TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs needn't bother even approaching 17-year-old phenom John Tavares about signing an AHL contract.
"The fact is, he would not be eligible to play in the American Hockey League next year," AHL president Dave Andrews told The Canadian Press on Thursday. "Our bylaws require that a player be 18 as of Sept. 15 of the season in question for the player to be eligible. He doesn't fit those criteria."
Stories in several newspapers on Thursday suggested the Leafs were contemplating trying to sign Tavares to an AHL deal to play for their farm team, the Toronto Marlies.
A source close to the situation confirmed to The Canadian Press it was an idea the Leafs were toying with, based on the fact that the 18-year-old eligibility rule in the AHL is a recent one, and they feel they could possibly challenge it.
Leafs GM John Ferguson declined comment when reached in Pittsburgh prior to the Maple Leafs' game against the Penguins on Thursday night.
All of this was news to the firm representing Tavares.
"We have not had a conversation with the Leafs, the Marlies or any member club in the NHL in this regard," said Tavares' agent, Bryan Deasley, of Siskinds Group. "I have not talked to anybody about this. This is completely shocking to my group and to John. Where this comes from, we don't know."
A source, however, said Thursday night there had been contact between the Leafs and the Tavares camp.
Tavares turns 18 next Sept. 20 - five days too late to qualify for the NHL entry draft. Deasley and his group have approached the NHL about amending the rule to allow Tavares - a superstar junior with the OHL's Oshawa Generals - to enter the draft. But so far all indications are it won't happen.
The Leafs could, in theory, ask the AHL to change its bylaw to allow Tavares to play next season.
"The Maple Leafs, who own a team in our league, could ask to have the bylaw amended but it would require a three-quarter vote of our membership to amend any bylaw," said Andrews. "Over the last 20 years I've been either on the board or serving as president as the league, I can't remember very many instances where the board voted in favour of somebody gaining an advantage competitively."
Should the bylaw somehow by amended in the AHL, the NHL would not stand in the way of a one-year AHL contract for Tavares.
"Purely from an NHL perspective, if the Marlies sign Tavares to a one-year deal before he became eligible for NHL play, it would be no issue for us," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press.
But any multi-year deal would not be allowed because it would carry Tavares past his 2009-10 NHL eligibility.
"A multi-year AHL deal, done through an affiliate, would be a circumvention of the CBA," said Daly.
Tavares has 28 points (15-13) in 12 games with the Generals this season. The 17-year-old is already playing his third year in the OHL.