As with most teams in the National Hockey League, the New Jersey Devils hit the ice for their first practice in training camp in this past Friday. Tomorrow begins a preseason campaign where coaches will begin evaluate players that will affect whether which roster they are on for the 2016-17 season and where they should be in the lineup. However, some of those decisions will be driven in part by something off the ice: waiver eligibility.
Waiver eligibility simply states whether a player has to pass through waivers to be demoted and re-assigned to the team’s minor league affiliate. CapFriendly has a good FAQ on the specific requirements and common exemptions to the waiver process. Here are the basics: A waiver-eligible player has to be put on waivers before re-assignment. The time period for waivers is 24 hours and at that time, any of the other 29 teams can claim the rights to that player. There is a small fee in doing so. The maximum is $67,500 for skaters, $90,000 for goalies and it decreases the longer they’re in the league; see Section 13.16 of the NHL CBA (link goes to PDF file) for more details. The point is that another team can get the player for very little and the original team gets absolutely nothing in that case. If no one claims him within 24 hours, then the team who has his rights keeps him. There are no waivers to move up from the minors, just to be able to move them down.
Needless to say, it is in a team’s best interest to not risk talented players through waivers. Therefore, whether or not a player is eligible for waivers may play a role as to why they remain on the New Jersey roster and why someone else may end up on Albany’s. Waiver eligibility is mostly determined by a number of factors: the age of the player when they are first signed in the NHL, how many years they have been in the league since being signed, and how many games they have played in the NHL. The player’s age drives how long they have exempt status, and that status lasts until the year or the games played requirement is met, which ever comes first. For example, a player who was signed as an 18 year old 6 years ago may not be exempt from waivers even if they didn’t play any NHL games because his exempt status was only for five years. Therefore, teams should and do monitor when a player will be subject to waivers for long-term planning.
CapFriendly has a good calculator that shows whether or not a player is eligible and when they would lose their exempt status. With the Devils about to begin their preseason and roster decisions start being considered, there’s value in knowing who is and is not waiver exempt. I used the calculator to go through every signed player on the Devils’ roster in training camp, including the players on try-out contracts. Let’s break it down by decision.
Due to waiver eligibilty alone, it can be said that there may really be a battle for #2 goaltender position in New Jersey. Keith Kinkaid lost his eligibility last season and Scott Wedgewood is losing it now. That Wedgewood was signed four years ago means that he would have to clear waivers to be sent down to Albany. This is a tricky situation for Ray Shero. Alex wrote earlier this month about how the Devils would benefit from better performances by Kinkaid. He’s an unrestricted free agent in 2017 and so he has a personal incentive to have a strong 2016-17. Wedgewood was magnificent in four games last season. At the same time, there’s a lot of risk in banking on someone to be a backup to Cory Schneider just based on 4 NHL games. His past not-at-all magnificent AHL campaigns support that risk. ]
I’d like to think Kinkaid has the inside track on the #2 spot due to his experience. Yet, I doubt Shero would risk losing Wedgewood for nothing. It is possible to place him on waivers given his lack of NHL experience and two not-good AHL seasons; but his 2015-16 campaign was great and I doubt a goalie with recently good numbers would be ignored. Although, I doubt either has a whole lot of value for anything more than a minor trade. The team has time to make a decision on what to do with both. So if you’re looking for a storyline through the first week of preseason, then there you are.
Outside of them, the Devils can be patient as they’d like with Ken Appleby and MacKenzie Blackwood. And it’s not like Schneider’s spot is ever in doubt. Anders Lindback is in New Jersey on a tryout. Even if he wows the staff to the point of earning a contract, he’d have to prove he’s a NHL-quality backup as he’d have to clear waivers to go to Albany.
I found it to be a bit of a surprise that Damon Severson is still exempt from waivers. He will be entering his third season with the Devils and it’s a safe bet he’ll play regularly. If only because, well, look who else is on defense; it’s not like there’s a giant stack of talent in front of him. Severson should become waiver eligible during this season. If he ends up in Albany in this coming season, then it’s either for a paper move (just to make roster space, which I doubt happens) or a conditioning assignment.
This status may play some role in terms of who will fill out the #6 and #7 spots on the blueline ahead of the 2016-17 season. Brandon Gormley and Seth Helgeson would have to clear waivers. However, both have successfully done so last season. I doubt a team will pluck them away from the Devils. I also question whether that is a major loss. I will say that this status puts Yohann Auvitu in a kind of a spot. The 27-year old was the best defenseman in Finland last season and has to acclimate himself to the North American game. He could start this coming season in Albany if he struggles with that in preseason. That would be beneficial for the team. However, the moment he steps on the ice for New Jersey is the moment he becomes waiver eligible. Then it may behoove the organization to keep him in the NHL. Given that he stepped away from a very successful career in Liiga to sign with New Jersey, I doubt he would have done that if he didn’t expect to play in the NHL. So the team will have to consider that as well. Still, the team has more flexibility with the likes of Vojtech Mozik and Steve Santini. If Auvitu struggles on the smaller ice in these two weeks, then I’d expect one or both of Mozik and Santini to be in New Jersey until Auvitu shows he can handle the NHL game.
Most of the forwards expected to make the NHL roster are eligible for waivers. The one exception: Joseph Blandisi. Because Blandisi signed at the age of 20, his exemption status would last for 3 years and 160 games, whichever comes first. He can’t play 119 games this season even if the Devils play 28 playoff games in 2016-17. So he’s eligible to go to Albany all season long. That could definitely play a role if he’s in direct competition with someone who would have to pass through waivers for a roster spot.
However, I do not think that will happen for a number of reasons. One, Blandisi showed he belonged in the NHL in 41 games last year to the same coaching and management staff that will evaluate him this season. Two, the list of waiver eligible forwards includes Luke Gazdic, tryout Brian Gibbons, and Carter Camper. Gazdic who has proven to be little more than an “enforcer” and may likely pass anyway. Both Gibbons and Camper have primarily played in the AHL. While they’d have to clear waivers, they’ve done so before. Therefore, I don’t see this and conclude that Blandisi has to really fight to be the 13th or 14th forward in New Jersey. I think he’ll have to fight as to where in the lineup he should be, but he’ll be there. As I think he’s proven himself to be a NHL regular, his soon-to-expire waiver exempt status just provides flexibility that the team may not even use.
Among the other waiver-ineligibiles, the Devils can mostly be patient as they will only see two others expire next season based on time: Ben Thomson and Blake Coleman. Thomson has been a regular for Albany, but has not done a whole lot on the scoresheet beyond the PIM count. Coleman is a more interesting case. He put up seven points in fourteen games in his rookie season in Albany before a shoulder injury ended that season in November. If he can put up a productive pace in Albany while turning a few heads in the next two weeks, then I wouldn’t rule out a call up sometime in 2016-17. All the same, he’ll likely lose the eligibility with only a few games under his belt. Again, short of demonstrating a load of talent, I doubt he’d be a real risk on waivers. By way of games, there could be more players losing their eligibility, but I really doubt we’ll see Blake Pietila, Nick Lappin, Brandon Baddock, Thomson, or Coleman play that many games in the NHL in 2016-17. Again, the Devils can be mostly patient on this front.
Overall, the risk of waivers coming into play will likely play at least a small factor to what the Devils have to decide on defense and at goaltender. It’s one of the many factors Ray Shero and his staff will have to keep track throughout the season to know what they can and can’t do with their roster. Now that you know the status of everyone’s waiver eligibility, what do you make of it? What do you think they should do with Kinkaid and Wedgewood? Do you think this will factor into who makes the team on defense? Thanks to CapFriendly for having the waiver FAQ and calculator available. Thank you for reading.