Waivers have ruined more good theories about roster construction than even good sense. If you’re going to win your fight about who the Leafs should house in the press box or use on the fourth line, you need to know who is exempt and who isn’t.

What are waivers for, anyway?

The reason waivers exist at all is to keep teams from stockpiling NHL-capable players so they can keep other teams weak and have NHL-ready callups whenever they need them. The league wants NHL-ready players in the NHL. And while you can argue all day long about some young prospect with no NHL experience, the main focus of waiver rules is players who aren’t all that young anymore and have already played in the NHL.

Every season in training camp, all players on NHL contracts start out on the NHL roster. There is no one in the minors officially, or anywhere else. Rasmus Sandin, for example, will have to be formally loaned to whichever team he’s playing for, no matter what league that team is in. We usually casually refer to players going to the AHL as “being sent down”, but in fact, they are loaned to the minors, not too differently to someone on an NHL contract getting loaned back to the OHL or to a European club.

Every player who is loaned to the minor leagues (you can loan someone directly to the ECHL, but this is very rare for anyone not a goalie) has to pass through waivers unless they are exempt.  The waivers process begins on the 12th day prior to the start of the regular season. This is the point at which cuts to the minors can become formal.

Traditionally, non-exempt players get pushed through waivers in very large groups on the last two or three days of the preseason as teams need to be salary cap and roster-limit compliant. This season, the Leafs are unlikely to have any salary cap issues and can move every non-exempt player at once if they like. But like everyone else, they have to get to 23 players on the last day before the season starts.

The player cleared last year, so he’s exempt, right?

Wrong. All players start out on an ELC waiver exempt. The exemption runs out based on either seasons played, or NHL games played. Last year’s exempt player might not be exempt now.

There is one exception to the NHL games played timer for exemption. For players 25 and over when they first sign their ELC, and the Leafs have two, they have one season of exemption, and there is no games played limit on them.

Who is exempt?

This list is all the non-exempt players who might be sent down and need waivers, and all players who might be kept on the Leafs, broadly defined as the somewhat plausible NHLers out of the Marlies crew. If you want to look up anyone else, Cap Friendly has all the information you need.

2018 Training Camp Waiver Exemptions

NameNHL Games Played in 2017-2018Exempt?NHL Seasons left on ExemptionNHL Games left on Exemption
Par Lindholm0Yes1N/A
Eamon McAdam0Yes460
Trevor Moore0Yes180
Igor Ozhiganov0Yes1N/A
Carl Grundstrom0Yes2160
Calle Rosen4Yes256
Andreas Borgman48Yes222
Mason Marchment0Yes360
Josh Leivo16No
Tyler Ennis73No
Connor Carrick47No
Justin Holl2No
Garret Sparks0No
Curtis McElhinney18No
Martin Marincin2No
Calvin Pickard1No
Frederik Gauthier9No
Jordan Subban0No
Adam Cracknell5No
Josh Jooris40No
Vincent LoVerde0No
Chris Mueller0No

Josh Leivo is not the only player who saw NHL time last year who needs waivers to be sent down. He’s not even the only one named Josh. The question facing the Leafs for these not really regulars like the Joshes, the three backup goalies, and the veteran AHLers is: Will they clear?

Josh Jooris has been claimed once in his career, and Adam Cracknell has been claimed three times. So it’s not true to say that there’s no risk of losing players like that. However, the risk is very overstated. Very few players are claimed, and usually putting players through waivers on the day when dozens of others are on the list works fine. Teams have roster limits to meet and cap concerns, so they can’t just grab everyone.

Remember: If you take a player on waivers, you cannot put them on your AHL team without putting them through waivers again, and their originating team has the right to take them back, and then they can send them down without waivers if no one else made a claim that second time. Teams don’t claim players unless they plan to keep them on the NHL roster.

However, NHL-experienced backup goalies are not immune from being snatched. That’s how the Leafs got McElhinney after all, and some others like Mike Condon and Antti Niemi have moved via waivers in the last few years. Last year, from the opening of the waiver period to the start of the regular season, four players were claimed, one of them Cracknell.

The players at no risk are non-NHL players like LoVerde and Mueller. No one will claim Frederik Gauthier, but the Leafs aren’t going to risk Andreas Johnsson, even if they wanted to.  Tyler Ennis, on that sweetheart minimum contract, is not going to be waived and sent to the minors.

Cracknell, who eventually cleared last season and barely played NHL hockey, may be a lower risk to move than the right-shot centre Jooris. But if the Leafs want to keep them as depth, they might be press box extras. Which makes Josh Leivo either a roster player or surplus to requirements. It’s past time the Leafs made that decision anyway.

Twenty-one players were claimed after the regular season began last year, some of them the same player on his second claim. Five of those players were put on waivers very near to the trade deadline by teams that wanted to free up roster or cap space.

Some of the players Leafs fans worry over losing, notably Martin Marincin or Justin Holl, are not of interest to any other team, or they’d have them for a conditional sixth round pick by now.

The real difficulty for the Leafs this year is their stable of goalies with NHL experience. As it stands now, unless the Leafs want to do the very unusual and carry three goalies, they have to send two of Curtis McElhinney, Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard through waivers.

This reality is exactly why trading any of those three is going to be very difficult. Why pay for one of those three, when you can just snatch him for free in a few weeks? The only way a trade will happen is if another team really wants one particular goalie of the three, and doesn’t want to risk someone with a higher priority claim getting him. Claim priority prior to the regular season is in reverse order of the standings last year.

The whole point of signing players like Jooris and Cracknell is to have professional depth players, so your almost good enough younger players like Josh Leivo and Connor Carrick, preceded by Peter Holland, Frank Corrado, and Petter Granberg, don’t sit around doing nothing. You need to be moving those players through waivers to the AHL or else playing them.  If you live in constant fear of losing a marginal player on waivers, you just might be Jim Benning.

What if the Leafs claimed someone?

It is very unlikely the Leafs would make a claim, but never say never. Good teams usually don’t do that, and the depth players the team conceivably needs like an AHL/NHL centre are either rarely put on waivers or aren’t any better than what they have. It’s much more likely the Leafs will seek someone useful coming back in a trade for one of their excess depth goalies or defenders than just add via claim.

Okay, I think you’re ready. Go out and argue about who is getting sent down.