Waivers 101: A Guide to the NHL Waiver Rules

Editor's Note: Quick thanks to clrkaitken for putting together this great primer on the NHL's waiver rules. This is a great example of what you guys can do with FanPosts.

In last night's GDT, Karina suggested that we should have a handy reference to the waiver rules. After a bit of digging, Karina posted a fanshot for a brief overview of the rules governing waiver transactions. I think that this topic deserves a bit more in-depth discussion, and it doesn't hurt to have a more sophisticated understanding of the rules to help our discussions about transactions involving the Leafs.

We're already a particularly knowledgable lot around here when it comes to the cap and waviers represent a significant element of NHL cap management. I'm giving waivers it's proper due in order to improve our knowledge of its mechanisms, improve our discussion of potential moves available to NHL GMs, and maybe gain insight about the difficult decisions NHL GMs have to make every day around the people who make up their team's roster.

(Glove tap to Karina for starting this topic, and tracking down Mirtle's original post, and to for their pretty good guide to the waiver rules.)

Why Do Waivers Exist?

Waivers are essentially a tool that prevents a team from hoarding NHL talent and stockpiling it on their affiliate rosters. Technically, this is the primary function of the salary cap and the NHL roster limits, but those alone wouldn't be able to prevent an unlikely loophole; a team stockpiling as many talented players as it could on cap-friendly contracts and keeping them in the AHL to shuttle back and forth as needed.

A team like the Leafs, with all their money, could easily do this (that is, assuming they could convince all the depth players to agree to the contracts) and develop and maintain an incredible depth chart that small-market teams could never hope to match. The waiver moves restrict a team's ability to move whomever they want back and forth, and brings a little bit more parity to the league.

What Are Waivers?

There are two main forms of waivers; waivers and re-entry waivers.

When a team wishes to send a player down to their AHL affiliate, and the player is not waiver exempt (explained later), the player must first clear waivers. (The CBA only permits movement to an AHL affiliate. So sorry, we can't just fire Blake down to the ECHL.)(I have no idea how the Filatov loan to the KHL is exempt from this.)

When a player is placed on waivers, all 29 other clubs now have an opportunity to submit a claim on that player. The player doesn't officially go on waivers until 12:00 pm EST, so if a team submits a request to place a player on waivers Wednesday afternoon, it is not official until Thursday. A player remains on waivers for 24 hours from the point the waiver transaction is confirmed by the NHL (48 hours if confirmed on a Saturday or a Sunday). If one team has submitted a claim during that period, the player's contract is purchased by that team as of the end of the waiver period. If multiple teams have claimed the player, the team with the highest priority (explained later) gets the player. If nobody claims the player, the player has cleared waivers and the team is free to assign the player to their AHL affiliate.

Players are also subject to waivers if the team wishes to bring someone up from their AHL affiliate to the NHL roster. These are referred to as re-entry waivers. (Makes sense; given the player re-enters the NHL) The mechancis of the re-entry system work the same as those of waivers, with one difference. the team who claims the player is only responsible for half of the player's salary and cap hit for the duration of the contract, and the team who waived the player picks up the other half. (Most of us became familiar with this rule when Sean Avery was claimed by the Rangers from Dallas).

Re-call waivers also cover the rare instance when a player joins a club during the NHL season from a club in Europe. Before being eligible the player must clear re-entry waivers.

When Do Waivers Operate?

The first day of the season which players are subject to waivers is twelve days prior to the start of the regular season, until the last day after the end of the team's season. It should be noted that the league resets all waiver transactions at the beginning of the next season's waiver period. So say that a player was waived and cleared waivers in the previous season, and was not re-called at any point for the remainder of the season. In the current season, that player rejoins the NHL roster and he must clear waivers again to be assigned to an AHL team.

There is a mandatory roster freeze between December 19 and December 27, where any claims on waivers are nullified. There are also several limitations placed on waivers after the Trade Deadline until the end of the season. Teams are no longer able to loan players to AHL affiliates, unless they were recalled under one of the circumstances described below. Teams cannot recall players except for the following circumstances.

  • Teams are only allowed four recalls of players from the period between the Trade Deadline and the end of the season.
  • A player can be recalled under an Emergency Recalled (explained later)
  • If the AHL's team season has ended, the team can recall a player.


A team who makes a successful claim for a player on waivers must compensate the team giving up the player for purchasing the player's contract. The prices are set out in Article 13.16 (a) of the CBA, and are based on years of service and position. Basically they range from $3,375 US (any player with more than 9 years experience) to $90,000 (a goaltender with 2 years experience).

Waiver Priority

If more than one team puts in a claim on a player during the waiver period, then the team with the higher waiver priority's claim is accepted.

If the claim is before November 1, waiver priority is based on the previous year's standings, with the team with the worst record having first priority and the team with the best record having last priority.

If the claim is after November 1, waiver priority is based on the current year's standings, defined as the lowest percentage of possible points. Toronto currently has 2nd priority on all waiver transactions.

Waiver Exemptions

There are four ways in which a player can be exempt from waivers; they have been recently exposed to waivers, they are on emergency recall, they are on a conditioning assignment, or they have not met the experience requirement.

The Player Has Recently Been Exposed to Waivers

If a player cleared waivers and is subsequently recalled during the same year, he does not have to clear waivers again unless he has either played 10 or more NHL games or has spent 30 or more days on an NHL roster since last clearing. Otherwise, he will have to re-clear waivers to be assigned.

Emergency Recall

We've become very familiar with this one lately with Joey Mac. The NHL permits each team to carry up to 23 players on its active roster, subject to the constraints of the salary cap. However, it also requires a minimum of 2 goaltenders, 6 defenceman and 12 forwards on its active roster at all times. A player is not considered on the active roster if they have been placed on the Injured Reserve List or are suspended by the NHL.

If the team falls below any of these minimum categories, they are permitted to recall a player without subjection to waivers in order to meet the NHL minimum roster requirements. However, the player must be returned to the affiliate when the player he is replacing returns from their inactive status.

(Note: This is why Calgary was forced to play with less than the minimum required players last season. They had a number of players who were hurt but were not on the Injured Reserve, and the team did not have cap space to recall additional players to fill their lineup. Had the team placed players on the IR, they could have used the Emergency Recall to call up enough players to fill out the minimum lineup (again subject to the cap), but then they wouldn't have been allowed to use the players until they completed the minimum period on the IR.)

Conditioning Assignments

A player who has been on IR or otherwise incapicated (and the team must be able to demonstrate cause) can agree to be assigned to an affiliate for a conditioning stint that cannot last longer than 14 days. At the end of the 14 days, the player must either return to the NHL roster or be placed on waivers to remain with the affiliate. (This just happened with Jay Rosehill.)

Exempt Due to Experience

This is the meat and potatoes of determining waiver eligibility. Three key factors determine whether a player is waiver eligible; age, years of experience, and # of games played..

Age is defined as the age of the player when he signs his entry-level contract with an NHL club. This is used to determine the thresholds for the players' waiver eligibility. The thresholds are the number of years from signing a professional contract, and the number of professional games played.

Depending on the age as determined above, a player is waiver eligible for a certain number of years from the year in which he signed his first contract, as shown below.

Goalies Skaters
Age Years Age Years
18 6* 18 5*
19 5* 19 4*
20 4 20 3
21 4 21 3
22 4 22 3
23 3 23 3
24 2 24 2
25+ 1 25+ 1

For anyone 20 or older, the year in which they play their first professional game is considered the first year counting towards the number of years they are exempt from waivers.

*If an 18 or 19 year old plays in 11 or more NHL games in a season, then the eligible period drops to 4 years for a goalie and 3 years for a skater, with the first year of that period being the year in which the player played 11 or more games.

(Example: Nazem Kadri & John Tavares both signed their first NHL contract as 18 year olds. However, Tavares has played more than 11 games as an 18 year-old. Therefore, Tavares is now waiver-exempt for 4 years (this year, and the 3 ensuing years), while Kadri is waiver-exempt for 6 (this year and the 5 ensuing, although this could change if he plays next season).

The other factor is games played. Once a player reaches the threshold (again based on the age at which they signed their first professional contract), they are eligible for waivers. The language of the CBA is very clear that while there are two distinct thresholds, this is an "earliest of" scenario. If a player reaches their games played mark before the reach the years mark (or vice versa), they become eligible for waivers.

Goalies Skaters
Age Games Age Games
18 80 18 160
19 80 19 160
20 80 20 160
21 60 21 80
22 60 22 70
23 60 23 60
24 60 24 60
25+ 25+

Professional Games is typically defined as all NHL regular season and playoff games. However, for players older than 20 years of age, the definition expands to include AHL regular season and playoff games, as well as any other professional game played in Europe while the player is under contract to an NHL team but on loan to a European club. A 25 year old or older basically gets his first year waiver eligible and that's it.

Edited to add: Karina pointed out that I didn't touch on how 2-way contracts affect waivers. Simply put, they don't. A 1-way or 2-way contract has no bearing on a player's waiver status, it dictates how much a player gets paid if they play in the AHL. I blame EA Sports for this misconception, because that's pretty much the only way they determine waivers in their game. (Hey EA, maybe instead of making sure that each person in the crowd has individual animations, you should focus on keeping your rosters as accurate as possible and making sure the salary cap actually works correctly.)

If a player on a one-way contract goes to the AHL, they receive the same compensation that they would if they played in the NHL (with the obvious exception of any bonuses that would be likely calculated based on the performance in the NHL, as stipulated in the contract.)

Conversely, a 2-way contract stipulates that the player receives compensation at $X if they play in the NHL, and $Y if they play in the AHL. The minimum salary in the AHL is signficantly lower than that of the NHL. In some cases, it's not uncommon for the players' AHL salary to be 10% of their NHL salary.

So why would a player ever agree to a 2-way contract? For many players on the fringe of NHL rosters, a 2-way deal might be their only legitimate chance to squeeze their way on to an NHL roster. If the options are schlepping by bus around the AHL for far less salary, or accepting a 2-way deal with an NHL club where you might have to do Option1 but you might have a shot at a big raise if you stick in the NHL, why wouldn't you choose Option 2?

So that's it. That should give you a clearer understanding of just what happens when a team decides to put a player on waivers. is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of