There are few things in hockey as potentially frustrating and confusing as the waiver process. The waiver wire dominates a ton of discourse around hockey operations departments, and the CBA portion dedicated to it is very long, complex, and detailed.

It’s time to weave our way through Article 13: Waivers and Loans of Players to Minor League Clubs.

Let’s get this out of the way: One-way and two-way contracts have nothing to do with waivers. They just refer to whether a player makes a different salary at the NHL or AHL levels.

For the sake of clarity, “minors” here refers to the AHL. Players on entry level contracts are waiver exempt, and players can’t be assigned to the ECHL unless they’re on their ELC.

Waiver period and applicability

The regular season waiver period begins on the 12th day before the regular season begins and lasts until the end of the season (per Section 13.2).

Except for players that are waiver exempt, teams can’t send players to the minors without them clearing waivers first. That is, unless: (a) the player has already cleared waivers in the current playing season and (b) the player hasn’t either played 10 NHL games or been on an NHL roster for 30 days cumulatively since they last cleared waivers.

There’s an exception, though (per Section 13.5(ii)): a player up on an emergency recall can play up to 10 games cumulative under those emergency conditions, without factoring in any games they had already been up on regular recall.

Waiver exemption

How long a player is waiver exempt depends on what age they were when they signed their first contract, which results in a number of years and NHL games played of waiver exemption – once the player hits the games threshold, they immediately become waiver eligible.

Goalies Skaters
Age at signing Years from signing NHL GP Years from signing NHL GP
18 6 80 5 160
19 5 80 4 160
20 4 80 3 160
21 4 60 3 80
22 4 60 3 70
23 3 60 3 60
24 2 60 2 60
25+ 1 n/a 1 n/a

“Age” in this case means using the confusing Article 8 (Entry Draft) definition of age. “Years from signing” refers to playing seasons. “NHL GP” refers to both regular season and playoff games.

For players 20+, playing any pro games while under a standard player contract runs the clock. (So Carl-Johan Lerby does get a year knocked off his waiver exemption for playing in Sweden on a loan, for example, because he’s under an NHL contract.)

But there are a lot of specific provisions within this Section which make waiver calculation a little bit complex:

  • The 5 year exemption for an 18-year-old skater and 4 year exemption for a 19-year-old skater drops to 3 years starting with the first season that an 18 or 19-year-old plays in 11+ NHL games. The next two seasons, whether they play NHL games or not, count as their second and third seasons.
  • Similarly, the 6 year exemption for an 18-year-old goalie and 5 year exemption for a 19-year-old goalie drops to 4 years starting with the first season that an 18 or 19-year-old plays in 11+ NHL games. The next three seasons, whether they play NHL games or not, count as their second and third seasons.

Injured players and waivers

Can you send injured players down to the minors? Well, it depends, and the language is a bit funky.

Per Section 13.6, if a player is injured while on a recall and hasn’t played 10 cumulative games or been up for 30 cumulative days (e.g., he wouldn’t need to go through waivers) can be sent down to the minors prior to medical clearance. (But he’d still receive his NHL salary until he received medical clearance.) But if they would require waivers, they have to clear waivers before they go down. (The idea is you can’t jettison injured players to the minors to save money.)

(This Article refers to “NHL roster,” and is the only Article in the CBA that does so. We’re presuming “NHL roster” means “active roster,” but the language is a bit ambiguous.)

Conditioning loans

There are two types of conditioning loan, neither requires waivers, and the rules around them are actually pretty similar.

The standard conditioning loan (per Section 13.8) is that, with the consent of the player, a player be sent to the minors for up to 14 days. There are no specific provisions for this, but conventionally it’s one of the team’s extra players who doesn’t play much knocking the rust off. The player counts on the 23-man roster while on the conditioning loan.

The long-term injury/illness conditioning loan (per Section 13.9) is one where a player who is on the Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR) can be sent to the minors to knock the rust off. These loans cannot be longer than six days or three games (whichever comes later), but the team can request an additional two games. While on the loan this player would remain on the LTIR and not count against the 23-man roster.

Post trade deadline recall restrictions (player-centric)

We’ll get into the restrictions teams have on how they operate after the trade deadline, but there are restrictions designed to keep players on the NHL roster if they were already up (per Section 13.12(j)):

  • Players recalled after the trade deadline can be returned to the minors.
  • Players that were on LTIR prior to the trade deadline can be sent to the minors on long-term injury/illness conditioning loans.
  • Players can be sent down (with their consent) if they were on a recall and were injured as of the trade deadline, are medically cleared, and were on the active roster for less than 25% of the time between the beginning of the season and they were injured.

Post trade deadline recall restrictions (team-centric)

After the trade deadline, teams have their hands tied a bit (per Section 13.12(l)):

  • They get four regular recalls from the minors.
  • They get emergency recalls.
  • They can recall players from anywhere, as long as the player’s regular season and playoff schedule is over. (Sam Bennett was recalled in 2014 from Kingston of the OHL, but typically NHL clubs don’t utilize this much.)

As of the end of the regular season, there’s an additional provision (per Section 13.12(n)): teams have an unlimited number of regular recalls at their disposal, contingent on them never having more than three players on their roster who were recalled via regular recall after the trade deadline. (You can mix and match, but you can’t have more than three up at a time.) But if the team has used up all four regular recalls, they’ll be allowed to keep those four instead.

Emergency recalls

Under Section 13.12(m), an emergency recall can be used in a situation where the NHL club (due to injury, illness or suspension) don’t have two healthy goalies, six healthy defensemen, or 12 healthy forwards. An emergency recall does not count against the four “regular” recall limit, but the recall is tied to a specific injury situation – and usually a specific player – so when the emergency is over, they have to go back. (The emergency recall can be converted to a “regular” one if the team want the player to stick around, though.)

Waiver priority

Per Section 13.19, waiver priority is based on the prior season’s standings prior to Nov. 1. As of Nov. 1, they’re based on the current season’s standings. In the event multiple teams put in a waiver claim, the team lower in the standings gets the player.

Waiver prices

Waiver prices are laid out in Section 13.16, and they’re the price paid to the team waiving the player. The prices are variable and based on how many years a player had completed under an SPC. (The idea seems to be that a high waiver price acts as a deterrent for claiming younger players.) Unconditional waivers have a flat price of $125.

Waiver reclaims and trades

There are restrictions on how a player that’s been claimed off waivers can be maneuvered by the claiming team. Per Section 13.20, teams can’t trade a player they claimed off waivers that season unless they’ve offered them back to the team that lost them on waivers (and they refuse).

Similarly, per Section 13.22, if a claiming team waives a claimed player the same season, the team that lost them can claim them (if they’re the team with waiver priority) and put them in the minors without having to waive them again.

CBA School | Article 1 (Definitions) | Article 8 (Entry Draft) | Article 9 (Entry Level Compensation) | Article 10 (Free Agency) | Article 11 (Rules Governing Standard Player’s Contract) | Article 12 (Salary Arbitration)