AHL veteran rule may dictate Eric Gélinas’ fate

It could be the Montreal Canadiens or nothing for the veteran defenceman whose future with the organization is tied to Jakub Jerabek.

Eric Gélinas was invited to the Montreal Canadiens’ training camp this year after a rather disappointing 2016-17 campaign with the Colorado Avalanche. The former 2009 second-round draft selection of the New Jersey Devils potentially sees his tryout with the Canadiens as a lifeline to prolong his NHL career, which has been in a bit of a tailspin for the last two seasons, with numerous stints in the American Hockey League with the affiliates of both the Devils and Avalanche.

As the Canadiens build their squad for the upcoming season, they are also in the midst of building a competitive squad for their own minor-league affiliate, the Laval Rocket. But if some see Gélinas as another potential cog for the Rocket, the AHL Veteran Rule may have put him in an all-or-nothing situation with the Canadiens.

The rule reads as follows:

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.

Deciphering this rule leads to the following breakdown for an AHL lineup:

  • 12 players, minimum, must have played 260 games or less, aka “Development Player”
  • One player can have played 320 games or less, aka “Veteran Exempt”
  • Therefore, no more than five players with more than 320 games of professional hockey experience, aka “Veteran”./

Looking at the most likely Laval Rocket roster, the following players are impacted by this rule:

  • Chris Terry, 590 games, Veteran
  • Matt Taormina, 498 games, Veteran
  • Peter Holland, 386 games, Veteran
  • Zach Redmond, 320 games, Veteran Exempt
  • Byron Froese, 263 games, Veteran Exempt/

As for Eric Gélinas? 361 professional hockey games. Also a Veteran. Therefore, if Gélinas wants to sign a two-way deal and is fine with spending some time in the AHL, the Rocket would be able to accommodate all of these players at the same time, with four Veterans and two Veteran Exempt players, allowing a contingent of 12 Development players.

However, what’s complicating this grouping is a potential minor-league stint for Jakub Jerabek, who may need a tune-up in order to adapt his game to North America. He has already gone on record to say that he wouldn’t mind going to Laval if the team asked him, even though he has a European out clause in his contract should he not make the Canadiens out of training camp. Jerabek would count as a Veteran with 367 professional games, all played in Europe, sending a Rocket lineup with all of these members over the top by one Veteran player.

Would Gélinas be willing to be a healthy scratch for Laval while Jerabek gets his wits about him for the faster paced game on a smaller rink? It’s probably not in his best interest. Also, it’s quite doubtful that the Rocket would sit any of the other veterans in favour of Gélinas, as they are all top-tier AHL players. Finally alternating Jerabek and Gélinas seems like it would delay the end goal of bringing Jerabek up to speed.

In essence, Gélinas’ fate is very much tied in with the organization’s decision on how best to develop and utilize Jerabek.

Potential resolutions

One simple resolution to this problem is to wait and see how training camp shakes everyone out. All of these players, besides Jerabek, have to clear waivers before they can be assigned to the Rocket. Gélinas can be an insurance policy for the AHL defence corps should Taormina or Redmond get claimed, for instance. Once a player got chosen, Gélinas could be signed to a deal and put on waivers in order to assign him to the AHL. Otherwise, the plan would be to release him from his tryout.

Another option is for Gélinas to simply remain in the NHL as a spare player who spends long stretches in the press box for the Canadiens; a game-day insurance policy in case of last-minute injuries while Jerabek gets plenty of time in the AHL, and then they would swap when the time comes.

There are ways to fit everyone into the Canadiens/Rocket rosters, but it does come with some limitations, as well as careful asset management. When your focus is spent juggling the veterans at a development level, it is the young players that start to get put on the backburner, which is detrimental to the health of the organization.

In addition to the veterans, the Rocket will also count numerous Development players who will be competing with Gélinas for ice time, and there is little doubt who will win out for the organization’s favour when it comes down to someone like Noah Juulsen and a player added on a pre-season tryout.

Listen to Andrew weekly on TSN 690 Radio Sundays at 8:05am on Habs Breakfast, part of Weekend Game Plan.

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