As teams begin to build their rosters for the upcoming 2016-17 National Hockey League season, you can occasionally hear that a player joined an organization on an "AHL contract". What exactly does that mean, and how does such a contract fit into an organizational hierarchy?
Last season the Montreal Canadiens had Travis Brown, Angelo Miceli, Markus Eisenschmid, Eddie Pasquale, Josiah Didier, and Brandon McNally on such contracts. The St. John's IceCaps have contracted three players to play with them in the upcoming season; Jeremie Blain, Didier, and Eisenschmid. The last two are returning after successful rookie seasons with the IceCaps, while four-year veteran Blain joins the Canadiens organization as a free agent. All three are signed to one-way American Hockey League (AHL) contracts.
What is an AHL contract?
This is an agreement between a professional hockey player and an AHL team that enables the player to play for said team at an agreed upon compensation rate, and entitles him to the related benefits and protection. This is called a Standard Player's Contract (SPC).
A player can also be signed to a Professional Tryout Contract (PTO). This type of contract limits a player to 25 games, as was the case with Eric Nielson with the IceCaps last season. For a skater, a game is counted whether the player is in the lineup or not. A player can sign up to two PTO contracts per season. When you hear a player joining an NHL training camp on a PTO it is actually an AHL contract, not an NHL one.
A player can also sign an Amateur Tryout Contract (ATO) when they still qualify for junior hockey and have never signed a professional hockey contract before. Last season Jeremiah Addison, Simon Bourque, and Chris Joyaux signed, among others. All three are expected to return to their junior teams this season.
Who is eligible for an AHL contract?
Any professional hockey player who is not currently under any contract with any other professional hockey organization.
Why sign a player to an AHL contract?
An AHL contract is essentially a depth move for the farm team to provide it with either a veteran presence, or tryout younger talent who are not projected to be an NHL calibre player, but can still contribute positively to the AHL team.
Is a player signed to an AHL contract eligible to play in the NHL?
An AHL contracted player is not eligible to be called up during the NHL regular season or playoffs, but can participate in development camp, training camp, and preseason.
Does an AHL contract count against the NHL salary cap?
An AHL contract does not count against the NHL salary cap.
Is a player signed to an AHL contract eligible to play in the ECHL?
An AHL contracted player can be loaned to any professional hockey besides the NHL, however he is guaranteed to be paid his full AHL salary unless he signs a two-way deal that pays him one rate in the AHL and another rate in the ECHL.
Does an AHL contracted player count against the 50 contract limit?
An AHL contracted player does not count against the 50 contract limit for NHL teams as that player is not eligible to play in the NHL.
Does an AHL contracted player count against the 75 player reserve list?
An AHL contracted player is theoretically not included in the 75 player reserve list for NHL teams, but there are certain circumstances where he would be. If an NHL drafted player were to sign an ATO at the conclusion of his junior season with the farm team of the organization that drafted him, then he would still count against the 75 player reserve list.
Can an AHL contracted player sign an NHL contract?
Yes. Just like any contract, if the parties can agree on a mutual termination of the AHL contract, then the player is free to sign a new deal in the NHL.
Can an AHL contracted player sign an NHL contract with another organization?
This would be a rare occurrence and there are no examples that spring to mind, but again, if there is mutual agreement to terminate a contract, then this would be a potential scenario.