Penguins

Primer: Understanding NHL waiver system

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Ethan Prow is a player who requires waivers. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The behind-the-scenes parts of hockey can be complicated sometimes.

There are a lot of misconceptions and confusion surrounding who needs waivers and when, and more.

I created this primer to try to clear up some common misconceptions and answer some of the questions we often get on the subject, because we know these things can be confusing. No judgement here.

WHAT ARE WAIVERS?

To reassign a player from the NHL to the AHL, the player must pass through waivers. Waivers are a 24-hour period (from noon to noon the following day) where other NHL teams can submit claims for a player.

Example: Goaltender John Muse is on an NHL contract with the Penguins. To send him to the AHL, he required the 24-hour waiver period, during which he was not claimed. Now that he is in the AHL, he can also be reassigned to the ECHL without requiring additional waivers.

Before Nov. 1, if multiple teams submit a claim, the team with the worst record for the season prior earns the rights to that player. After Nov. 1, if multiple teams submit a claim, the team lowest in the standings in the current season has the rights to that player.

If a team acquires a player through waivers, they are expected to keep that player in the NHL for the remainder of the season. If the new team places the player on waivers for purposes of sending them to their own AHL affiliate, the original team is allowed to reclaim the player and assign them to their own affiliate if they are successful in making the claim -- the same rules still apply.

Example: In January 2015, the Penguins claimed Mark Arcobello off of waivers from the Nashville Predators. Less than a month after claiming him, the Penguins put Arcobello back on waivers. Nashville reclaimed Arcobello and assigned him to their own AHL affiliate.

If a team claims a player off of waivers, keeps them in the NHL and later wants to trade that player, he must first be offered to any other teams that also put in a waiver claim for that player, if there were any.

If a player who has already cleared waivers that season is traded, that player can be automatically assigned to the acquiring team's AHL affiliate without additional waivers.

Example: In October 2017, the Penguins acquired Andrey Pedan from the Vancouver Canucks. Pedan had already cleared waivers for Vancouver, so the Penguins were allowed to send Pedan straight to Wilkes-Barre.

WHO NEEDS WAIVERS?

It's a common misconception that a player's waiver eligibility is determined by whether or not they have a one-way or two-way contract. That is inaccurate. For more on what those designations mean, read this primer.

A player's waiver status is determined by a combination of their signing age OR their age of playing their first professional game; plus years since signing an NHL contract OR number of NHL games played. There are different rules for forwards and defenseman compared to goaltenders. Once the player meets either the minimum number of years or games played, they need waivers.

Age Years from Signing NHL Contract NHL Games Played Years from Signing NHL Contract NHL Games Played
Skaters Goalies
18 5 160 6 80
19 4 160 5 80
20 3 160 4 80
21 3 80 4 60
22 3 70 4 60
23 3 60 3 60
24 2 60 2 60
25+ 1 1

The NHL collective bargaining agreement lists a few exceptions and modifications:

For purposes of Regular Waivers, the five year exemption for an 18 year old skater and the four year exemption for a 19 year old skater shall both be reduced to three years commencing the first season that the 18 or 19 year old skater plays in eleven NHL Games or more. The next two seasons, regardless of whether the skater plays any NHL Games in either season, shall count as the second and third years toward satisfying the exemption.

For purposes of Regular Waivers, the six year exemption for an 18 year old goalie and the five year exemption for a 19 year old goalie shall both be reduced to four years commencing the first season that the 18 or 19 year old goalie plays in eleven NHL Games or more. The next three seasons, regardless of whether the goalie plays any NHL Games in any of those three seasons, shall count as the next three years toward satisfying the exemption.

The first season in which a Player who is age 20 or older plays in one or more Professional Games shall constitute the first year for calculating the number of years he is exempt from Regular Waivers. A Player 25 years old or older who plays in one or more Professional Games in any season shall be exempt from Regular Waivers for the remainder of that season.

For Players age 20 or older, Professional Games include NHL Games, all minor league regular season and playoff games and any other professional games, including but not limited to, play in European leagues when Player is on Loan to such club, and while Player is party to a standard player contract.

These numbers are based on the player's number of games played at the start of the season.

Example: Tristan Jarry signed his NHL contract at age 18 and played his first NHL game at age 20. He is exempt from waivers for four seasons, or 80 NHL games, whichever comes first. The 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 seasons count towards his number of professional seasons. The 2018-19 season will be his last season of waiver-exempt status.

Example: Ethan Prow signed his NHL contract and made his professional debut at age 24, in 2016. He has not played in any NHL games, but has played in two professional seasons, so he requires waivers beginning in 2018-19.

WHEN DO PLAYERS NOT NEED WAIVERS?

There are some instances where a waivers-eligible player can be reassigned to the AHL without needing to pass through waivers first.

If a player has previously cleared waivers during the season and gets recalled to the NHL, they do not need waivers to go back to the AHL if they play fewer than 10 cumulative games or are on the active roster for fewer than 30 cumulative days.

Example: If the Penguins recall Jimmy Hayes from the AHL and he is only on the active roster for one week and plays in three games, he can be reassigned to Wilkes-Barre afterwards without waivers.

If a player is coming off of long-term injured reserve, they can be reassigned to the AHL for a conditioning assignment. Conditioning assignments are limited to six days or three games in the AHL.

Example: In 2014 Tomas Vokoun was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre on a conditioning assignment after missing six months. Vokoun played two games and was recalled to Pittsburgh.

Players do not need waivers to be reassigned if they were brought up to the NHL as an "emergency recall." An emergency recall is allowed if the NHL team has fewer than two goalkeepers, six defensemen and twelve forwards due to injury, illness or suspensions. The player must be returned to the AHL when the "emergency" is over.

For more hockey-related primers like this one, click here.

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