August 20, 2015
TORONTO – In an effort to build up the youth, deepen its prospect pool and add assets to its organization, Toronto management has put to use the Standard Players Contract in the American Hockey League.
The Maple Leafs, like all NHL clubs, are limited to 50 NHL contracts, so by going the route of an AHL SPC Toronto can develop players while retaining their rights at the minor-league level.
Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas, who also serves as Marlies GM, currently has 18 players signed to an AHL SPC for the 2015-16 season. A player on an AHL SPC cannot be called up to the Leafs unless he ups his deal to one of those 50 NHL contracts, but Dubas has made it clear that if a player deserves it he will be rewarded.
“If a guy’s on an AHL contract we’ll put him on an NHL deal, but we want them to earn it,” said Dubas. “We’re not just giving away NHL contracts.
“We’ve shown in the last year if the players play to the point that they have to be on (NHL deals) and they force our hand they’ll be on (NHL deals).”
The best example from last season is forward Byron Froese.
The 24-year-old centre, who was originally drafted in the fourth round in 2009 by the Chicago Blackhawks, started his year in the ECHL. When the Marlies were struggling offensively, Dubas brought up Froese on an Amateur Try-Out agreement in December. The Winkler, Man. native became one of Toronto’s most reliable forwards, finishing the regular season 18 goals and 42 points in 46 games, and in April was signed to an AHL SPC with the Marlies. In July he signed a two-year, two-way NHL contract with the Maple Leafs.
Once a write-off, Froese will attend Leafs camp in the fall because he took advantage of the opportunity at hand, which is something Dubas hopes other players can draw inspiration from.
“Now he’ll have a chance to compete for NHL time because of the way he’s conducted himself,” said Dubas.
“It gives players something to thrive towards and a certain degree of incentive to try and earn that NHL contract as we’ve shown.”
While the majority of the players Dubas has locked up with AHL SPCs next season are recent junior graduates, he’s extended deals to veterans looking for a second chance.
Forward Rich Clune and defenceman Andrew Campbell have both played in the NHL and are looking to make their way back.
Clune, 28, has 120 NHL games under his belt and dressed 58 times for the Nashville Predators in 2013-14 – his last taste of everyday NHL life.
Campbell, 27, played six full AHL seasons before cracking the Arizona Coyotes roster for 33 games last year.
“They both have (NHL experience), so they’re both players that have shown they can play in the NHL from our stand point,” said Dubas. “They’ll have every opportunity. I think we’ve been more than clear with them that if you’re deserving we’ll convert you.
Majority of Toronto’s players on AHL SPCs will likely start the season in the ECHL. While it’s a long shot for many to become NHL players — especially any time soon — the move adds depth to the minor-league system and will create healthy competition for the prospects. The downside to taking a chance on players that have been cast away or overlooked by other clubs seems minimal when Toronto is in a rebuild and focused on finding talent any way possible.
“I think it’s always been clear that’s an area of focus for us, whether it’s by trade or free agents or bringing guys into the fold, we know how we have to build this thing and we know how important adding elite young players is to the Maple Leafs,” said Dubas.
A player on an AHL SPC is required to play for the AHL club he has an arrangement with. However, he has no obligation to their NHL affiliate and is free to sign an NHL contract with any club that offers a deal.
An AHL team has the right to sell, assign, exchange, and transfer a contract, and to loan the player’s services to any other minor-league professional hockey club.
In 2014-15 the annual base salary for an AHL SPC was US$ 42,375 and there is no maximum on salaries that can be handed out.
UPDATE: Clarifies that Toronto is maximizing AHL Standard Player Contracts. The term SPC is also used for NHL deals.