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Waivers 101: 2017 Maple Leafs training camp version

Who’s at risk, who’s exempt and how it all works.

2014 Memorial Cup - Championship
Back in the day.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Let’s talk waivers. It’s everyone’s favourite topic as the realization sets in that the exhibition games are terrible and the real drama is who is cut from the roster and when.

The Leafs had a gigantic training camp roster, but a lot of the number was draft picks, AHL- and ECHL-contracted players, and a very few players on ATOs. None of those people need waivers when they are cut, and we saw almost all of them move on to junior hockey or to the Marlies camp one ice sheet over at the MCC.

Some of the waiver-exempt NHL-contracted players are heading right to Sheldon Keefe’s version of hockey school too. With the ATOs all gone, it’s obvious there are no NHL contracts about to be handed out at this training camp. Roman Polak, on a PTO, is the only potential new contract out of this group, but try and set that fear aside for now and focus on the players who are on NHL deals who could possibly be sent to the AHL.

How this all works

The waiver period starts (per CapFriendly, as always the greatest resource) 12 days before the start of the regular season, which is September 22. In practical terms, unless a team is trying a “take this guy, please” move with waivers, you won’t see any activity until just before the regular season begins.

A player is on waivers for 24 hours, so the actual transfer happens the day after they are waived.

Waivers, remember, are not the recycle bin. Teams don’t put players on waivers to punish them, to make a statement about how bad they are, or to try to get rid of them (most of the time). Usually, the sole and only purpose is to assign a player to the AHL. Usually, a team has every intention of keeping players they put on waivers.

There are thousands of player transfers between the AHL and the NHL every year, and yet the number of players claimed off of waivers is very small in any given year. The worry over the risk far outstrips the actual risk, but if knowing with certainty what the other teams will do was possible, life would be duller as a fan.

From now until October 31, last year’s regular season standings make the priority order with Las Vegas in third place. On November 1, the priority list changes to this year’s standing. So for now the priority is:

  1. Colorado
  2. Vancouver
  3. Las Vegas
  4. Arizona
  5. New Jersey
  6. Buffalo
  7. Detroit
  8. Dallas
  9. Florida
  10. Los Angeles
  11. Carolina
  12. Winnipeg
  13. Philadelphia
  14. Tampa
  15. New York Islanders
  16. Nashville
  17. Calgary
  18. Toronto
  19. Boston
  20. Ottawa
  21. San Jose
  22. St. Louis
  23. New York Rangers
  24. Edmonton
  25. Montréal
  26. Anaheim
  27. Minnesota
  28. Columbus
  29. Chicago
  30. Pittsburgh
  31. Washington

Last year three teams cut a lot of players from their camps on the second last day before they had to trim the roster to 23 and get under the cap ceiling. Everyone else made their cuts all on the last day. A few more cuts happened after as teams changed their rosters around.

This year, the season begins on October 4, so the roster that meets the cap and has no more than 23 players on it who are not on IR has to be finalized on Tuesday, October 3. Monday, and Tuesday of that week will be the big waivers days where there’s so many people being sent to the AHL, it is possible to sneak that player you think is great past the noses of the other 30 GMs.

Most teams do not have roster space or cap room to make a claim right at that time. If a team short of players and with a lot of cap space leaves themselves with a short roster after they’ve made their cuts, they may well be hunting. They may well be called the Avalanche too and have top priority.

Last year there were seven players taken on waivers before the NHL season began. They were:

October 9, 2016

October 11, 2016

October 13, 2016

With the exception of the grab of Mike Condon, none of the taking teams had been playoff teams, until the Ducks went for Etem on the first day of the season.

Condon was ultimately traded away, Griffith and Frk were recalimed on wiavers by other teams and Parenteau was dealt at the deadline. Pulkkinen ended up in Vegas and only Dahlbeck is still with the team that grabbed him.

No one made out like a bandit. No one ever does.

The Leafs have a lot of cuts to make, but because the bulk of their players are waiver exempt new signings, there’s not a lot of risk of loss. The possible cuts (a few are already gone) and their status are:

2017 Training Camp Possible Cuts

Name Age Cap Hit Exempt
Name Age Cap Hit Exempt
Eric Fehr 32 $2,000,000 No
Ben Smith 29 $650,000 No
Josh Leivo 24 $612,500 No
Trevor Moore 22 $925,000 Yes
Kasimir Kaskisuo 23 $925,000 Yes
Miro Aaltonen 24 $925,000 Yes
Carl Grundström 19 $925,000 N/A
Calle Rosén 23 $925,000 Yes
Andreas Borgman 22 $925,000 Yes
Timothy Liljegren 18 $925,000 Yes
Travis Dermott 20 $863,333 Yes
Frederik Gauthier 22 $863,333 Yes
Kasperi Kapanen 21 $863,333 Yes
Kerby Rychel 22 $863,333 No
Jeremy Bracco 20 $842,500 Yes
Rinat Valiev 22 $778,333 Yes
Adam Brooks 21 $759,167 Yes
Andreas Johnsson 22 $750,833 Yes
Colin Greening 31 $750,000 No
Nikita Soshnikov 23 $736,667 Yes
Vincent LoVerde 28 $725,000 No
Andrew Nielsen 20 $697,500 Yes
Tobias Lindberg 22 $693,333 Yes
Dmytro Timashov 20 $693,333 Yes
Garret Sparks 24 $675,000 No
Justin Holl 25 $650,000 Yes
Chris Mueller 31 $650,000 No

Kerby Rychel and Josh Leivo are the only real waivers risks whose loss would be considered an actual loss. It seems unlikely anyone would be interested enough in an AHL goalie, no matter how good, to grab Sparks, and while Eric Fehr might be an asset to have in the press box, his salary makes him a safe candidate for waivers, leaving that spot open for Leivo as the likely 13th forward.

The three AHLers on NHL contracts: Greening, LoVerde and Mueller are totally safe because no one takes those guys without a contract going back the other way. It’s just not done, even if a team has SPC space. This is one of those traditions that greases the wheels of the inter-team relationships and upsets fans who don’t understand why teams aren’t ruthless all the time. Damn the consequences, full speed ahead, piss everyone off!

Josh Leivo has a very tasty, super low cap hit, which cap strapped contenders might covet at the deadline. The Leafs are unlikely to risk him and likely want to play him in the NHL. Rychel has not shown enough real value to be at much risk. I don’t expect Buffalo to have any difficulty getting Seth Griffith through waivers and onto their AHL roster, and he’s better. Rychel is younger, however, which is the thing that might tempt a team short of players to grab him.

Because the hungry Avalanche are out there willing to try playing Jared Cowen, they need defenders so bad, you should not expect any non-exempt defenceman to be sent down, no matter how great you think Rosen, Borgman or Dermott are.

But what about the other direction? Are the Leafs in the market to grab a player? They took Curtis McElhinney last year, and are happy with him. But it seems unlikely that the Leafs would make a move unless someone puts a backup goalie they think is better on waivers.

What’s much more likely to happen is that the Leafs will have a list of depth players they are willing to deal off their NHL roster if anyone wants a swap. Sometimes something good comes of that, and sometimes you trade Richard Panik for Jeremy Morin.

Waivers day is unlikely to be panic time for the Leafs this year. The risk is not great, they aren’t a team that shops in the bargain bin anymore, and to get better, they need to make trades. Eventually.