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Trade Deadline FAQ

The test is tomorrow. This is your study guide.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

You can’t remember the trade deadline rules. This only makes sense because they’re almost as numerous and annoying as waiver rules. Get up to speed here.

When exactly is the deadline?

Monday, March 21 at 3 pm Eastern Time

So nobody signed after that can play in the playoffs right?

The NHL is never that simple. All players already under NHL contract or on the reserve list of the team who can be signed to an NHL deal, can join either the AHL or NHL after the deadline and play in the playoffs.

What’s a reserve list?

The reserve list is all the drafted players an NHL team holds the rights to. Rarely this list also includes players signed as free agents who then relocate to Europe. Denis Malgin is currently on the Leafs’ reserve list.

So Josh Ho-Sang can join the Leafs whenever?

No, no he can’t. Josh Ho-Sang is on an AHL contract, and would have to be signed to an NHL deal before he could play for the Leafs. To play for the Leafs in the playoffs, that would have to happen by the deadline, since he’s not on the reserve list.

What about the NCAA players?

Check the reserve list.

Okay, back to Ho-Sang, though, if the Leafs signed him, wouldn’t he have to go through waivers?

No, not unless the Leafs wanted to send him back to the AHL. All players who aren’t exempt need to clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL. When you sign someone on an AHL deal to an NHL contract, he is in the NHL until you reassign him.

That’s entry waivers, right?

Nope. That’s just regular old waivers that continue on past the deadline to the playoffs. Entry waivers only apply to players who have played in a league outside North America and who are signed as free agents (not off the reserve list).

That never happens, though, right?

It happened already this year when the Florida Panthers signed a player who had terminated his KHL contract early. Many players have done the same this year, and there might be more of these signings, although generally they are very rare.

Okay, so there’s no salary cap after the deadline, I’m sure that’s what I heard...

Nope. The salary cap is unchanged until the playoffs. The 23-man roster limit disappears, however, and it actually vanishes at midnight on Sunday night, so that once Monday rolls around, teams can just start loading up to the top of their cap space, and they aren’t forced to send players down.

But they do send players down. They paper them up and down to the AHL, right?

They do indeed. And this process sometimes happens silently and we find out after 3 pm. But the eligibility for the playoffs is “on the roster of the team” before 3 pm for the AHL and at 3 pm for the NHL.

Joey Anderson might get called up to the NHL at 3 pm and then sent back down. Nick Robertson might get sent down to the AHL before 3 pm and then recalled.

And after the deadline they can just recall whoever they need because the roster limit is gone right?

Sort of. The salary cap still limits who can be on the NHL roster, and there is a limit on number of callups. It’s one of the most complex sections of the CBA, written by all the evil lawyers in concert, and it’s hard to understand, but an NHL team can only use four regular recalls. Emergency recalls are counted differently. Suffice it to say, no team more successfully uses the emergency recall rules at times that don’t seem to be very emergency in nature than the Leafs. You can trust them on this one to know what they’re doing.

What about the cap hits of new players acquired in trade. They count for less through proration, right?

Yes. Exactly. Take the slightly mysterious trade for Hampus Lindholm by the Boston Bruins. They had enough cap space to hold his entire prorated salary, but they actually got the Ducks to retain 50%. They still have room for another $5 million cap hit player.

However, if a team is using LTIR, the cap hit of a player is not prorated and it’s dollar for dollar out of the LTIR pool. And yes, at time of writing Jake Muzzin is still on LTIR, but he is eligible to come off at any time. He could be put on IR if he’s not yet healthy.

The Leafs can just get salary retention on any player they trade for, though, right?

Yes, and they likely will. Reports say that Kyle Dubas has priced out the market on cost of retention, and there’s several teams that might be interested in being a third party in a trade to make this happen. Seattle can still retain twice more, Buffalo has all three allowed retention slots open. Arizona has only one slot left.

The Leafs have a decent selection of late-round picks, which is the usual price of retention.

You can have double retention, right?

Yes, you sure can. All players can have two salary retention trades ongoing. So if the Leafs were to trade for a player with a $5 million AAV, the first team could trade him to Buffalo, retaining 50% (the maximum allowed) and then Buffalo could retain 50% and trade him to the Leafs. Various picks get shifted around to compensate everyone for that, and the Leafs have a $1.25 million AAV player to fit in their LTIR pool or cap space, as the case may be.

One of the reasons why Arizona struggles to trade Phil Kessel is that there can only be one salary retention applied to his contract, making his AAV not much of a bargain this deadline.

What are Future Considerations?

Sometimes nothing, and it’s just a way to find a player a new home. Sometimes it’s an indication that there’s a second half of a deal involving AHL-contracted players. Say the Leafs trade for an NHL-contracted minor league defender and then send one of their AHL-contracted forwards off to that team’s AHL affiliate, that can’t be set up as a single trade.

In some cases, Future Considerations is actually “Past Considerations” in that it’s paying a team back for a favour already done. The Carter Hutton deal with Arizona was some cash compensation for the Coyotes taking on Nick Ritchie’s inflated salary for two years.

How does it work if you trade for a player who is in the AHL?

If the Leafs trade for an NHL-contracted minor leaguer, and they really could use another goalie there so they may, that player does not have to clear waivers if they are in the AHL at the time of the trade. If they are in the NHL and are not exempt, then they do have to go through waivers.

No one makes waiver claims after the deadline, though, right?

They don’t generally. Until Covid, waiver claims at any time were extremely rare, and disproportionately involved goalies. The sudden need for extra depth players these last two seasons has given us strange ideas about waivers. It’s likely this will return to more normal rarity after this year.

But you can’t trade anyone post deadline.

You can, actually, but it has been clarified recently that you cannot play that person in the NHL. But teams are more aggressive now, and late season or early playoffs trades actually happen occasionally.

Any more questions? Ask in the comments.