which is up to 65 per cent of their NHL deals. This isn’t too bad for somebody like Malkin who makes about $8 million a year.