The 2018-2019 NHL regular season begins on Wednesday, October 3, when the puck is dropped between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montréal Canadiens in Toronto sometime after 7:00 p.m. Between now and then, a lot is going to happen.
The deadline of interest is Tuesday, October 2 at 5:00 p.m. New York time. That is when all NHL teams must submit a cap-compliant 23-man roster to the NHL.
The NHL roster must stay at no more than 23 players from the October 2 deadline until the trade deadline. The count does not include any player on any form of IR, so for the Leafs, they don’t count Nathan Horton.
The minimum required number of players is 20, and all teams must have two goalies on the roster at all times, even on off days. There is no maximum for goalies, but Kyle Dubas has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to carry three.
The Ottawa Senators have already announced they will begin the season with 22. I’m sure people will make jokes about the cost savings of the extra player in the minors, but the main purpose is to leave a spot open for claiming players other teams waive.
To get to no more than 23 on the roster, players who are being sent to the AHL will need to be put through waivers if they aren’t exempt.
Who is waiver exempt on the Maple Leafs?
In order for the player to clear before the opening day roster deadline, the last day to waive players is Monday, October 1. However, there will likely be some stragglers on the very last day waived at noon, as the league considers the player off the roster as soon as they are waived. However, players that are waived to make a roster compliant like this must report to the AHL immediately if they aren’t claimed.
Teams change their minds too, or are shifting players around for cap-related reasons, and it’s not uncommon for someone to be waived the first or second day of the regular season and replaced with a call-up. The Leafs did this last year, waiving Martin Marincin and adding Calle Rosen for a few games.
Once a player has cleared waivers, they can be called up and play in limited action without needing waivers to return to the AHL. There are also emergency rules that allow this to happen for injury replacement.
So you’ve cleared waivers, now what?
This is a moot point for the Leafs, since they can’t form a 23-man roster that hits the salary cap. The upper limit is $79.5 million, and the Leafs will make up a 23-man roster that will top out at around $75 million even with William Nylander signed. That’s counting Nathan Horton’s cap hit.
For other teams that have players they need to put on LTIR to remain compliant with the salary cap, expect to see some arranging of the roster to get as close to the cap as possible before they make that move.
The Marlies played a second exhibition game on Saturday and have one more next week. However, they will need to send some of their AHL-contracted players on to the Growlers camp which opens today, with their first exhibition game going on October 4.
The Marlies will be getting an influx of NHL-contracted players any minute now, and those players will make up the bulk of the team. The only players on AHL deals who will be with the Marlies for sure are Colin Greening and Rich Clune.
We should expect the Leafs to make up a roster of 13 forwards, eight defenders and two goalies, with one defender being cut to make space for William Nylander when he signs.
There are no roster limits in the AHL, and the biggest problem facing the Marlies is an excess of experienced defenders when they want to get some development time in for Timothy Liljegren and potentially Rasmus Sandin. The second biggest problem is that they have too many goalies, even if they send one down to the ECHL to join the Growlers’ one ECHL-contracted goalie, they have Justin Peters on a PTO, Kasimir Kaskisuo, and potentially two more on the way.
The Leafs lineup that saw the ice in Detroit on Sunday is a very good template for the Marlies forward lines this season, so they seem set.
The Growlers may need to make some last minute signings depending on who the Marlies send them in terms of forwards, but they should be full up on goalies and defenders. They likely will have the highest number of AHL-contracted players in the ECHL. Let’s hope that pays off in wins.