If you’ve been following the Calgary Flames’ lineups lately, you’ve probably noticed something odd. Joakim Nordstrom, a staple on the club’s fourth line due to his penalty killing prowess, has been out of the lineup with an injury since Mar. 6.
I was asked on social media recently by a colleague why Nordstrom remains on the active roster. The short answer is: because the Flames really don’t have any more favourable options available to them.

Why not demote him?

First off, teams aren’t allowed to demote players who have documented injuries. Part of it is due to insurance reasons, part of it is due to avoiding cap circumvention by hiding injured players with big cap hits on the farm team or taxi squad. Either way, the league’s Central Registry and the NHLPA would have a fit.
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Heck, the Minnesota Wild recently demoted the injured Louis Belpedio and it caused a bit of headaches for the team.

Why not the injury reserve?

Placing a player on the injury reserve list requires them to miss four games or seven days due to injury, and opens up a roster spot for a club to replace that injured player. With Nordstrom having already missed nine games with his injury, this seems like an option.
That said, placing Nordstrom on IR would open a roster spot but it wouldn’t give the Flames any additional cap space. While the Flames have banked a bunch of cap space for future use – and they’re allowed to go over the cap by around $900,000 right now due to how much they’ve banked – they probably would rather not burn it off on too many healthy scratches if they can avoid it.
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Plus, they would probably like to keep their options open, cap-wise, for moves around the trade deadline.

Why not the long-term injury reserve?

The short answer is “the LTIR is painful to use and teams like to avoid it.”
Why is it painful to use? Well, it opens up a roster spot and allows teams to spend past the cap to replace their injured player… but it also makes it tougher to accumulate cap savings to use later on. (Players need to be on the LTIR for whatever is longer between 24 days and 10 games.)
The LTIR cap ceiling for a team is calculated by subtracting the team’s cap space when they go into LTIR from the cap hit of the player they’re replacing.
For the Flames to maximize their LTIR space, we’re conceptualizing a 22-man roster built like this:
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  • Goalies (2): Markstrom and Rittich
  • Defensemen (7): Mackey, Andersson, Giordano, Valimaki, Tanev, Hanifin and Nesterov
  • Forwards (13): Ryan, Backlund, Gaudreau, Lucic, Tkachuk, Nordstrom, Monahan, Ritchie, Leivo, Lindholm, Dube, Mangiapane and Bennett
  • Buyouts (2): Brouwer, Stone
This hypothetical roster leaves them with $85,834 of cap space, which would do two things when they enact LTIR on Nordstrom:
  • Their new cap ceiling would be $82,114,166, $614,166 above the regular cap ceiling (e.g., Nordstrom’s $700,000 cap hit minus their $85,834 cap space)
  • The cap number they’d need to get below to bank cap savings during LTIR would be $81,414,166 (e.g., $85,834 below the $81.5 million ceiling)
  • The distance between the new cap ceiling and the number they need to get below to save cap space again is the cap hit of the injured player
At that point, they could move Mackey back to the AHL or taxi squad and have $1.625 million in cap space to work with. But as noted, this makes it a little bit tougher to bank cap space for future use, and it’s an awful lot of trouble to go to to replace a player like Nordstrom who’s making league minimum. (It made sense when Derek Ryan was out, because it carried with it more than three times the financial wiggle room than LTIR-ing Nordstrom would.)
As a result, the Flames have two injured bodies in Nordstrom and Brett Ritchie clogging up two roster spots right now simply because the IR or LTIR aren’t sufficiently attractive options. (And Ritchie’s expected to be back soon, so the IR might not even be an option for him.)
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