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Waivers: A bracing refresher on how they work

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Waiver status is just one of the reasons why NHL rosters are not a meritocracy. Preseason is the perfect time for a refresher on how it all works.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

To waive means to give up your claim on something.

In the NHL sense, that means a team gives up their exclusive rights, for a period of time, to a player that they hold under contract. Putting a player on waivers means that other teams may claim them.

When can players be waived?

Beginning in training camp—this year's waiver period started on September 30—players can be put on waivers by a team each day at noon (based on the time in New York City on the given day). The waiver period lasts 24 hours.

Who can make claims?

Any team that is not at the 50 SPC limit can pay the fee that is based on the player's years under contract, claim them, and the player changes teams. There are no roster limits yet, so that only becomes a concern once the season starts.

If more than one team makes a claim, then the winner is the team with the highest waiver priority, which is determined by the points percentage standings. The worse you are, the higher your priority. Until the season starts, the previous year's standings are used, so Toronto has the highest waiver claim priority right now.

Waiving a player means you're trying to get rid of him, right?

No. Well, sort of. Sometimes. Most of the time, particularly now in the preseason, waivers are used to allow an NHL team to assign a player to the AHL.

But sometimes, a team wants a player claimed. You can't always know what a team wants, but when Arizona waived John Scott last year and then kept him on the NHL roster when he cleared, it was obvious they wanted him gone, and they didn't care if they got nothing for him.

Generally, if a player is waived, what the team really wants is to put him on the AHL roster.

Who must be waived?

No one. If you're willing to keep them on the NHL roster, that is. But most teams have at least some players on NHL deals who they must move into the AHL to meet the regular season roster size limit of 23. The roster has to be declared by 5 pm on Tuesday, October 11.

The real question is, who can you assign to the AHL without having to put them through waivers first?

JP Nikota made a wonderful chart of which Leafs are waiver exempt, and also when the exemption expires based on games played. That's a very handy guide for the coming season. For a particular point in time, the easiest way to answer your question about any player on any team is to use CapFriendly's calculator.

I'm going to direct you to their definition of how that exemption is calculated too, since it's complicated, and if you use the calculator, you don't need to know it.

Once a player has passed through waivers, he gets a temporary exemption that expires after 30 days on an NHL roster or 10 games played in the NHL. This is why you will see callups swapped out for new faces when an injury requires a replacement—the waiver exemption is being preserved, and the player is being sent down before it runs out.

What about one-way and two-way contracts?

They decide how much a player gets paid in each league, nothing more.

How to track the waived players?

The easiest way to do that in this modern world is Twitter. The most regular and reliable source is Renaud Lavoie, who posts the names of the waived players everyday and reports on any claims. GeneralFanager also posts lists most days.

Rest assured, though, if a Leafs player is waived, at least a dozen people on Twitter will mention it.

Teams are in cutting mode, and all of them will be moving players through waivers. Most of them will not be claimed, but like Frank Corrado last year, there might be one or two.

Most teams who have desirable players they think will be claimed will try to make a trade or they will wait until the end of the preseason to slide them through waivers in the hope that no one has room on the team for another player.

Conditioning Loans

Conditioning loans are a sort of waiver exemption. Any player coming off of LTIR, or any player at all who consents, can be sent to the AHL for a limited time on a conditioning loan without going through waivers.

The NHL team gains nothing from these loans. The player counts towards the roster size, the salary cap, and he is paid at his NHL salary rate. They are purely about player development and fitness, and there is no requirement in the CBA that the player have had an injury or have been on IR or LTIR.

They are most commonly used for backup goaltenders who rarely play, players who have been on IR, and the occasional excess player who never gets in games—the thirteenth forward or the seventh defenceman.

One way you end up a pressbox denizen who never plays is by getting claimed on waivers. Both Frank Corrado and Petter Granberg did stints in the AHL on conditioning loans after they were claimed last year. A claimed player cannot be sent through waivers and assigned to the AHL without his originating club being able to ask for his return, so they sometimes sit as surplus players.

That’s all there is to it?

No. This is the CBA, an infernal system designed by competing groups of lawyers, so it’s way more complicated than that. But that is the basics and most of what you need to know for the big preseason waiver stampede.

Players to watch this season

Nikita Soshnikov, who is starting his season in the AHL due to injury rehab—the announced reason, and perhaps because he is waiver exempt for 59 more NHL games. So, hmm, 82 games, carry the zero ... I think that means if he stays in the AHL until the Leafs have played 23 regular season games, he will be waiver exempt all year even if he plays the rest of the season in the NHL. If for some reason the Leafs wanted to send him back down, perhaps for the Marlies playoffs at the end of the year, they could do that. Watch for his return to the NHL in early December.

Connor Brown is fully waiver exempt no matter how much NHL time he gets this year. He might have to go down to the Marlies and wait for an injury or trade to open up space, but the Soshnikov manoeuvre makes that less likely.

Josh Leivo, who is not exempt and will have a battle on his hands to make the roster, has a low salary that could be attractive to teams looking for depth. That might make a claim for him more likely if he is put through waivers.

Frank Corrado and Connor Carrick are in the same situation as Leivo.

Zach Hyman's waiver exemption runs out at about the halfway point of the season, but by now it is so obvious he is making the roster that the point seems moot.

Nikita Zaitsev is technically waiver exempt, but he will likely have a European out clause in his contract, so if he does not work out in the NHL, he would be back in the KHL almost immediately.