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Toronto Maple Leafs Carter Ashton(37), David Clarkson(71), Morgan Rielly(44) and Trevor Smith(23) during practice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on December 04, 2013. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Maple Leafs Carter Ashton(37), David Clarkson(71), Morgan Rielly(44) and Trevor Smith(23) during practice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on December 04, 2013. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Mirtle: How the Olympic break works for NHL players Add to ...

So, the NHL is going on a hiatus for the Olympics, which for the league begins Feb. 9 and ends on the night of Feb. 25 with a game in Buffalo.

It stands to reason that it’s easy enough to determine what happens to players in that period: Those playing at the Olympics head to Sochi and those who don’t get a two-week vacation in the middle of their season.

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But it’s not quite that simple.

For players not going to the Games, the break does in fact start on the ninth, but it actually ends on the 19th at 2 p.m. local time, which is when teams will call them back to practice. Instead of a two-and-a-half week break, they really only get 10 days away, and some will spend that time in the AHL.

The concern, from the teams’ perspective, is that too long a break would mean players have long enough to fly to a beach somewhere and get more than a little out of game shape.

“We come back to practice, and it’ll basically be a training camp all over again,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said on Tuesday. “We’ll try and advise our players on what they should do over the break, but I know sometimes those things fall on deaf ears.”

There are also all kinds of complications that the break brings for the league, from a trade freeze to how the salary cap is affected and who exactly can play in the minors during this time frame.

Here’s a rundown of some of the more interesting aspects of the break:

- The trade freeze runs from 3 p.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 7, until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23, the day of the gold medal game in Sochi.

- As Elliotte Friedman pointed out earlier in the day, players are paid throughout the break, so there could be some cap-related manoeuvrings prior to the freeze. One NHL executive noted that one bizarre loophole with the break is some entry level players can be “loaned” (i.e. demoted to the minors) for cap reasons even if they aren’t eligible to play in the AHL, making it merely a paper transaction. (NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that was a simplified way of looking at what’s possible during the break but “not categorically inaccurate.”)

- Why can’t some players play in the AHL? Well the league and the NHLPA negotiated a big, long list of stipulations over which players get an Olympic break and which ones don’t, a string of legalese that’s not included in the CBA. Basically, players who don’t require waivers to be sent down still get the time off if (a) they were on an NHL roster (or injured reserve) for at least 75 per cent of the days between Oct. 1 and Jan. 24, including being in the NHL on Jan. 24 or later or (b) they participated in 16 of the last 20 games before the break.

- Regardless of their age or contract status, players who fall into those two groups are deemed to have earned an Olympic break and can’t “practice, participate or play” with their AHL team at any point during the 10-day break.

- If you want to put a veteran player on waivers, however, in order to play them in the minors during the break, that’s fair game. That’s a pretty cold move if it’s a player that’s been on your roster all season and planning for some time off, but it would save some cap space.

- There are no conditioning assignments allowed until Feb. 19, so players like recovering Leafs centre Dave Bolland can’t go down to the AHL until their peers are also back at practice.

What all that means is that come next weekend there could be a lot of activity with players being traded, waived or demoted to get ready for the Olympics. It’ll be interesting to see which teams take advantage of some of the workarounds that appear to be available to them.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

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