The Collective Bargaining Agreement for the American Hockey League doesn't expire until Aug. 31, 2014. There's no chance that the league can experience a lockout at the same time as the NHL, and that means a glut of talented players are heading to the AHL to log some playing time in the interim.
Over the weekend the Pittsburgh Penguins sent 23 players to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and more could be on the way if they are able to negotiate an AHL contract with the team. Players who were either on last season's Clear Day roster, finished the season with an AHL team or played in the AHL postseason are eligible to ink contracts allowing them to play in the league while the NHL is in a lockout. Such a contract would be void if the NHL resumes play, allowing those players to go back up.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach John Hynes said it's possible the team could be getting some familiar faces, namely defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Brian Strait and forward Eric Tangradi. Hynes said the three players are in discussions with management about the prospect of playing in the AHL.
"There's a possibility that could happen," he said. "I would anticipate it by the end of this week or early next week. Definitely before camp."
AHL training camps can open on Sept. 28 and they all will be crowded thanks to the lockout. Considering that players were sent to their AHL teams all at once - as opposed to the waves of cuts that occur during a typical training camp, Hynes said he will make some adjustments to how he runs things.
"We might have to split them into two groups so they all get enough work in," Hynes said. "They also haven't went through the rookie camp or Pittsburgh, so for the younger players it will be a lot more teaching time. But all the players should be more rested and eager."
Because of the crowded conditions, Hynes said, Wheeling and all East Coast Hockey League teams will benefit from the glut of talent coming down from AHL camps.
"The rules in place really strengthen the AHL and ECHL by allowing so many talented players to play here and, because there's only so many spots in the AHL, it will make the ECHL stronger," he said.
From an AHL coach's standpoint, the lockout does present some benefits as well. Hynes, for example, knows his training camp roster from day one and, after the season begins, he won't have to worry about a player getting called up to Pittsburgh the day of a game.
Or anytime for that matter, as long as the lockout persists.
"It's nice to have that roster stability, but on the flip side the players still need to invest the time and make their case here to go back to the NHL when it does return," Hynes said. "This will be the only game in town, so there will be a lot more scouts and NHL coaches and management paying attention."