Today is December 11, the first significant day in the lead up to the Holiday Roster Freeze.
The main event is the period from midnight on December 19 to midnight on December 27. Teams may recall players as needed, but they may not trade players during that period. There are no waivers, and players may not be loaned. “Loaned” is the standard terminology used in the CBA for what most people call being sent to the AHL.
The only exception to the waivers moratorium is that a player placed on waivers on December 19, who is claimed, must report to his new team on December 20 even though the freeze is in place.
Say a team has a player on LTIR who is due to return to play when healthy. If that happens during the freeze period, the team is then allowed to make any player transactions necessary to come into compliance with the salary cap. The freeze thaws completely.
If a player is on Emergency Recall, and they were recalled to the NHL after December 11, they can still be loaned back to the AHL by midnight on December 23 as long as they don’t need waivers.
Emergency recall should not be confused with a roster emergency where a team plays shorthanded and then is allowed an emergency exception to the salary cap for a qualifying player. This is emergency recall:
(ii) Emergency conditions shall be established when the playing strength of the Loaning Club, by reason of incapacitating injury or illness or by League suspension to its Players is reduced below the level of two (2) goalkeepers, six (6) defensemen and twelve (12) forwards. Proof of the existence of the emergency conditions including the incapacity shall be furnished to the Commissioner of the League upon request made by him.
Bobby McMann and Max Lajoie have been recalled to the Leafs on emergency recall some of the time. Martin Jones has been on emergency recall as well. The distinction between emergency and regular recall matters for counting up days on the roster for various reasons including waiver exemption, but it’s largely ignored since it has no effect on the salary cap.
If the Leafs just want to add an extra skater before a road trip, that’s a regular recall, but they always seem to have well-timed emergencies when they need them, and it's often nearly impossible to find the emergency – some illness or minor injury prior to a game that doesn't prevent the player from playing after all, gosh!
Recalls of either sort are allowed during the actual freeze period, but only players brought up to the NHL on emergency recall post December 11 can be returned to the AHL, and only up to December 23. That’s the freeziest part of the whole thing, and the only meaningful imposition on the team's choices about who is on the roster beyond a few days with no trades.
For this reason, teams will often recall or loan players prior to December 11 sometimes sending them down and then back up.
The roster freeze does provide a deadline for teams considering a trade to get a deal done. There is a small history of mid-December deals right up to the freeze deadline, but it's small because teams typically have not made many deals until January. This season is certainly not typical in that sense, so anything seems possible and plausible up to December 19.
Swaps of AHL players on NHL contracts often start about now. The motivation here is strictly to rebalance teams that have lost players to injury or recall to the NHL.
The schedule affects what teams do, particularly if they have road trips over this period. The Leafs schedule is:
- December 11 - Leafs @ Islanders
- December 12 - Leafs @ Rangers
- December 14 - Blue Jackets @ Leafs
- December 16 - Penguins @ Leafs
- December 19 - Rangers @ Leafs - the freeze goes into effect after this game
- December 21 - Leafs @ Sabres
- December 23 - Leafs @ Blue Jackets - the Christmas break begins after this game
- December 27 - Senators @ Leafs - the freeze is lifted after this game
- December 30 - Leafs @ Blue Jackets
So the Leafs aren't going far from home, and the Marlies handily have a game in Cleveland on the 27th, so once moves can happen, the team is close to home. By the way, the traditional Boxing Day Marlies game is on at Scotiabank Arena if you're interested.
And that's the freeze rules.