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How does this NHL Trade Deadline thing work again?

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This year’s deadline is a little weird — like everything else these days.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

The NHL Trade Deadline is not actually a day, it’s a moment in time — 3 p.m. New York time on Monday, April 12, 2021. This is the point at which rosters have to be set for playoff eligibility. It’s not actually the last moment teams are allowed to trade players.

It’s normal to hear about some trades later than 3 p.m. The NHL offices have to approve every deal, to make sure it conforms to the rules, and they get backed up as teams file last-minute trades. But in the days and weeks after the deadline, players can and will be traded.

Trades after the Deadline

Any player traded after the deadline is not eligible to play on a team’s playoff roster. It happens very rarely, usually after a team is out of action, and they get someone with term. This might happen as teams look to get players for expansion draft reasons.

With the compressed offseason, teams exiting the playoffs late have very little time to get their rosters ready for the Seattle draft. Many will need a goalie or a forward to meet exposure requirements, or they might want to trade with Seattle to ensure who gets taken. Seattle is allowed to make trades now, although they are not allowed to trade for a player currently active in the NHL. When Vegas was preparing for the draft, they made multiple “future considerations” trades that weren’t officially filed or made public until after the playoffs. Seattle is also allowed to do that.

Last year, for obvious reasons, everything went quiet after the deadline, and there was a trading moratorium imposed over most of the summer. But in 2019, Carolina traded the rights to Adam Fox to the Rangers on April 30. That is exactly the sort of trade that can happen at any time.

Roster Sizes

The 23-man limit on the active roster is lifted on deadline day, not at 3 p.m., but at one minute after midnight as the day changes over to April 12, so a few hours ago. This is fairly moot for a lot of teams in the NHL because the salary cap is very much still in force. But for a team like Detroit with wheeling and dealing on their minds and lots of cap space, they can add however many players will fit as they take contracts or prospects or hold a player for a moment to retain salary.

The 50 SPC limit stays in place for all teams, and the Leafs currently have 48 (49 signed contracts including the recent additions, with Mikhail Abramov not counting as long as he is in junior hockey). This allows the Leafs to add two more players without trading away anyone, but with the expansion draft and the entry draft coming up before expiring UFAs come off the contract count, that’s not a lot of room to manoeuvre. Moving out some players for contract flexibility might happen today.

AHL

Normally deadline day is as meaningful for the AHL as the NHL. The AHL roster has to be set at 3 p.m. for playoff eligibility as well, but there are no AHL playoffs scheduled at this time. While there has been talk of in-division playoffs, there doesn’t seem to be any point to the papering down and back up of NHL tweeners to get them eligible for the minor-league playoffs.

One note on this: the reverse practice is not necessary. Teams do not have to recall a player from the AHL or Taxi Squad to the NHL playing roster to have them available for the NHL playoffs. That situation is covered under the recall rules which change after the deadline. Players need to just be under contract to the NHL team, where they are playing is irrelevant.

It’s likely there will be much less trading of AHL-level NHL-contracted players this year than usual. Unless teams are moving players in RFA age or with term, there isn’t really much point to tinkering with the AHL roster.

Update:

This is a nuance to this rule I was unaware of, so that ups the chances there might be some papering down and then up.

Waivers

All waivers rules are still in effect post-deadline. Any non-exempt player must go through waivers to be sent from the NHL roster to either the Taxi Squad or directly to the AHL. Risk of a player being claimed goes way down, but isn’t zero.

Recalls

After the deadline, teams are subject to limits on the numbers of recalls they can make and the total number of recalled players on the roster. Players on the Taxi Squad are subject to recall rules during the regular season, so they should be subject to the post deadline version as well.

This is less of an issue this season, since most teams won’t be using up recalls papering down players to the AHL. At least as far as we know at this time.

The Exception

Players on an NHL team’s reserve list (drafted prospects and any other un-signed player the team owns the signing rights to) can be signed to an NHL SPC, if necessary, and added to the roster after the deadline. They are playoff eligible.

Free agents who played in Europe require entry waivers, so even though the European season is over for many players, they can’t be added to an NHL team unless they’d clear waivers, and this would have to be done before the deadline. It’s extremely rare, but not unheard of for teams to do this.

And that’s the story. In the coming days, it might be necessary to visit the recall rules in depth, but with only 14 games for the Leafs, and a Taxi Squad handy for practice work, it seems unlikely it will be an issue. The Leafs should easily be able to leave recall slots open for Rasmus Sandin and Nick Robertson, and the North division playoffs will start after the AHL season is over.