Unconventional Wisdom - Minor Assignments During the Olympic Break

Justin K. Aller

The final NHL games before the Olympic Break are wrapping up tonight, which means the final deadline for assigning players to the AHL before the roster freeze is in effect is upon us. Who can the Pens still send down?

Normally this is the time in which I drag out some fancystats and look at how the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins are performing based on some of the lesser known metrics. However, Hooks already had an excellent post about some impressive numbers for Crosby, so I figured I would try covering another popular topic. We took a look at the Penguins call-ups early last month, as well as discussing it in some of the recent comments, but it is something that bears repeating. So if you wake up in the morning and see that the Pens have sent somebody to WBS, don't panic and think that means they are not in the plans going forward for the season, they may just in fact being sent down so that they may continue to play in the AHL during the Olympic break.

As pointed out in the original post, the players are separated into one of three different categories. First are the 87-day players, those that have been on the NHL roster, whether active or even on IR, for at least 75% of the days leading up to the Olympic break. Next are the 16-game players, those that have played in 16 or more of the past 20 games leading up to the Olympic break. And lastly there are those that are neither 87-day not 16-game players.

During the Olympic break there is a roster freeze in place, no players can be re-assigned and no trades make take place, and any player that is not currently assigned to the AHL may not participate in any official practices involving team staff. So in order for our young prospects to keep developing it would be in their best interest to play rather than taking 3 weeks off. The cutoff for 87-day and 16-game players has long passed, they had to be assigned to the AHL by January 24th in order to be eligible to play and practice during the Olympic break. However, those players that are neither 87-day nor 16-game players have a different deadline, they need to be assigned to the AHL by February 8th, which is tomorrow. So who can still go to the AHL to play and practice during the break?

Harry Zolnierczyk is not an 87-day nor a 16-game player, so he would be eligible to be assigned to WBS and play during the Olympic break. However, since he has surpassed the 10-game mark playing in the NHL this year it means he is no longer exempt from waivers. So in order for him to be sent back to WBS again he will need to clear waivers. Unfortunately, it takes 24 hours for a player to clear waivers and the deadline for player assignments prior to the Olympic break is tomorrow, February 8th. So he will be stuck in the NHL and get his 3 week Olympic Time Off during the break.

UPDATE - Zolnierczyk was in fact placed on waivers yesterday, but the teams do not need to announce it to us fans, like when Dustin Jeffrey got claimed and we were not even aware that he was waived at the time. It also answers the question about whether or not they are allowed to dress a player while waiting for him to clear waivers, since Zolnierczyk played last night. As long as he clears waivers by noon today he is going to be sent down to WBS for the Olympic break.

Chris Conner likewise is not an 87-day nor a 16-game player, and also has been up in the NHL long enough that he would now need to be placed back on waivers again before he could be sent down to the AHL. Of course in the end he has remained injured, so it doesn't really matter that he has missed the deadline to be sent down to the AHL since he would not be able to play anyway. However, the Olympic Time Off and thus the roster freeze ends on February 19th, which is still a good bit earlier than the Pens staff and players will be returning from Sochi. So it is entirely possible that if he is deemed healthy enough to work back in they could assign him to WBS on a Conditioning stint and then he could return to the NHL lineup when the rest of the players return from the Olympics. Of course that is based on the assumption that he is indeed deemed healthy enough to come off IR by then.

Jayson Megna has been on the NHL roster for 93 days already this season, so he falls into the 87-day player category and as such missed the January 24th window for being able to assign him to play in the AHL during the Olympic break. He will be off for the next 3 weeks just like the rest of the team, although they do have the option of sending him down after the roster freeze ends on February 19th since he is still waiver exempt and thus is able to easily move up and down the lineup as needed. But since that is just a few days before the rest of the team gets back from Russia it may not be worth it if they plan to continue using him in the NHL lineup.

UPDATE - Megna was assigned to WBS this morning. I am going to assume there was some misunderstanding on my part, I thought 87-day meant 87 days prior to the Olympic break, but it would appear that it actually meant 87-days prior to the earlier January 24th deadline. I wonder if that means the 16-game distinction referred to the 20 games leading up to January 24th too? Interesting information to learn, but not something we need to know again for another 4 years.

Brian Gibbons is neither an 87-day nor a 16-game player, and being that he is still waiver exempt it means that he is able to move freely up and down the lineup without needed the 24 hour waiting period that Zolnierczyk and Conner have to deal with. That means that as long as he is assigned to the WBS Baby Pens by 5pm on February 8th he will in fact be eligible to practice and play in the AHL during the Olympic break. This is a situation he certainly wants to happen, as he was named to the 2014 AHL All-Star Team, so if he is stuck in the NHL with a 3 week vacation during the Olympic Time Off he will not be eligible to participate in the All-Star Game, which this year is extra prestigious as only half the usual number of players were selected because they are playing against the SHL Farjestad BK.

UPDATE - Gibbons was assigned to WBS this morning. He will now be able to participate in the AHL All-Star Game next weekend.

Beau Bennett would have been an interesting option if he had gotten healthy, since that would have given him the opportunity to play and practice in order to rehab during the Olympic break. However as an 87-day player he had to be assigned by January 24th, so he missed the cutoff already. He remains injured though, so in the end it is a moot point. However, like Conner they have the option of sending him to WBS after the roster freeze ends on February 19th, so he can play and rehab from his injury prior to the rest of the team returning from Sochi. Unlike Conner he is still waiver exempt, so he doesn't even need to be assigned as a Conditioning assignment, he can just be sent down with no time limit. However, like I said above with Conner the team will be back shortly afterwards so it might not be worth rehabbing in the AHL when he could just continue practicing with the NHL club until he is activated from IR.

The rest of the AHL call-ups from earlier this season are already back in WBS and as such will be able to continue playing and practicing during the Olympic break. Zach Sill is injured and will be off for some time. Andrew Ebbett just returned and had an excellent first game back tonight. Simon Despres continues to play on the top D pair and has just recently joined the top PP unit. Brian Dumoulin is injured so he has been off to an inconsistent start this year. And lastly Philip Samuelsson has been playing exceedingly well as of late, although with the return of Ebbett he has lost his A.

I don't particularly expect it, but it is also possible that any of the other players currently on IR could be assigned to WBS on a rehab Conditioning assignment any time after the roster freeze ends on February 19th. Joe Vitale looks to be about as close to returning as Bennett and Conner, while Taylor Pyatt is also expected back sometime after the Olympics. So theoretically either of them would be decent candidates for a Conditioning stint. Tomas Vokoun, Kris Letang, and Pascal Dupuis are not expected back any time soon, however, but it is entirely possible that if and when they feel they are ready to work their way back from injury they could also find themselves benefiting from some rehab in the AHL. But as I said, at the moment that seems a bit far fetched.

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