Players with NHL contracts, even those in the minors, will not be allowed to participate in the Winter Olympics next February.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the league's stance to The Associated Press on Monday. The league announced in April it wouldn't be stopping its season to go to the Olympics for the first time since 1994, but questions had remained about players in the American Hockey League and ECHL .
"A decision has been made that all players under NHL contract will be subject to similar treatment," Daly said.
This means players signed to two-way NHL contracts or who are loaned to minor league affiliates by their clubs won't be available to the United States, Canada or other national teams. The AHL said earlier this summer that general managers could decide to allow players on AHL contracts to play in South Korea.
Daly confirmed that players signed to NHL deals but who are playing in Europe, like Dallas Stars first-round pick Miro Heiskanen of Finland, would not be precluded from playing in the Olympics. Those players, who are loaned to European teams, wouldn't be playing the season on their NHL contracts, which is the same situation for those in Canadian major junior leagues.
Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations and the U.S. general manager for the 2018 Olympics, said that organization will honour its partnership with the NHL and not put anyone under contract in its player pool. Hockey Canada is also expected to avoid any potential conflicts.
Johannson said Friday the official Olympic regulations hadn't been finalized until recently.
"For me the bottom line is if they're not on the NHL registry, meaning an NHL registered contract, then they're eligible," Johannson said.
That means top American-born AHL players like 2016-17 leading scorer Kenny Agostino, defenceman T.J. Brennan and goaltender Troy Grosenick won't be part of Team USA because they're signed with NHL clubs for this season. Chris Bourque, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, and goaltender John Muse are examples of U.S.-born players on AHL contracts who could be selected.
The U.S. team is expected to be made up of a mix of current college players, those on AHL deals and professionals playing in European leagues. Canada, as it showed with rosters for two exhibition tournaments in Russia this week, will lean heavily on European-based players with others mixed in.