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Holiday Roster Freeze and the Maple Leafs

It’s been two years, you’re allowed to forget how this works.

The Toronto Maple Leafs hold their annual outdoor practice Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Last year, we didn’t have to remember how the Holiday Roster Freeze works because the NHL season didn’t begin until January. This year as we continue on a normal-ish season, the freeze is on.

What is the Roster Freeze?

In concept, the roster freeze limits all player movement — trades, waivers, demotions, callups — over the Christmas break. In reality there are so many necessary exceptions, it rarely limits a teams’ choices.

There are three key dates:

  • December 11, which we’ll get to in a minute
  • December 19, which is when the freeze starts at 11:59 pm, so that is midnight effectively
  • December 28, which is when the freeze ends at 12:01 am, so that’s midnight of the 27th effectively

The trade freeze is fairly solid ice, but the callups and demotions have a lot of exceptions to make running a roster possible.

First, any player on emergency recall (currently that includes Kyle Clifford and Brett Seney) and any player who was recalled after December 11 can be loaned back to the AHL up to midnight on December 23 as long as they don’t require waivers. Currently that’s no one on the roster, but anyone called up between now and Sunday night counts under this exception.

For example: Brett Seney might be hurt. If so, and the Leafs recall Alex Steeves to replace him, Steeves can be returned to the Marlies on the 23rd, which would allow him to play in the traditional Boxing Day game at the SBA.

For other players on the roster, like Alex Biega, who was recalled on December 8, or Timothy Liljegren, they cannot be loaned to the AHL unless it’s before Sunday night or after the 28th.

LTIR thaws everything out

The big exception to the rules on loans is LTIR. The rule reads that, “... 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.”

The Leafs only have Mitch Marner on LTIR, and he is not eligible to return before the freeze is over, so they don’t need to concern themselves about this.

Rasmus Sandin is on IR, which means his salary counts against the cap, but he doesn’t count against the 23-man roster limit. There is no special rule for a player returning from IR. Someone has to come off the roster — either to IR or via demotion — to activate Sandin. So if he’s going to return within the freeze period, the Leafs could return Biega before Monday or just send down Seney or Clifford to make space for Sandin.

This year, because the LTIR pool on the Leafs has room for 10 or 11 players right now — if you pick the cheap ones — the roster freeze doesn’t mean much. They have a full roster, and it won’t be difficult to make sure Sandin can return if he’s ready.

The Leafs are proof that injuries can solve all salary cap and roster problems.