The 2019 Prospect Challenge will end tomorrow. Training camp is not that far in the distance and preseason action starts next week. Now is the perfect time to take a step back at the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils roster and look at who is and who is not exempt from waivers.
Waiver status is one of the factors that the coaching staff and management will have to consider when putting this roster together. Any player who is eligible for waivers needs to pass through them before being demoted from the NHL to the AHL. Here is a quick summary of the basics of waivers based on the Waivers FAQ at CapFriendly. This is a process where a player is placed on them, it is publicly announced, and all of the other 30 teams in the NHL have 24 hours to claim them. The order is determined by standings position at the time; the lower team gets priority. When a claim is made, a fee is made to the original team (which does not go against the cap) and the claiming team picks up the rest of that player’s contract. If a player clears waivers, they can be demoted to the AHL. If a player clears waivers and is called back up from the AHL to the NHL, they are temporarily exempt for 30 days on the NHL active roster or 10 NHL games, whichever comes first. There are no re-entry waiver process for players being called up; it is only for demotions to the AHL.
What this means is that the Devils cannot send just anyone to Binghamton on a whim. For some players, they will have to take the risk of making them available and hope no one else takes them before they can do that. Fortunately for the Devils and every other NHL team, not every player is subject to waivers. Players who sign their first NHL contract are exempt from waivers for a period of time. These are the players who can be freely sent down to the AHL as needed. These are typically players on entry-level contracts. AHL rosters have plenty of young players working on improving their game so they can possibly be ready to play in the best league in the world in the future.
The 2019-20 Waiver Exempt Devils
There are terms for waiver exemption and how long it lasts for a player. This is based on the age of the player when they signed, how many seasons they have played while under a NHL contract, and how many NHL games they have played. CapFriendly has a helpful waiver eligibility calculator that shows the status of each player and how long they have the exemption. I used it for the 2019-20 Devils. Here are your waiver exempt Devils for this upcoming season:
Let us go walk through another example. For Nico Hischier, he signed his ELC when he was 18. Per the NHL CBA, he would have to play 5 seasons of hockey or 160 NHL games (playoffs count) whichever comes first before he loses his exemption. So if Hischier plays 161 games, then it does not matter how many seasons he has left - he is immediately eligible for waivers. There is a wrinkle for Hischier, though. Because he played in at least 11 games when he was 18, the CBA cuts his number of seasons for his exemption down from 5 to 3. (Expect this to happen to Jack Hughes.) But it is a moot point for Hischier. He has played in 156 games already in his first two campaigns in New Jersey. He only needs to play in more than 4 games in 2019-20 before he loses his status. Short of a catastrophic injury, Hischier will likely be eligible for waivers early in this season, 2020-21, and beyond.
Of course, why would the Devils ever demote Hischier outside of a conditioning assignment? He is Nico Hischier, one of the top centers on the Devils. So let us look at Nathan Bastian and Michael McLeod, the two ex-Mississauga teammates. Despite being drafted in the same year, they are under different circumstances. McLeod was 18 when he signed his ELC. He did not play in 11 or more games when he was 18 or 19, so he has the full five year exemption. Because he played three seasons while signed, he only has two seasons left. With only 21 games played in last season, he has 139 games left on his exemption. Both of those facts mean McLeod will be exempt in 2020-21. However, Bastian is in a different spot. Because of his birthdate, he was considered to be 19 at the time of his ELC. This means he only had four seasons of eligibility. Even though he has over 150 games left, Bastian will lose his exemption after this season no matter what. It seems iffy but the NHL has to draw the line in the sand given that first-year draft eligibles can be 17 or 18.
What this may mean is that the Devils could have a small incentive to want to see what Bastian can do in 2019-20 over someone like McLeod, who could still be sent down to Binghamton next season. After this season, Bastian could be at risk of being claimed if sent down. If he has game, then someone might take a flier on him. If he is inconsequential or not ready yet, then he may likely pass through. But it may give an edge for the Devils to get a handle Bastian’s future this season than McLeod’s future.
In the table above, I listed out based on remaining seasons and games who could be eligible for waivers next season. Most are cut and dry, such as Mackenzie Blackwood and Ty Smith. I put two question marks for two players in a grey area. The first is for Brett Seney. While he has two seasons left on his exemption, he only has 19 games. It is possible that Seney do well enough in camp and with Binghamton to receive multiple call-ups or an extended one. 19 games may be a lot for a call-up but it has happened and he did get into 51 games last season. I hedged on him playing that many games. If he does not (hence, the question mark), then he will be exempt for another season. The second is for Jesper Boqvist. While his European out-clause in his ELC means his options are either playing in New Jersey or in Sweden, he will go down to two seasons no matter what. Since his signing age was 21, Boqvist only has 80 games for his waiver exemption. It may seem like a long shot but it is possible he could be a Devil for 80 games in this coming season. I do not think he will. He only has to miss a couple of games for 80 to be impossible. But because of the possibility, I put a question mark for him as well.
Assuming Seney does not get into 19 games next season, seven Devils are expected to lose their waiver exemption either during this season (very likely for Hischier and Jesper Bratt) or after this season ends. Given that Bastian, Brandon Gignac, Blake Speers, and Colton White have not broken through to the next level yet, they should have a slight incentive to impress in camp this season. I will admit that since they have not broken through to the next level yet that most of those four would probably pass through waivers. Bastian may intrigue some teams; but short of a strong 2019-20 season somewhere or a team’s scout loving his game, he may not be seen as a high risk either.
The Recently Waiver Eligible Devils
Everyone else on the books is eligible for waivers. I do want to highlight who recently lost their exemption either through games played last season or just by how many seasons they have played in. Becoming waiver eligible may give them an edge for a roster spot should the team not want to expose them to the rest of the league.
While I do not see why a team would demote either player, I will note that Nikita Gusev and Will Butcher lost their exemption. Through playing in 164 games, Butcher lost his towards the end of last season. Gusev was signed by Vegas during the playoffs. While he did not play in a game, since he was 26 when he signed and that gave him only that season for exemption. That is gone. If the Devils are even considering sending either down to the minors, then there are bigger problems than their waiver status.
There are forwards who lost their exemption recently that will make it at least a little harder for the likes of Boqvist and other forwards to make the New Jersey roster this season. Kevin Rooney had three seasons on his exemption and just had this third season in 2018-19. He is waiver eligible. The recently-acquired John Hayden also had three seasons on his exemption and played in his third season last season too. He is waiver eligible. Pavel Zacha played in his 161st NHL game during last season. He is also waiver eligible. This means if someone is having a tough time, the Devils would have to expose either of them to waivers to send them down to get their games right. This happened to Zacha last season and there was no issue because he was exempt from waivers. No longer.
These are all players who may be penciled into the team’s bottom-six at forward. When you consider all of the other likely regulars from Taylor Hall to Blake Coleman are all penciled in, then it is a tougher decision to make room for someone like Boqvist or one of the many young forwards out of Binghamton should they have a strong camp (e.g. Seney, Joey Anderson, etc.). And I do mean to make room: somebody may end up being a scratch to carry someone new (or the new guy is scratched) and those spots are limited.
This is due in part of the blueline. Mirco Mueller and Connor Carrick may be on the low end of the depth chart. However, they both lost their exemption seasons ago. The Devils are already carrying seven defensemen - or six active players and one scratched player to rotate. This means the Devils can only carry two extra players. If one assumes Ty Smith should be in New Jersey as opposed to Spokane of the Western Hockey League - he cannot play in the AHL due to his age - then that makes one extra player for the Devils. And, of course, if no one else on defense makes a case for the NHL roster in camp this year.
Good luck to Jesper Boqvist, Ty Smith, and any of the other B-Devils at forward looking to fight for a spot in New Jersey this month.
The Mitigating Factor
It is not all doom and gloom. Yes, exposing a player to waivers is a risk. However, most players who get placed waivers tend to clear. Typically, teams either do not want to pick up the player’s contract and/or the teams do not want to pick someone their own team thinks should be in the AHL. Claims do happen but it is usually for the Stefan Noesens, the Kenny Agostinos, and the Jean-Sebastian Deas of the league. Players that may be useful in spots but are not essential players for their success. By the way, those names may be familiar to you. The Devils claimed each of them off waivers over the past few years.
Like a lot of things in hockey, there are risks to any decision made. I would like to think if it meant putting Hayden on waivers to give, say, Boqvist or someone else a spot on the New Jersey roster, then the Devils may be willing to do that. And if Hayden clears, great. If not, then it is what it is. It may get more risky if someone like Kevin Rooney is available but that depends on how Ray Shero and the Devils staff reads the league. If there are a lot of other players also hitting the waiver wire, then he might get through. If he’s the only one and there’s a team struggling on the PK, then they may take a chance on him. Being put on waivers is not a guarantee that the player will be lost. Just that there is a risk involved. That risk gets greater when more useful players and/or players with potential are placed on there.
One Final Reminder
I do not see this confusion here but I will provide it anyway because I have seen it in other forums and conversations. Waiver status has nothing to do how the player is getting paid. A one-way contract or a two-way contract has no impact on whether a player is eligible for waivers. It only has to do with how they are getting paid. One-way means that the player will be paid their salary no matter if they are in the NHL or AHL. Two-way means that the player has a salary for when they are in the NHL and a reduced salary when they are not. That’s it. There is no tie-in to a player’s waiver exemption.
This may be a small factor in favor Rooney’s cause for staying in New Jersey. As per CapFriendly, this second season of his two-season contract is one-way. Not only would he have to clear waivers, but the Devils would have to pay him $700,000 no matter if he is in New Jersey or Binghamton. That may not be a lot of money for a NHL player but that is a significant sum for someone in the AHL. The Devils may not want to pay him a lot to be a B-Devil unless he proves he should be. At the same time, his contract status may dissuade other teams from putting in a claim for him on waivers if he is ever placed there.
The whole point of this post is to highlight how flexible the Devils can be with setting up their roster. Waiver eligibility and how long a player has an extension does play a role in that. I will say that I believe that talent and performances will win out over someone else having an exception. The Devils will likely find to make room for someone who can help them out today. If that means risking someone to the waiver wire, then so be it. We shall see very soon how it will all go down.
What do you think of the waiver-exempt Devils of 2019-20? Does it change your opinion on who has something to prove in camp this season? Does it give you more or less confidence in other players trying to make the team this month? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about waiver-exempt players and waivers in general in the comments. Thank you for reading.