The trade deadline can be, in a word, chaos. But thankfully the National Hockey League is regulated by a collective bargaining agreement that attempts to structure that chaos. As the Calgary Flames amble towards what could be a busy deadline, here’s a primer on the weird CBA details you need to know to make sense of it.
The Flames presently have 23 players on their active roster:
- Two goaltenders (David Rittich and Mike Smith)
- Seven defensemen (Rasmus Andersson, Mark Giordano, Dalton Prout, TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington)
- Fourteen forwards (Derek Ryan, Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, James Neal, Matthew Tkachuk, Curtis Lazar, Garnet Hathaway, Sean Monahan, Austin Czarnik, Elias Lindholm, Michael Frolik, Mark Jankowski, Andrew Mangiapane and Sam Bennett)
Michael Stone is on the injury reserve list.
Teams have to be within the 23-man roster limit at the trade deadline at 1 p.m. MT. Starting at 1:01 p.m., there is no more roster limit. As long as teams are salary cap compliant, they can carry as many players as they feel is necessary.
The following roster players are currently waiver exempt (and will remain waiver exempt through the trade deadline):
- D Rasmus Andersson
- D Oliver Kylington
- F Andrew Mangiapane
- F Curtis Lazar
Any of these four players can be sent to the American Hockey League at a moment’s notice without having to go through the waiver process. Everybody else would need to go through waivers.
The recall limit
After the trade deadline, teams are limited to four regular recalls until the end of the regular season. Emergency recalls are used to help teams meet the minimum roster requirements (two healthy goalies, six healthy defensemen and/or 12 healthy forwards). Regular recalls are ones that aren’t necessary for those roster requirements.
If a player is on the NHL roster on a regular recall because of an injury situation – think Oliver Kylington being up due to Michael Stone’s absence – a team is allowed to keep the replacement player when they activate the injured player without using one of their recalls. But if a player is up on an emergency recall situation, then their roster spot is tied to a particular injured player and a team would have to use up a regular recall to keep the player up once the injured player returns.
The salary cap
The cap ceiling for the 2018-19 season is $79.5 million. The cap is calculated daily, and the cap space a team doesn’t use per day is rolled forward to the remainder of the season. As a result, teams that bank cap space early in the season can add players with relatively high cap hits.
The Flames have around $1.2 million in “daily” cap space right now, but because of the cap space they’ve saved over the previous parts of the season they’re able to add approximately $5.8 million in cap hits at the trade deadline and stay below the cap ceiling.
Cap exception: Performance bonuses
The Flames have a handful of players on entry-level contracts who, in addition to having salaries, have potential performance bonuses included with their contracts. Matthew Tkachuk is the most prominent of these players. Bonuses usually aren’t included in salary cap calculations because (a) there’s no guarantee players reach them and (b) teams are allowed to exceed the cap ceiling by their bonuses.
However, whatever amount teams go over this season’s cap comes out of next year’s cap.
Cap exception: The LTIR loophole
Let’s just say the Flames have an injured player who will be out until the playoffs. Under the CBA’s rules, that player could go on the long-term injury reserve (LTIR) and the team could replace that player with one or more players with a combined cap hit not exceeding that player’s cap hit. (The Flames did this a few years back with Ladislav Smid.)
The “loophole” is this: there’s no salary cap in the playoffs. So if the injured player recovers for the postseason, they can be activated and a team could keep the formerly-injured player and the players they brought in to replace him.
Wondering about the Flames signing a player to an extension for 2019-20? There’s a restriction to the amount of cap hits the team can add for next season under what’s called the CBA’s “tagging rule.”
Teams can sign contract extensions (or add cap hits) for next season with a value not exceeding the sum of (a) the team’s cap room this season and (b) the value of their expiring NHL contracts. For the Flames that means they can sign players (or acquire cap hits) for 2019-20 worth around a combined $12 million. This number will obviously change, though, as the Flames make deals between now and beginning of free agency.
The contract limit
Teams are allowed to have 50 active NHL contracts. The Flames currently have 45 players under contract. This only really matters for signing top college free agents, as often those deals start running right away as a means of getting those players closer to their UFA years (and gets them some professional salary immediately).
Prospect signings and NHL playoff eligibility
If the Flames already have a player’s rights before the trade deadline, they’re eligible to play for them in the playoffs – even if they don’t sign their NHL deal until after the deadline. So if, say, Adam Ruzicka signs an NHL contract after the deadline and then gets called up from junior, he’s able to play in the playoffs.
College or junior free agents that sign after the trade deadline are not eligible, since the Flames wouldn’t have their rights before the trade deadline.
AHL playoff eligibility
Players have to be on the AHL roster the day of the trade deadline to be eligible to play in the Calder Cup playoffs. Often teams do what are called “paper transactions” after the trade deadline, moving a player down to the AHL and back to the NHL to maintain their AHL playoff eligibility (but using up one of their four recalls). The Stockton Heat are well out of the postseason picture right now and the Flames haven’t brought up a lot of extra bodies, so it seems unlikely that they will make many moves with the AHL playoffs in mind.