Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Minor League Contracts, Bellemare, Camp Notes

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FLYERS MAKING WIDER USE OF MINOR LEAGUE DEALS

* One of the most notable early changes that the Flyers have enacted this offseason under Ron Hextall has been the organization’s wider use of minor league contracts rather that two-way NHL contracts. This summer, the Flyers signed nine players to AHL contracts, including Brett Hextall as well as longtime NHL forward (and former Flyer) Darroll Powe.

Other players signed to AHL deals this summer include forwards Kevin Goumas, Matt Hatch and Austin Fyten, defensemen Steven Delisle and Brett Flemming and goaltenders Connor Knapp and Martin Ouellette. Some of these players may start the season with the ECHL’s Reading Royals.

Also of note is the fact that the organization did not offer 2013 third-round pick Tyrell Goulbourne an NHL entry-level deal this summer. Instead, the 20-year-old forward was offered an AHL contract with a chance to prove himself to earn an NHL contract. The player did not sign the deal, hoping instead to impress enough in training camp to receive an entry-level deal. Unfortunately, Goulbourne recently suffered an upper-body injury during the Western Hockey League preseason and may not be able to participate in the Flyers’ rookie training camp.

Last year, at Hextall’s behest, the organization signed former Edmonton Oilers forward Chris VandeVelde to an AHL contract after inviting him as a tryout player to their NHL training camp. VandeVelde was one of the final cuts made by Peter Laviolette during the preseason. On Dec. 12, the Flyers replaced VandeVelde’s AHL deal with a two-way NHL contract and called the player up to the big club. He eventually dressed in 18 games for the Flyers over the span of two recalls. This summer, the Flyers re-signed VandeVelde to a new NHL contract.

Currently, the Flyers have 49 players on their NHL contract reserve list. Teams are allowed to have a maximum of 50 players on their reserve list but there is no limit to supplementing the list with AHL-contracted players.

The Flyers’ reserve list currently includes two slide-rule eligible players in Samuel Morin and Robert Hägg. If Morin is eventually be returned to his QMHJL team, the reserve list will decrease to 48. Hägg is likely to spend the season in the American Hockey League with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Restricted free agent defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who is playing in the KHL this season for Avangard Omsk, is also on the Flyers’ reserve list. In conjunction with tendering a qualifying offer to Gustafsson even after he’d signed with Avangard, this was a necessary step for the Flyers in order to be able to retain Gustafsson’s NHL rights despite his unsigned status.

Bottom line: As of now, the Flyers can still fit two more non-slide contracts under their reserve list for the 2014-15 season. For instance, if Powe were to play well enough in training camp for the Flyers to decide to recall the veteran to their NHL roster as a fourth-line player, they could do what they did last year with VandeVelde and replace Powe’s AHL contract with a two-way NHL contract.

Hextall’s widespread use of AHL-only contracts is a shrewd way to get more players under the organizational umbrella without using up those last few open reserve list slots on players with little to no chance of making the NHL roster at any point. This is a positive change from past seasons, where longshot prospects such as Tyler Hostetter and Cullen Eddy took up reserve list spots.

In seasons to come, when the organization takes a flier on a player such as Andrew Johnston (who is currently taking up a reserve list spot), they are more likely to insist on AHL deals rather than agreeing to entry-level NHL deals. This will open up additional NHL reserve list spots for players with a stronger chance of eventually appearing in the NHL.

Once Johnston’s entry-level deal expires in the summer of 2015, he is unlikely to be tendered a qualifying offer. Likewise, coming off a disappointing 2013-14 season in the AHL, Marcel Noebels had better turn things around quickly or his reserve list spot will belong to someone else by this time next year.

Additionally, using one-year AHL deals gives the organization more contracting flexibility the following summer whereas NHL entry-level deals carve out up to three years of tying up a reserve list spot. For instance, the Flyers figured out pretty quickly that none among Luke Pither, Shane Harper or Matt Mangene were going to blossom into NHL roster players but they had to ride out their entry-level deals until there was an opportunity to include them in NHL-level trades that freed up a reserve list spot for Philadelphia.

There is also a budgetary consideration. Even if a player on an entry-level NHL contract does not collect one cent of his NHL level salary, he is still owed his signing bonus. In Johnston’s case, the player received yearly $92,500 signing bonus installments. While this is relative chump change in the NHL, the costs add up over multiple signing bonuses to players who are a longshot to ever skate an NHL shift.

For the same reason, there is also such a thing as a two-way minor league contract, paying a lower rate if the player is assigned to Reading in the ECHL than if he plays in Allentown. This is what Philly did this summer with former Texas Stars forward Fyten. He will earn more if he plays for the Phantoms than if he suits up for the Royals.

Earlier this offseason, the organization offered an ECHL deal in Reading to a former Bridgeport Sound Tigers forward with the potential to eventually earn an AHL deal in Lehigh Valley. However, the player’s recently hired agent recommended that his client seek a higher-level opportunity in either North America or Europe.

Ultimately, Hextall’s approach to minor league contracting is one that could increase flexibility at all levels of the organizations:

1) In cases such as VandeVelde’s, the team can add a potential NHL callup to the mix without committing to an NHL contract before the player’s NHL services are needed.

2) In instances like Goumas’ contract signed this year or Carsen Chubak’s last year — as opposed to Kyle Flanagan or Cal Heeter — the organization is able to get a minor league look at a late-blooming collegiate prospect without using up an NHL entry-level deal.

3) In a case like Fyten’s, the player still has upward mobility to earn an AHL spot even if he starts out in the ECHL at a lower pay rate.

********** QUICK HITS: SEPTEMBER 13

* Flyers head coach Craig Berube is in charge of running the team’s prospect camp, which gets underway today at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ. Phantoms head coach Terry Murray is assisting Berube. Ice time today starts at 11 a.m. EDT.

* Flyers 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom is in SHL action today with Brynäs in the club’s regular season home opener against Leksand. On Thursday, Brynäs sustained a 4-0 road loss to Frölunda in opening night action in Gothenburg.

* A couple years ago, there were widespread reports throughout Sweden that Skellefteå AIK forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had suffered a skull fracture as a result of a cross-check to the face by Luleå HF’s Janne Sandström an Elitserien (now Swedish Hockey League) game. As it turned out, the report was a misinterpretation of something the Paris-born Bellemare said in French and got erroneously reported worldwide after making national news in Sweden. In actuality, the ailment that kept Bellemare out of the lineup for a time was actually something far less serious, and he avoided both a concussion and facial fractures. In a story that will run later today on NJ.com, Bellemare set the record straight with Flyers beat writer Randy Miller.

However, during a previous playoff game between Brynäs and Skellefteå, Bellemare sustained a concussion on a late hit away from the puck by Brynäs’ Robin Jacobsson.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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