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Brian McGrattan, Matt Halischuk, and now Craig Smith have all been sent from Nashville to Milwaukee for a "conditioning stint". What are they, and how do they help the Predators get the most of out their talent while avoiding the risk of exposing players to waivers?
The Nashville Predators have gotten their mileage out of CBA section 13.8 this season, as they have now sent three players to the Milwaukee Admirals for short-term "conditioning" stints. Brian McGrattan was sent on one shortly before being traded to Calgary last month, while Matt Halischuk spent time with the Admirals a couple weeks ago. Since March 12, he's been a steady presence in the Nashville lineup.
While traditionally thought of as something you do to get a guy back in game shape after he's been on the shelf due to injury, this season the Predators seem to be using them as a way to get a player some developmental work during the course of the season, giving them more ice time than they would otherwise get in Nashville, in a situation where they're more likely to find success and build confidence.
But how can they ship these regulars down to the AHL without exposing them to waivers? Here's what the recently-expired CBA had to say about Conditioning Loans:
NHL Conditioning Assignment Rules
13.8 Conditioning Loan. Unless a Player consents, he shall not be Loaned on a Conditioning Loan to a minor league club. Such Conditioning Loan shall not extend for more than fourteen (14) consecutive days. The Commissioner may take whatever steps he deems necessary to investigate the circumstances under which a Player is Loaned on a Conditioning Loan. If the Commissioner has reason to believe or determines that the Club has used the Conditioning Loan to evade the Re-Entry Waivers, or otherwise Circumvent any provision of this Agreement, he may take such disciplinary action against the Club, as he deems appropriate. The Player shall continue, during the period of such Conditioning Loan, to receive the same Paragraph 1 NHL Salary, and be entitled to the same benefits, that he would have received had he continued to play with the Club.
The NHL has posted a Summary of Terms (PDF) for what the new CBA will look like (the fine print is still being hammered out), but there aren't any changes to Conditioning Loans as they've been used by the Predators so far this season.
The key points here are obviously the fact that a player must consent to being sent down - it's understood that this is a temporary measure, and that his pay will not be affected. As long as those conditions are met, it makes sense for such a loan to be available, and help the team out by not having to expose these players to waivers.
They aren't trying to stash a guy in the minors and stockpile talent, while preventing that individual from getting his shot in the NHL (that's why the waiver system exists in the first place, to allow such players a chance to catch on with another NHL team if they're not wanted). It's just a short-term exercise to get a guy's game going, and if he doesn't want to go along, that's his right.
A savvy front office uses whatever means are available to get the most out of their talent, and this option is giving Nashville a way to potentially jump-start some of their younger players.