On Tuesday, the Dallas Stars assigned offensive defenseman Julius Honka to the American League's Texas Stars. As an 18-year-old experiencing his first NHL training camp, it was no surprise that the Finnish blueliner wouldn't make the cut. What surprised many observers was that Dallas was allowed to assign Honka to the AHL in the first place.
After all, Honka played in the Western League for Swift Current last season and conventional wisdom held that players drafted out of the CHL who still had major junior eligibility (such as Honka) had to be returned to junior; they couldn't go to the AHL.
This is the rule that has vexed sometimes-Buffalo Sabre Mikhail Grigorenko for a couple years now, since he was drafted out of the Quebec League. But the Stars were confronted with a glitch in the system.
When Honka left Finland for the WHL, he was technically "loaned" from the JYP organization while still under contract. That's an important, if not obscure, distinction in the eyes of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
"To be honest, we thought he was a CHL player when we drafted him," said Dallas director of hockey administration Mark Janko. "Technically he's not a CHL player, he's a European player."
So in reality, Honka could not have gone back to Swift Current this season unless he was re-loaned to the WHL squad by JYP. Fortunately for Dallas, the Stars wanted the kid playing in the AHL.
"When we saw him in Traverse City, he was one of the best players in the whole tournament," Janko said. "He definitely has the skill set to play in the pro game. It's good for him and good for our organization."
Janko noted that the Stars sought advice from the NHL and the Players' Association on Honka's status and had been figuring out what to do for months. The Finnish defenseman signed his entry-level contract with Dallas soon after the Stars took him 14th overall in the draft this summer.
Meanwhile in Edmonton, the Oilers are taking it on the chin after their contract offer to Moncton Wildcats left winger Vladimir Tkachev was rejected by the NHL.
Tkachev, an ultra-skilled Russian who looks 13 but is in fact about to turn 19, was passed over in the 2014 draft. No doubt his skeletal 5-foot-8, 141-pound frame had something to do with it (and I've seen him in street clothes – he makes Jared Spurgeon look like The Hulk), but Tkachev also blew minds in Edmonton this summer with his play at camp. The Oilers wanted to sign him, but since the youngster played a couple games in Russia before joining Moncton last season, he was ineligible for a contract; instead, he'll return to the draft pool, where Edmonton will hope they can grab him before another team.
Here's GM Craig MacTavish, speaking to Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal:
“We missed it," he said. "At no point was Tkachev eligible.”
Shouldn't the Oilers have known this? To me, the case is reminiscent of Philadelphia's mix-up with Tomas Hyka in 2011. The Flyers brought the young Czech in to camp as a free agent after he was passed over in the draft and he found lightning on a pre-season line with Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. But the Flyers weren't allowed to sign Hyka and he was returned to the draft pool, where Los Angeles grabbed him the next summer.
In the end, Hyka went back to Europe after two seasons with the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques, but it's a sore spot for Philly fans. Especially when word had it that the team was going to draft Hyka in 2011, but spent their last pick on Peterborough enforcer Derek Mathers instead.
Now the Hyka and Tkachev situations aren't total mirrors, since Tkachev did play most of the year in Moncton, but it does speak to how crucial it is for teams to know the collective bargaining agreement and other documents inside and out. You could say that Dallas got lucky with Honka, while Edmonton got unlucky with Tkachev, but the Stars also did a lot of legwork in the past few months that paid off in the end.
"For our organization, this had never happened before," Janko said. "That's why it's really important to have people comb over the intricacies of these agreements."