Primer: Understanding NHL’s trade deadline


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Jim Rutherford. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The NHL trade deadline is quickly approaching.

We've done a couple of these primers already. The first dealt with types of contracts in the NHL, and the second explained the long-term injured reserve process. With the number of trades around the league picking up, a primer on the intricacies of NHL trades has been requested.

As always, I'll be in the comments to answer any further questions you may have.



The NHL trade deadline takes place 40 days from the end of the regular season. In the 2018-19 season, that day falls on Feb. 25.

The time of day of the deadline is always 3 p.m. New York time, but deals may still be announced later than 3 p.m. as it takes time for the NHL to approve the trades.

Technically, deals can still happen after the deadline. The deadline is just for NHL postseason eligibility -- a player has to be dealt by the deadline in order to be eligible for the playoffs with his new team. It isn't common, but two non-playoff teams could theoretically make deals after the deadline.


If a player has played in seven seasons or is over 27 years of age, they are allowed to have a no-trade clause added to their contract.

The impact is self-explanatory: A player with a full no-trade clause can not be traded, unless they choose to waive the clause. They are, however, allowed to be placed on waivers, re-assigned to the AHL, or have their contract bought out.

If the player is traded to a new team before a contract with the clause takes effect, the new team does not have to recognize the clause.


A no-movement clause is like a stricter no-trade clause. Like a no-trade clause, they are only an option for players with seven years of experience or 27 years of age.

No-movement clauses mean a player can not be traded, waived, or sent to the minor-leagues without their consent. In the event of an expansion draft, a team must protect a player with this clause unless they waive it. No-movement clauses do not protect a player from having their contract bought out.

If the player is traded to a new team before a contract with the clause takes effect, the new team does not have to recognize the clause.

Example: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have full no-movement clauses. They aren’t going anywhere unless they want to.


Some no-trade clauses are modified, and the types of modified no-trade clauses vary from player to player.

For some, players must submit a pre-determined number of teams they will accept a trade to if they are asked. In other modified no-trade clauses, players must submit a pre-determined number of teams they will not accept a trade to if they are asked. In both cases, when approached about a potential trade, the players have an opportunity to list the specific teams they will or will not accept a trade to, respectively, equal to the pre-determined number.

In either case of modified clauses, if the player does not submit a list of teams when asked, they are allowed to be traded anywhere.

Their list of teams is typically not public knowledge, since the player only has to make their list when they are asked.

Example: Patric Hornqvist has a modified no-trade clause. If the Penguins wish to trade him, his contract designates that he is allowed to submit a list of eight teams he will not accept a trade to. Kris Letang has a different type of modified no-trade clause. If asked, he can submit a list of 18 teams he would accept a trade to.


One thing a team can do to sweeten the deal in a trade is retain part of a player's salary.

When a team retains a percentage of a player's salary, they will pay that percentage and have that percentage of the player's average annual value count towards their own cap. This is common when a rebuilding team trades a good player to a contender -- the rebuilding team is typically has enough cap space to accommodate the retention, and the acquiring team may not have the room to take on the player's full contract.

There are some caveats, though.

  1. The acquiring team must have at least 50 percent of the player's salary on their own books. The team trading the player cannot retain a majority of the player's salary.
  2. The contract of a player can only be involved in a retained salary transaction up to two times.
  3. A team can have a maximum of three contracts with salary retained on its books at a time.
  4. The combined retained salary on a team's books cannot exceed 15 percent of the upper limit of the salary cap. The salary cap for the 2018-19 season is $79.5 million, which means retained salary cannot exceed $11,925,000.

If the original team retains salary, and the acquiring team assigns that player to the AHL at any point, the retained salary on the original team's books still counts, even if his contract is no longer counting towards the acquiring team's cap.

If a player's contract is terminated, the usual buyout implications apply to both his current team and the team who retained some of his salary.

If a team trades a player and retains some of his salary, they cannot reacquire the player for at least one calendar year following the date of the trade if the player is still on the same contract he was on at the time of the trade.

Example: The Maple Leafs will have $1,200,000 per season of Phil Kessel's contract on their books through the 2021-22 season.

Example: The Penguins retained $250,000 of Carl Hagelin's salary when they traded him to the Kings. His contract runs through 2018-19. They cannot reacquire Hagelin while he is on his current contract because it all falls within the first calendar year following the trade.


An easy way to look at this is that if a player was eligible to be sent to the AHL without waivers on their original team, they are also eligible to be sent to the AHL without waivers on the acquiring team.

If a player was already in the AHL at the time of a trade, they can be assigned directly to the acquiring team's AHL affiliate.

If a player who had previously cleared waivers for their original team and was sent to the AHL is assigned to the acquiring team's NHL roster and not the AHL, he is still allotted the usual 10 cumulative games or 30 cumulative days (whichever comes first) on the active NHL roster before he would require future waivers.

Example: The Penguins acquired Joseph Blandisi from the Ducks. Blandisi requires waivers, but had already cleared them in October and had been in the AHL since. When he was acquired by the Penguins, the Penguins could have sent him directly to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton without further waivers. Instead, he reported to the NHL club. He can spend up to 10 games or 30 days on the Penguins' active NHL roster before they would need further waivers to send him to Wilkes-Barre. He played one game and spent three days on the roster before being sent down to Wilkes-Barre without waivers.


Players are allowed "a reasonable time frame" to report to their new team after a trade, as well as other provisions to assist them with the move if needed.

Players are reimbursed for their rent or mortgage in the city from which they are assigned after a trade. The maximum amount allowed for this in 2018-19 and 2019-20 is $4,300.

Players are also entitled to "reasonable moving expenses" after a trade if they actually do move to the new city, as well as a hotel room for up to 21 days, or a hotel room for the remainder of the season if they are acquired after Feb. 15. If a player is staying at a hotel, they must also be provided a mid-size rental car and a per diem.

If a traded player has a family or any other kind of life partner, they are also entitled to support. The player's spouse/children/partner is entitled to a round-trip economy class air travel ticket (including reasonable baggage fees) between the prior city and the new city, or in the event the player intends to relocate his family to the new city, one round-trip economy class air travel ticket (including reasonable baggage fees) between the prior city and the new city for the specific purpose of searching for suitable housing in the new city, and one-way economy class air travel ticket (including reasonable baggage fees) for the purpose of actually relocating from the prior city to the new city.


The biggest change that happens after the deadline is that the 23-man roster limit no longer applies. A team can have as many players as needed on their NHL roster, as long as they fit into the salary cap.

Per the CBA:

(a) There shall be a maximum of twenty-three (23) Players on each Club’s Active Roster at any one time, provided, however, that, on the date of each season’s Trade Deadline, a Club’s Active Roster may be increased to any number of Players the Club, in its discretion, so determines, subject to Article 50.

This means if a player gets injured after the deadline, they don't have to be put on injured reserve to create a roster spot for the recalled player.

Another bonus to this is the use of "Black Aces" at the end of the season. When the AHL affiliate's season ends before the NHL team's, the NHL team will recall nearly every available player who is on an NHL-level contract. These players will practice with the NHL club during its playoff run and be available to play if needed due to injuries.


Things get a little tricky involving movement to and from the AHL club after the deadline.

After the deadline, no player can be sent down to the AHL unless:

  1. The player was already in the AHL at the time of the deadline, then recalled after the deadline.
  2. The player was on the NHL roster at the time of the deadline because they were injured (injured players are not eligible to be reassigned to the AHL), and they had previously been on the active NHL roster for less than 25 percent of the period between the start of the regular season leading up to the trade deadline..

If a player is coming off of long-term injured reserve after the trade deadline, they can be sent to the AHL on a conditioning assignment for up to three games or six days (whichever comes last) with their consent.


In the period between the trade deadline and the end of the regular season, teams are limited by how many regular recalls they are allowed to make. A team is limited to four regular recalls in this span.

A regular recall differs from an emergency recall. Teams have unlimited emergency recalls. Emergency conditions apply when a team "by reason of incapacitating injury or illness or by league suspension to its players is reduced below the level of two goalkeepers, six defensemen and 12 forwards." A team must be able to provide proof of their emergency situation to the league when requested, and the player must return to the AHL when the emergency situation ends.

In simple terms: A regular recall would be when a team recalls a player to give them a look in the NHL. An emergency recall would be when the NHL team literally cannot dress the bare minimum required for a full lineup otherwise.

In the playoffs, a team can use an unlimited number of additional regular recalls. However, it can't have more than three players at a time on the active roster who were recalled by way of regular recall after the deadline, unless the fourth player had already been recalled during the regular season.

As previously stated, after the AHL team's season ends, a NHL team can recall any player who is on an NHL contract. These players are eligible to eat an unlimited amount of press box nachos during games, since they typically do not actually play.


Players on NHL contracts must be on the AHL roster at the time of the deadline in order to be eligible to play in the AHL playoffs.

Players are made AHL-postseason eligible in this way each year, but you may not notice it. These moves are often just paper transactions, meaning a player will be "reassigned" to the AHL team just before the deadline on paper only -- they do not have to physically report to the AHL team -- and then immediately recalled after the deadline.

A player has to be eligible for reassignment to be papered down in this way, all the regular rules apply — so, a team won't risk putting a player on waivers just to paper them to the AHL to keep their AHL postseason eligibility.


Yes! While AHL players on NHL contracts are subject to the regular NHL trade deadline rules, players on AHL-level contracts are subject to a different deadline.

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