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NHL Trade Deadline Rules

The quick 101 on how it works.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks
Nic Petan was last year’s deadline day add.

The NHL trade deadline comes today at 3 p.m. New York time.

Things to Remember

NHL

To play in the NHL playoffs a player must be under contract in the NHL and on the roster of the NHL team before that time.

Sometimes we don’t hear about deals, particularly trades for NHL-contracted players in the AHL, until after the deadline. They aren’t late, there’s nothing nefarious going on, it just takes time to file the trades. All trades have to go through a formal process where the NHL makes sure the deal conforms to the rules, and that teams actually have the assets they’ve agreed to trade.

Once the deadline passes the only way a team can add a player to their roster and have them eligible for the playoffs is if that player is already on the team’s reserve list. So the Leafs could sign Pontus Holmberg and put him on the team, but they can’t sign that goalie everyone loves on May 1 when his KHL deal is up and add him. He’s next year’s fantasy.

The restriction of NHL active rosters to 23 players disappears today, but the salary cap does not. Waiver rules also stick around, so while teams have more freedom for the last few weeks of the season to make roster moves, it isn’t wide open.

No player on the NHL roster post-deadline can be sent to the AHL unless they are on recall from the minors in the first place. So this means a team can’t decide to send down someone who has not spent time in the AHL that season for cap reasons.

AHL

In order to qualify for the AHL playoffs, an NHL-contracted player must be on the AHL roster before the deadline. This is why you will see all sorts of players sent down just today and then recalled after 3 p.m. For the Leafs, this mostly concerns Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, because as we learned yesterday, players like Dmytro Timashov need to go through waivers to be sent down.

Waivers and Trades

Teams still make waiver claims post-deadline. Tanking teams that sold off need bodies to fill out the roster, and grabbing those waiver claims is the asset-free way to get them.

Teams still make trades after the deadline, too. They aren’t all that common, but they can happen. The only trade freeze period in the NHL is at Christmas.

Recalls

There is a complex set of rules around recalls from the minor leagues after the deadline. Teams have four regular recall slots, and if they “paper down” a player and immediately recall them, that’s a recall slot used. Emergency recalls are unlimited, and the Leafs have always been clever about using this distinction.

Once an AHL team is eliminated from the post-season, these recall restrictions don’t apply, and any number of NHL-contracted players can be recalled.

The salary cap remains in effect until the end of the regular season.

And that’s the highlights.