In recent years, the Habs have been relatively active in free agency looking for players to add for Laval. With the exception of Brandon Baddock, they’ve been quiet on that front this offseason and the veteran rule is certainly playing a factor in that.
As they are a development league, the AHL has a limit on the number of veteran players that can dress for a game. Some of Montreal’s re-signings since the start of the pandemic have quietly been on players that qualify as veterans. Here’s a quick breakdown of the rule:
A maximum of five skaters with 320 career professional games* played (as of the start of the season) can dress per night. Teams can also dress an additional skater with between 260-319 professional GP as a sixth veteran (more than one in this group can play if there are fewer than five veterans with 320+ GP).
*Qualifying leagues towards the veteran GP calculation: NHL, AHL, NLA, Czech Extraliga, Slovak Extraliga, KHL, SHL, SM-liiga, and DEL. (Note that the ECHL isn’t on here.) Only regular season games count towards the calculation.
The PHPA-AHL CBA also adds the following:
Any player who participates in European Elite League games during a hockey season in which the Player would be eligible to play in the Canadian Hockey League (excluding over-age year) shall not have such games count in the calculation of the two hundred and sixty (260) regular season games.
Having fun yet? But wait, there’s more:
Beginning with the 2020-21 season Players who have not turned 25 years of age prior to July 1 of the upcoming season will be considered to meet the standard of the twelve player requirement under this section.
The twelve player requirement referenced in the new rule represents the number of required ‘developmental’ skaters.
Those last two segments take Lukas Vejdemo out of the picture (270 qualifying GP, some of which came as a junior-aged player, and still 24) which may have played a role in him getting a qualifying offer despite not being on Montreal’s playoff roster. It also helps Otto Leskinen in the 2021 offseason for the same reasons.
Let’s look at who under contract already qualifies and for the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume that anyone listed here will clear waivers in training camp which is shaping up to be sometime in December as things stand.
Joseph Blandisi (289 qualifying regular season games) – If you’re not too familiar with him, don’t feel too bad. He was part of a swap of AHL forwards with Pittsburgh near the trade deadline and was injured soon after. Blandisi has been a productive scorer in the minors in the past and is serviceable as an NHL recall as well. He falls a little shy of veteran status but he’s in that 260-319 GP tier.
Laurent Dauphin (312 qualifying regular season games) – It took Dauphin a little while to get going after the trade (starting on the fourth line didn’t help) but at the time the season was called, he was one of Laval’s more dependable two-way players. He has never been a big producer in the minors but he should fill a spot on the second or third line next season. Like Blandisi, he’s not technically a veteran but falls into that second group.
Xavier Ouellet (441 qualifying regular season games) – He’s a serviceable recall when needed and a productive veteran with the Rocket while having the respect of the coaching staff as the captain. He signed a two-year deal this offseason which is a sign that he knows that his primary role will be as a key cog in Laval.
Yannick Veilleux (329 qualifying GP) – He was one of Laval’s biggest surprises down the stretch as he went on quite the tear offensively to finish the year which helped secure him a one-way AHL deal in the process. He was the odd man out when all of the veterans were around and as he’s on a minor league contract, that could happen again if they wind up maxing out later in the season.
Alex Belzile (239 AHL GP) and Gustav Olofsson (179 AHL GP, 59 NHL GP) are names that you may have thought of while reading this but both come up a little short of qualifying. Good news for the Habs and Rocket there.
Summary: 2 veterans, 2 260-319 GP players
Jordan Weal should also be mentioned at some point. While he hasn’t been in the minors the last three years, Montreal’s current cap situation makes it quite likely that he’ll be waived and sent to the Rocket so he has to be factored in as well. Between his NHL and qualifying AHL experience, he’s well past 400 games which makes him someone that will count against the veteran quota. Add him to the others and they’re at three veterans and two in the 260-319 category, one of which will have to be classified as a veteran.
Charles Hudon (378 qualifying regular season games) – It’s safe to say that Hudon doesn’t want to be back in the minors as evidenced by the fact he signed in Switzerland. But their league will wrap up long before the AHL season does so there is a chance that he could be back with the Rocket for the stretch run if he wants to try to bolster his value heading into free agency.
Let’s forget about Hudon for now as even if he was to sign midseason, that doesn’t affect things in the immediate future. They have one spot left but have elected not to use it. I wouldn’t be surprised if that spot is filled by a trade, potentially involving Charlie Lindgren to a team that has an injury in training camp and needs some extra depth between the pipes. A swap of veterans on one-way deals seems likely in that instance and that would max Laval out.
Depending on how the rest of free agency looks, it’s possible that the Habs could try to add someone still for a low-priced depth move that would force another bubble player down to the Rocket. But it’s safe to say that beyond that, don’t expect any other significant help being added for Laval for next season.