In advance of Monday’s game between the Calgary Flames and the Pittsburgh Penguins, a bit of roster news. Well, roster minutiae at least. We’ve confirmed that blueliner Juuso Välimäki is waiver exempt this season. (TSN’s Salim Valji tweeted about it on Monday afternoon and we’ve confirmed the relevant details.)
Välimäki has finished his entry level deal and now he’s in the first season of a two year deal that will pay him $1.55 million against the salary cap. Normally, skaters who have completed their entry level deals are waiver eligible.
But Välimäki is a unique case. He missed the entire 2019-20 season due to a knee injury, and the NHL dictated over the summer that the missed season wouldn’t count as a year of service in terms of the Seattle expansion draft (so Välimäki was exempt from selection and didn’t use up a protection list spot).
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Similarly, Välimäki wasn’t a “regular” (Group 2) restricted free agent because he didn’t meet the pro years of service requirement (three) to be eligible to receive offer sheets – he was what we call a “section 10.6(c)” RFA, after the clause that specifies the free agency type.
What counts as professional experience specified in Section 10.2(a)(ii) and mentioned again in the waivers section of the CBA (Section 13), both included below:
When Välimäki played zero professional games in 2019-20, he didn’t get credit for a professional season under any of the CBA’s various measures: free agency time, pensionable service, and waiver eligibility. (This was the part that’s a bit vague in the CBA and required interpretation, as what counts as a pro season under the waiver rules isn’t specified explicitly.)
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Long story short: because the 2019-20 season doesn’t count as a year of “pro experience” under the CBA, Välimäki won’t require waivers to be assigned to the American Hockey League until either the beginning of the 2022-23 season or when he dresses for 64 games (regular season and playoffs). The clock is ticking on the games played requirement, so more likely than not he’ll be exempt for the entire season.
Välimäki is on a one-way deal, so he makes his full NHL salary no matter where he sits on the roster – NHL or AHL. (One-way or two-way deals refer only to salary, not waiver status.) But $1.125 million of his $1.55 million cap hit would disappear if he was assigned to Stockton (he’d count for just $425,000 on the NHL cap while in the minors), which could give the Flames a ton of cap flexibility.
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But lineup flexibility may be the reason he’s still on the NHL roster. Välimäki has been a pretty decent NHL player when he’s played, and with Darryl Sutter’s preference towards shot-balanced defensive pairings having Välimäki as the extra leftie and Michael Stone as the extra rightie does make some sense.
That said, the Flames could be in a position to make a strong push towards a high playoff seed this season and having some additional cap flexibility to add at the trade deadline would be a boon for their ability to add to their roster.
Välimäki is also only 23 years old and still developing, so he could really use some games and ice time in order to catch his development up after missing half of the 2018-19 season and all of the 2019-20 season due to injuries.
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The Flames have a lot of interests to balance right now and we’ll see how they decide to balance roster flexibility, cap flexibility and Välimäki’s development over the remainder of his final waiver exempt season.