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Bob McKenzie to the rescue: some clarity on the 4-player recall rule

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McKenzie covers the post-trade-deadline player recall rule in the latest Bobcast.

Media honoree Bob McKenzie walks the red carpet prior to the 2015 Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

In a recent Bobcast, Bob McKenzie answers a question about the limit placed on recalls from the AHL after the trade deadline. He’s cleared up a little bit of our collective confusion over the very interestingly worded rule, which we covered here:

The listener question McKenzie was answering was about why that limitation exists. He related that the league and the players’ association both liked the idea of the limitation to four non-emergency recalls. They were trying to accomplish a few things: They didn’t want NHL teams to strip-mine their minor league club and destroy the competitiveness of that league, and they wanted to limit the traffic between NHL and AHL clubs at season’s end as much as possible. Fair enough, those are good reasons.

He also clarifies by example that if you callup a player, send them back, and call them up later, that’s two of your callups gone. This helped a lot to clarify my understanding.

The interesting part is when he discusses how there are teams (I bet I know one) who really don’t like this rule. Their reason for disliking the rule is that as soon as a team’s AHL team is out of the playoffs, all the players are available on an unlimited basis. This is seen as a punishment to an organization that has a good AHL team that goes deep in the playoffs.

McKenzie then said he will be interested to see if this issue gets revisited in the next CBA negotiations. I am too because as more teams pay more money to make their AHL team good, the less they’ll be happy with being punished for that.

As to our deepest confusion over the post-regular-season rules, McKenzie offered a clue which kickstarted my brain. This is the rule:

(i) a Club may exercise an unlimited number of additional regular Recalls, provided that it may have no more than three (3) Players on its Active Roster who were Recalled by way of regular Recall after the Trade Deadline. However, if a Club has Recalled four (4) Players pursuant to Section 13.12(l) above, such Club will instead be permitted to retain those four (4) Players on its Active Roster following the conclusion of the Regular Season.

And something about the way he phrased it, that teams can have three players from their AHL team on the roster post season suddenly made me think about this in a different way. I am no lawyer, but here’s what I think this means:

In the playoffs, assuming your AHL team is in the playoffs still, you can call up guys as often as you like (remember the regular-season limit of four applies to how many times you call up any player, not how many individuals you recall) but at any one time you can’t have more than three players on the roster via recall. The key to aligning the word unlimited with a limit of three is that the three guys don’t have to be the same three guys! And the exception in the second part — if you used four recalls prior to the playoffs, you can keep all of them. It’s both a limitation and a bonus. You get four, not three, but it’s four specific players.

That’s what I think this means.

An example, which I hope clarifies my point:

The Leafs have Travis Dermott, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen on recall. Now imagine it’s next week and we’re in the playoffs. So are the Marlies. The Leafs have three recalled players on their roster, and that’s all they’re allowed. But they have unlimited recalls to use. So they can send Johnsson back and call up Calle Rosen. They can send Rosen back and callup Andreas Borman. They can keep trying until they realize they really need Adam Brooks, and he scores a goal in overtime and is a hero for the ages. As long as they only have three individuals at any time until the Marlies have won their cup, that’s the system.

Now, imagine they’d called up Calle Rosen when Dermott was out last weekend. They’d have used four recalls. And those four specific guys are now all they can have on the roster in the playoffs.

This interpretation works for me because it’s not capricious, it lets teams have flexibility however and whenever they want to employ it — for example, an non-playoff team that wants to try guys out will use the four recalls instead of three happily — and it explains the language choices in the text.

Don’t be a lawyer, kids, or you have to write riddles for a living. Or do, if that sounds like fun.

Now, off you all go to listen to the Bobcast, where he also talks about Lou Lamoriello and the next Leafs GM and the GM situation in Carolina.