Happy New Year. With a NHL season beginning in less than two weeks, the New Jersey Devils and 30 other teams need to prepare their rosters for what will be a shortened regular season in short order. Given how this season is set up, this will be more difficult than usual. There are no preseason games to judge players in a competitive setting against an opponent. There is also the taxi squad; a group of four to six players - including one goaltender - that will be physically with the team but will need to be called up as if they were in the minors in order to play. This means the Devils and 30 other teams need to figure out who is in their active roster of 20 to 23 players, determine another four to six players, and be mindful of waivers throughout the process.
As far as I can tell, there is no change to the general waiver process for 2021. Waivers officially went “live” a few days before the Devils’ own camp began on the 31st. Players that are sent down to the minors or the taxi squad need to go through waivers unless they are exempt from waivers. CapFriendly has a full FAQ on the waiver rules; I will provide a brief summary.
- The waiver exemption is based on the number of years of when the player signed their first NHL contract and how many games they played. Once either is met, they become eligible for waivers.
- Being placed on waivers mean that a player is made available for all of the other NHL teams for 24 hours to claim. The order of teams is based on the overall standings at that time. If no one claims the player, then the player clears waivers and then can be properly demoted.
- If a player clears waivers and is called back up, then they are temporarily exempt for 30 days on the NHL active roster or 10 NHL games, which ever comes first.
- If a team does claim them, then the team who claims the player takes their contract.
- There is no waiver process for players being called up.
- This process has nothing to do with whether the player is signed to a one-way or two-way contract.
- Note: The games played requirement was pro-rated for the 2019-20 shortened season for the players who were on a NHL roster as of 5 PM ET on March 16, 2020.
What this means for the Devils is that they have to be somewhat judicious about who they demote out of the players they have in camp. By my count of the team’s official roster announcement, the Devils have five goaltenders, thirteen defensemen, and twenty forwards. It will be twenty one forwards if Jesper Bratt is signed prior to the team’s first game on January 14th. For now, the Devils must cut at least 15 players with four to six (including one goaltender) going to the taxi squad and nine to be demoted to Binghamton. Per Jeff, there are plans for an AHL season in 2021 but it will begin on February 5 at the earliest. One of the factors that could lead to someone being demoted would be whether or not they are currently exempt from waivers. The exemption means the Devils can move them freely to and from the New Jersey as needed. The Devils demoting players who are not exempt or could lose the exemption during the season would be more of a risk as they could possibly lose the player entirely.
The New Jersey Devils Exempt from Waivers and in Training Camp
With the help of CapFriendly’s very useful waivers calculator, here is the full list of all of the Devils in camp who are currently exempt from waivers.
The good news is that the Devils definitely have some flexibility with plenty of their young players in this year’s camp. The taxi squad needs at least one goaltender, so waivers are not a concern for Gilles Senn or Evan Cormier. Their future on defense at the moment can all go to Binghamton or the taxi squad without issue as needed. They will be able to do so for the following two seasons too, depending on how many NHL games they have played. They also have only two players who could lose their exemption during this season: Jesper Boqvist and Brett Seney. If Boqvist plays in 46 NHL games and/or Seney plays in 18 NHL games, then they become eligible for waivers. If they are playing that much with the Devils, then hopefully they are playing well enough to stay in the NHL.
The waiver-exempt status also shows that this camp is a crucial one for Janne Kuokkanen, Michael McLeod (now wearing #20), Seney, and Yegor Sharangovich. Even if all four play zero games for New Jersey, they will all be eligible for waivers after this season. While losing waiver exemption is not an end to anyone’s career or a sign of one, it does make it a bit harder on a team from a flexibility standpoint in the near future. It may be a reason for a team to try to move on from a player either through a trade or not retaining their contract. I do not think all four are in the same boat in that sense. General manager Tom Fitzgerald did trade for Kuokkanen, so I do not think he will want to give up on him so fast. Sharangovich performed so well at Dinamo Minsk of the KHL that there is a reason to think he has a NHL-level game. It may be more contentious for McLeod and Seney, both of whom have had long opportunities in the NHL and have failed to stick on some bad Devils teams. As a wise GM once said, “If you have time, then use it.” Time on their waiver exemption is running out. This status may make any those four prime candidates to at least be on the taxi squad to start the 2021 season.
The Devils in Training Camp Who Just Recently Lost Waiver Exemption
Last September, I made a similar list of the Devils who were waiver exempt ahead of training camp. Here are the Devils from that list who are in this year’s camp that just lost their exemption for this season:
- Defenseman Colton White (number of seasons signed)
- Right Wing Nathan Bastian (number of seasons signed)
- Center/Left Wing Brandon Gignac (number of seasons signed)
- Defenseman Josh Jacobs (number of seasons signed)
- Center Nico Hischier (games played, currently injured)
- Right Wing Jesper Bratt (games played, currently unsigned)
- Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (number of seasons signed)
There should no concern that Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Mackenzie Blackwood all lost their waiver exempt status. They are all NHL players. They will not be demoted short of a conditioning assignment after a significant injury.
There also should not be much of a concern for three of the four Binghamton Devils on this list. Both Colton White and Josh Jacobs failed to really crack the NHL roster - they received their first tastes of the NHL last season - and Brandon Gignac has not set the AHL world on fire since turning professional. I do not think other NHL teams will go for either if they are made available on waivers. Even if they do, the Devils have plenty of defensemen and centers to at least fill the gap on the taxi squad or Binghamton roster.
The one player on this list that could be at risk is Nathan Bastian. I think the big, physical right winger has done well enough at the AHL level to warrant another look at the NHL. I would like to think he would have received one last season if the season was not cut short due to the pandemic. However, he will be in direct competition with Nick Merkley for a right wing role on this squad. Merkley lost his waiver exemption with this past season too, but he also received a call up to New Jersey last season. Not that either has been astounding, but I think both players could be seen as marginal enough that other franchises may want to take a flyer on them if made available. It also does not help that the camp roster listed McLeod as a right wing and a center, which only adds to the level of competition at that position. Once Bratt is signed, then the position is even more crowded for what may be just two spots. The pressure is on Bastian - and Merkley and McLeod and others - to earn those spots in camp. And the Devils may prefer Bastian and Merkley if only so they do not have to potentially risk losing them to another team. Would they be willing to use a winger as an extra forward on their NHL active roster? They may have to answer that question.
How Risky are Waivers Really?
For the most part, they are not as risky as one may think. Most players who are on waivers to be sent down tend to clear them within the 24-hour period. Players who get demoted are usually getting demoted for one reason or another. Maybe they are playing poorly. Maybe they were only called up as extra depth for a position. Maybe their contract is too heinous for a team to take on. While some OK depth players can be had through waivers -think Stefan Noesen for a Devils-related example - it is not a place where teams will frequently snatch up talent. Doing so requires the team to have the cap and roster space available to make the claim or be willing to put someone else on waivers to make that claim. I do not know if teams are going to carry a maximum of 29 players - 23 men on the active roster and six on the taxi squad - but given how the pandemic is going locally, they may have to. Those teams would not really be able to easily make a claim. It may be a lot of teams in the NHL too.
We must also regrettably recognize the fact that the Devils have not been a very good team in recent seasons. Other teams are not likely going to go after the players who were deemed not good enough to stay on the Devils. My main concern are the players like Bastian or Merkley where I can see another NHL team taking a chance on them should they want a right winger with some kind of size (Bastian) and/or skill and experience (Merkley).
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 exemption does play a role in that. Generally, talent will win out. Even if the Devils are not aiming for the postseason in 2021, they will make room for someone who belongs in the NHL. The exemption status will be a factor in any decision between players who are on the bubble of either making the New Jersey roster or the taxi squad. It may make a difference as to whether, say, Bastian makes the team over McLeod or Merkley over Seney if it comes down to it. Of course, how the players do in camp and how the coaches assess the players is a bigger factor.
What do you think of the waiver-exempt Devils for 2021? 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 NHL roster or the taxi squad?Please leave your answers and other thoughts about waiver-exempt players and waivers in general in the comments. Thank you for reading.