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All the weird CBA stuff you need to know for the trade deadline

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.

Roster spots

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.

Contract extensions

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.

  • freethe flames

    So what does all of this mean fro the Flames? Would it make sense for the Flames to put Stone on LTIR so they have more capspace? What about Neal?
    Is it likley the Flames will make a paper transaction for the 4 waiver exempt players just in case the Heat make the playoffs? Would they risk losing someone else?

    Do the 4 recalls only apply to the regular season? How does this relate to the so called “black aces”?

    • Skylardog

      Not sure if I got this right, but lets take a swing at it. Maybe we can generate the answers as a group.

      Stone on LTIR – Only needed if they bring in a DMan. I think Ky can be applied to his salary, so the Flames could add a DMan worth just over $2.5M using Ky, or up to $3.5M if they left Ky off that calculation. May have implications for a Brodie trade, not that I believe they are remotely thinking that. It would allow an add of a depth DMan at the TDL.

      Neal on LTIR- If we play the game, and we should, would need to be out until the playoffs, but would allow a player worth up to $5.75M to be added without hurting our cap. (Zibenejad is about this hit just cause I like stirring the pot)

      Paper transactions? – Not going to happen, it would cost us some flexability in the playoffs if we got hit by the injury bug. Stockton is unlikely to make the playoffs. This is a bonus for us here.

      I could be wrong, but I believe the 4 recalls apply to the playoffs as well.

      I also believe that Lazar does have to clear waivers. He did on the way down in the fall. He has been put on the 23 man roster, so does he not have to clear again? Or is he exempt because he has not played since being called up?

      • BendingCorners

        The limit of four recalls only exists until the end of the season. Recalls are unlimited in the playoffs.
        Lazar is waiver exempt for ten games or thirty days, cumulative, whichever comes first.

      • Puck Head

        The loophole for leaving a guy like Neal out on LTIR makes sense because it would allow us to add a good rental player. The only real potential problem I see is that Neal was slowly improving and taking a big chunk of time off could hinder his progress. It’s frustrating because Neal was supposed to be part of the solution but he’s been more of a hinderence than anything.

        Anyway, here’s hoping that he heals up and comes back reborn for a lengthy playoff run.

        • freethe flames

          So let me see if I have this straight. The rosters are still at 23. If Neal was LTIR then we would be at 23 allowing us to add 1 player at the TDL without needing a recall. If we did a paper transaction and sent Lazar/Mangiapane down(waiver exempt) we could add another 2 players to the roster for the rest of the season as long as we a cap compliant and then use 2 of our waivers to bring them back. Once the regular season is over we can bring anyone we want back. Is that right?

      • Off the wall

        My 50% stab at it.
        As long as the players are on the NHL roster prior to TDL, that would mean they DON’T require waivers to be sent back to the AHL. I believe it was put in place under the CBA agreement to assist the farm teams for their playoff season. However, if they are sent down, I believe they must finish the postseason in the AHL, before being brought back up. Emergency recalls are the only exception.
        It also prevents the Black Aces hoarding rule, so NHL teams can’t stack their affiliates with talent and then use them at playoff time.

        The sneaky thing is the LTIR loophole. Chicago used it for Kane when he was injured prior to the TDL, however they were able to use him in the playoffs, because there was no limit in salary cap for the playoffs.
        So if Neal is put on the LTIR, we could use his cap space to get a player with the equivalent of his salary. If Neal recovered, we could use him come playoff time. Or the player who replaced him. Weird ruling, but I think it’s about even- out the playing field, so teams with players who carry a bigger cap hit aren’t penalized when a important member is injured. At least that’s how it appears to me.

        Treliving was smart carrying less than a 23 man roster over the season. We accumulated savings on our cap space (4.5M)
        by being shrewd. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few days.

  • Al Rain

    Thanks, learned lots reading this.

    It occurs to me that a few of those 10 paragraphs probably required 10 CBA-reading, head-scratching hours of research. As much as I love a deep dive, I’m happy to have let you do that one. Cheers.

  • buts

    Great article Ryan……some thoughts…..funny how the teams depth forwards in the bottom 6 started scoring when Neal got hurt and the teams D tightened up with Brodie out of the lineup. Small sample size I know. Goaltending and some grit are needed to be injected at the TDL…..I sure hope BT doesn’t waste the year. With 5 guys having career years its all in, I say.