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Understanding the NHL Holiday Roster Freeze

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No moving players over Christmas, except for all the exceptions.

NHL: Preseason-Ottawa Senators at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike nearly every other team in the NHL, the Leafs never seem to move players up and down between the NHL and the AHL. They just stockpile the extras in the press box pending a trade or two each year of depth players who are only famous when they aren’t playing in Toronto and forgotten once they leave.

However, the roster freeze might affect the Leafs over the next few weeks if they wanted to actually get their current famously non-playing defenders into some game action in the AHL.

d) Holiday Roster Freeze.

(i) For all Players on an NHL Active Roster, Injured Reserve, or Players with Non-Roster and Injured Non-Roster status as of 11:59 p.m. local time on December 19, a roster freeze shall apply through 12:01 a.m. local time December 28, with respect to Waivers, Trades and Loans; provided, however, that Players may be Recalled to NHL Clubs during this period and, provided further, that if a Player is placed on Regular Waivers prior to the roster freeze period and is claimed during such roster freeze period, the roster freeze period shall not apply and the Player shall immediately report to the claiming Club. However, during the roster freeze period a Club can make any Player transactions necessary for the Club to come into compliance with Article 50 as a result of a Player being removed from the Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception.

(ii) Notwithstanding Section 16.5(d)(i), a Player on emergency Recall may be Loaned during the roster freeze period and a Player who was Recalled after December 11 may be Loaned through 11:59 p.m. local time on December 23, provided such Player is not required to be placed on Waivers during the roster freeze period in order to effectuate such Loan.

(iii) No later than ten (10) days before the holiday roster freeze, the League shall provide the NHLPA with a holiday roster freeze and restricted day memorandum.

NHL CBA

Okay, what that all means is that if a team has to become cap compliant when a player comes off of injury, they can send someone down within the freeze period. This will not apply to the Leafs. Teams who have called a player up under the emergency conditions can send him back. This is very unlikely to apply to the Leafs, but you never know. The last exception is the tricky one that teams like to exploit to maintain maximum roster flexibility.

Let’s say the time has come, with Zach Hyman suspended, to switch out a defender for a forward. Most of the forwards on the Marlies who might be called up — Trevor Moore being the only one to have joined the team this season — won’t benefit much from not playing. The Leafs might well want to send the player back to the Marlies when the NHL is on Christmas break. The AHL gets a shorter break, and the Marlies are playing the Boxing Day Classic at the SBA this year.

To accomplish that, the Leafs have to wait until Thursday, December 12 to make the switch. That way, Moore (assuming it’s him) can be sent back to the Marlies after the game against Detroit on December 23, the last game before Christmas. The Leafs don’t play again until December 28 in Columbus, and then at home to the Islanders the next day, and the freeze is over before those games, allowing them to do whatever they want to do in time to set the rosters how they want.

Traditionally, NHL teams that are sending players to the WJC wait until just before the freeze kicks in to make the loan. That applies as well to players on AHL rosters, so we might expect Rasmus Sandin and perhaps Timothy Liljegren (who is injured right now) to leave the Marlies around that time. They play two games in Winnipeg on December 14 and 15, and then come home to a game on December 19, so in between sounds about perfect.

If the Leafs merely want to send either Justin Holl or Martin Marincin to the Marlies on a conditioning loan, they would have to do that before the freeze takes effect. Conditioning loans, which don’t exempt players from the salary cap or roster limits in the NHL, last for 14 calendar days at most. And so a loan beginning on December 18 could run to January 1, past the end of the freeze, and this would work out perfectly.

Perfectly for everyone but the player who suddenly doesn’t have a Christmas break, and is instead playing in the AHL again on Boxing Day when he should be sleeping in.

There are many teams out there who send players down to the AHL at every possible opportunity to accrue cap space or to cheap out on their salaries if they’re on two-way contracts. The Leafs don’t do that under the Shanahan regime, largely because they don’t need tiny scraps of cap space or tiny bits of cash. They might decide that Marincin and Holl are more entitled to some time off with their families than the Marlies are to an extra defender. Adding Steve Oleksy to the Marlies D corps leaves them better off now than they were, so this might never happen, or be a plan for early January.

The Marlies can likely survive without Sandin and Liljegren for a time, ironically because in addition to Oleksy, the Leafs signed former conditioning loan frequent flyer Frank Corrado to an AHL contract. He’s fully recovered from injury and playing regularly now.

Maintaining maximum flexibility at all times seems to have been Lou Lamoriello’s way with roster management, and Kyle Dubas is, if anything, even better at it. Remember when we all thought he had way too many defenders under contract? He knew better. So, he likely won’t move anyone until after December 12, and he’s also really unlikely to risk anyone on waivers right now when they’re harder to replace.