Early indications would seem to be that Pitlick, Hamilton, and Marincin are, at least tentatively, slated for the AHL next season, based on the fact that they have been signed to their Entry Level Contracts. However, due to the following paragraph, Article 9.1.(d).(i) of the CBA, the "slide rule" appears to only apply to Marincin:
In the event that an 18 year old or 19 year old Player signs an SPC with a Club but does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the first season under that SPC, the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for a period of one (1) year, except that this automatic extension will not apply to a Player who is 19 according to Section 9.2 by virtue of turning 20 between September 16 and December 31 in the year in which he first signs an SPC. Unless a Player and Club expressly agree to the contrary, in the event a Player's SPC is extended an additional year in accordance with this subsection, all terms of the SPC, with the exception of Signing Bonuses, but including Paragraph 1 Salary, games played bonuses and Exhibit 5 bonuses, shall be extended; provided, however, that the Player's Paragraph 1 Salary shall be extended in all circumstances.
My interpretation of the wording in Article 9.1.(d).(i) suggests the first year of Hamilton and Pitlick's Entry Level Contract (ELC) will be burned without regard to where they play next season, whether that be the WHL, AHL, or NHL. Because of that, I think we can be fairly sure the Oilers are planning (at this time) to have both players play in the AHL. If they were unsure, it might arguably have made sense to leave both players unsigned until after the 2011/12 season, because that way their ELC's would run for three years starting next season, instead of only having 2 seasons left as seems to be the case now*.
Practically speaking, I think this means both Martindale and Davidson are likely slated to return to the CHL next season, unsigned. First of all, the Oilers are very near the contract limit at this time. According to capgeek, the Oilers are currently at 50 contracts and couldn't sign these players to ELC's even if they wanted to**. Secondly, why sign them now if you're going to assign them to CHL anyways, provided it burns one of the 3 ELC seasons to sign them now? Why not just wait until next spring, sign them, and have 3 years remaining on their ELC's starting next fall, instead of signing them now and having only 2 years remaining come next fall?
After all that, the interesting thing to note here (in my opinion), and the "arbitrary" part mentioned in the title, is that next year would be a slide year for Hamilton and Pitlick, according to Article 9.1.(d).(ii), had been signed in the calendar year of 2010, instead of the calendar year of 2011:
In the event that a Player signs his first SPC at age 18 and has had his SPC extended pursuant to Subsection (i), and such Player does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the second season under that SPC, then the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for one (1) additional year. Unless a Player and Club expressly agree to the contrary, in the event a Player's SPC is extended an additional year in accordance with this Subsection, all terms of the SPC, with the exception of Signing Bonuses, but including Paragraph 1 Salary, games played bonuses and Exhibit 5 bonuses, shall be extended; provided, however, that the Player's Paragraph 1 Salary shall be extended in all circumstances.
This is kind of an odd situation, I'm not entirely sure if this is by design, or just a "flaw", or oversight, that no one caught at the time the CBA was ratified. Why should Hamilton have seen his ELC contract last(after sliding twice) until the end of the 2014/15 season if he signed on Sept. 30, 2010, but only until the end of the 2013/14 season if he signed in April of 2011, provided he plays less than 10 NHL games in the 2011/12 season in both cases? I do understand that the motivation towards that rule as it relates to Sept.16-Dec. 31 born players, but it just seems kind of silly that the same player is treated differently based on when he's signed, even if he's assigned to the same leagues in both situations.
So, why didn't the Oilers sign Hamilton and Pitlick at some point in the calendar year of 2010 instead of waiting for 2011? We don't know for sure, but here are a couple guesses:
(1) The 50 contract limit - I'm not sure exactly how the slide rule works with a player you've already assigned to junior, perhaps they "slide" the second the sign the contract, but maybe that situation is dealt with differently? Part of the reason the Oilers may not have signed Pitlick and Hamilton in the summer/fall of 2010 might be that those players would have counted towards the 50 contracts until they were assigned to junior, and perhaps the Oilers decided that would limit their ability to sign some other players they wanted to sign to NHL contracts? I suppose they could have reached agreements with a couple of players, and formally signed them once Pitlick and Hamilton were returned to junior and opened a couple spots in the 50 contract list.
(2) Both Parties need to be interested in signing. Players have agents, and I'm sure the agents would know about this wrinkle. Why would Pitlick sign a contract in 2010 unless he were about to make the team? It makes more sense for him (and Hamilton) to wait until the 2011 year to sign, precisely because his ELC would end one year sooner if he waits to sign, provided he doesn't play in the NHL in 10/11.
After the 2010 draft, I was idly wondering if it was just coincidence, or if it might be a new strategy of the Oilers to select late birthday players, trying to get their prospects to the AHL as soon as possible. The 2011 draft doesn't prove anything, but does seem to suggest it might have just been the way it worked out with the NA players they selected in 2010, as none of their 2011 NA draftees were born in that Sept.16-Dec.31 window.
NOTE: This was a CBA wrinkle I hadn't heard even mentioned until recently. In doing some research I found this thread at HF which would seem to be support for this interpretation. I can't remember where I first read about this (I think it might have been somewhere where I was first reading about the Flames trying to sign Bartschi), I would (and will) provide a link if I can recall where I first saw this noted.
* It might still have made sense to sign them at that time, even if it potentially burns a year while they are in the WHL, if the team thought returning the player to the WHL could result in the player deciding they are unhappy with the organization and re-entering the draft. The same line of reasoning could apply to Martindale and Davidson, as well.
** That said, the room could potentially be created depending on what happens with Marincin and Nugent Hopkins. Should those players be returned to junior, it would create a contract spot or two for Martindale or Davidson should their play warrant it. This might make more sense for Davidson, should he outplay Marincin in camp, in that Davidson could take the AHL spot that has probably been provisionally kept for Marincin should the Oilers feel Marincin would be better served by another year in the WHL, and Davidson by moving on to the AHL.