Learning the AHL: How a roster is assembled
In the third instalment of our ‘Learning the AHL’ series, we’ll take a look at the way an American Hockey League roster is assembled.
If you missed our previous two articles, on how players can be acquired as well as the differing types of contracts players can sign, click here to give them a read.
Take a read below about the AHL’s development rule and how it can affect a line-up each night based on player availability as well as more information on the salary cap and roster rules that apply to the league.
Since the American Hockey League’s main purpose is to be a development league to the National Hockey League, there is a rule that is implemented to ensure that teams are focused on developing prospects as their top priority. Of the 18 skaters that play for one team in each AHL game, at least 13 of them must be qualified as “development players”. This is known as the “development rule”. Goaltenders are not included in this rule.
In the eyes of the AHL, a “development player” is any player that has played less than 260 professional hockey games (including NHL, AHL and European Elite leagues). Additionally, one of the 13 players may be “exempt” and can have played between 260 and 320 professional hockey games. Therefore, each AHL team is only allowed to dress five players with 321 or more professional games played and only one player with between 260 and 320 games played.
This rule prevents teams from filling their lineups with veteran players with more professional experience, and allows the playing field to be leveled; allowing all of the AHL’s member clubs to focus on development first.
Despite having a drastic impact on the NHL’s operations, the American Hockey League does not have a salary cap, or any limit on what a team can spend on player contracts. In recent years, some of the wealthier NHL teams have signed players to one-way NHL contracts and assigned them to their AHL affiliate in order to obtain top-end players to play with their prospects. As long as the players’ salary is lesser than or equal to the NHL’s minimum salary plus $375,000, there is no implication on that team’s NHL salary cap hit–meaning that during the 2017-18 season, any player on a one-way NHL contract earning $1,025,000 or less could be “buried” in the minor leagues without harming the NHL team’s cap space.
Unlike the NHL, where teams can only have a maximum of 23 players on their active roster, there is no limit to roster size in the AHL. Most AHL teams will carry 23-25 players, depending on injuries and scheduling. There is also no limit to how many AHL contracted players can be signed to one team; often teams will invest in depth players under AHL contracts and have them assigned to their ECHL affiliate until they are needed. This allows players to play more games at a lower level rather than being consistently scratched at the AHL level.
Next week, we’ll take a look a more in-depth look at how the AHL is developing the next wave of NHL stars and also a closer look at the much discussed CHL/NHL rule.