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Can the Canadiens use an AHL contract stipulation to find room for Michael McCarron and Kerby Rychel?

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Montreal’s roster is jam-packed right now, but a small rule with AHL contracts may give them an out to keep both prospects in the fold.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Montreal Canadiens’ roster is pretty well full after free agency, including locking down a few of their own restricted free agents. However two of those RFAs still remain without a contract — forwards Michael McCarron and Kerby Rychel — both of whom have shown flashes of their top potential, but lack the consistency to claim an NHL spot full time.

Finding a place for either of these players would not be an easy task for Claude Julien and his NHL staff. The Canadiens have a number of players locked into spots on the wing and down the middle. What this means is, without injuries or an absolutely incredible pre-season, both players are likely headed for the press box, or to the AHL, which will require waivers. As solid fourth-liners still with NHL potential, there exists the possibility that they could get claimed.

There is, however, an option that could prove to be mutually beneficial for both sides, if they can all agree to it. According to the rules surrounding qualifying offers (which both players previously received), Montreal maintains their NHL rights as restricted free agents, deal or no deal.

In the meantime, both McCarron and Rychel are free to sign AHL deals, and there are several ways such contracts could benefit the Canadiens.

First of all, it secures the players within the organization, as they would not need to be placed on waivers and could directly report to the Laval Rocket.

In addition, AHL contracts do not count against the 50-contract limit. Given the Canadiens’ contract situation (46 NHL contracts), this stipulation could be the route that they need to take.

Marc Bergevin can choose to sign both to NHL-equivalent money, similar to what Eric Gélinas reportedly got last year, but they will be on a minor-league contract, as opposed to an NHL one. It would save the Montreal front office the worry of losing the two 2013 first-rounders on waivers to start the year.

This takes the pressure off a team that is tight to the contract limit at the NHL level. Given Montreal’s current status, they would likely want as many spaces open as possible in case they take on any deals in trades for prospects or picks.

But why exactly would either Rychel or McCarron agree to an AHL deal, which would prevent them from being able to be called up to the NHL?

For them, getting claimed by another organization may be regarded as a good outcome for their NHL aspirations. But via this minor-league method, they could still be paid as they would on an NHL standard player contract, and would play regular hockey as opposed to sitting in the press box before playing the odd chunk of games, which is what faces them as NHL prospects right now. Any NHL deal they do sign would invariably be a two-way deal, meaning less pay if playing in the AHL.

Even though they may agree to an AHL-only contract, the deal can be broken once both parties agree, and they could then sign an NHL contract at any point over the course of the season. It’s something Montreal has done before, signing AHL forward Markus Eisenschmid to an entry-level deal midway through his second season in St. John’s on an AHL deal.

Obviously the players have to agree to it, but if there are assurances made about upgrading the contracts to get both players NHL ice time later in the season, it is more than likely the most mutually beneficial move either side can make at the end of the day. Both McCarron and Rychel receive a solid paycheck, ice time in a new-look Laval Rocket lineup, and the Canadiens keep two assets who could be lost through typical channels.

It’s something that we are starting to see in the NHL right now, and a way for Montreal to get creative with their contracts. A healthy development system is a critical part of such a plan for it to be accepted by the players in question, and it could very well come down to how they perceive the new direction of the AHL franchise in Laval.