As veterans will report into training camp this week and the Prospect Challenge ends tomorrow, today is a good time as any for an annual preseason tradition at All About the Jersey. It is time to get familiar with who is exempt from waivers in the New Jersey Devils organization for the 2023-24 season.
There has been a lot of turnover compared with last September’s list. Six players had their final season of exemption in 2022-23 regardless of whether they played in the NHL or not. Those six are Jack Dugan, Tyce Thompson, Reilly Walsh, Kevin Bahl, Nolan Foote, and Nikita Okhotiuk. Half of those are no longer in the organization. I doubt the Devils would risk Bahl to waivers. I doubt Tyce Thompson would be a risk of being picked up on waivers. Foote is a name to keep in the back of your mind for the next two to three weeks. Due to the Timo Meier trade, the Devils do not need to be concerned with Shakir Mukhamadullin’s status. Due to signing in Finland, the organization does not need to track Aarne Talvitie’s status. Due to being really, really good and healthy, Dawson Mercer lost it through games played as he missed none of the Devils games last season. As with Bahl, it would be a shock if they subject Mercer to waivers.
This also brings up one other twist from past posts about waiver status. The games played requirement absolutely includes playoff games. This was not a concern with past Devils seasons. While Mercer already surpassed the 78 games of exemption from the regular season, the calculation for waiver status includes the 12 playoff games so his 2022-23 season had 92 games played. This is a factor for one Devil who is at risk of losing his waiver exemption status in this coming season, Akira Schmid. Technically, four other Devils could lose their status if they play in enough games in 2023-24, but it would be highly unlikely that they would. Here is this year’s chart of waiver exempt Devils as per CapFriendly’s amazing Waiver Calculator tool:
Akira Schmid just has to play in 27 games in this coming season to lose his waiver exemption. This is entirely possible. Schmid is expected to be the #2 - or #1B - goalie behind Vitek Vanecek. It is possible the Devils play Vanecek in more than 55 regular season games, but even replacing Vanecek (or Vanecek replacing him) would count as a game played. It will come down to health, performance, and potential transactions for a goaltender as to whether Schmid loses his waiver exemption in this coming season. I think he does play in more than 27 games and loses it.
The other four that could feasibly lose it are Nico Daws, Brian Halonen, Daniil Misyul, and Tyler Brennan. Doing so would require Brennan to be the first and only goalie ever to play in 81 games in an 82-game season. That will not happen. It would require both a heap of injuries and a lot of excellent performances from Halonen or Misyul to get into 60 NHL games in 2023-24. Daws is going to miss about half of the season with injury and will need some time to recover. The window for getting into 35 NHL games would be tight if you ignore the fact that Vanecek and Schmid have the crease to themselves and Daws will be directly competing with Brennan and Kallgren in Utica. Not to mention a call up possibly going to Keith Kinkaid based on what he does with the Chicago Wolves. They technically could lose it but I would not count on either happening.
You can count on this coming season being the last time for Santeri Hatakka, Graeme Clarke, and Michael Vukojevic to completely avoid the wavier wire. Their exemption status cannot be lost from games played. It will go away after the 2023-24 season regardless of how many or how little time they see in the NHL. Between the three, Hatakka has the best shot at seeing some time in New Jersey. He has at least been in the NHL before. All three will want push for whatever shot they can get in the next couple of weeks, of course. We shall see how it goes.
While it will be a while before Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec lose their status, the fact that both could very well be New Jersey Devils and not Utica Comets in October means that it is just a side fact. Good if the Devils ever need to make a paper move - a demotion in name only - for roster reasons. If either gets sent down, then it will be because they have earned it and/or the organization does not think either is ready. Given that Luke Hughes was kept out of the Prospects Challenge and played in the NHL playoffs already, I think it would take a lot for Luke Hughes to be demoted. Nemec has more to prove but he is at least showing he is above his peers in the pre-preseason games.
Why does this matter? Knowing whether a player is exempt from waivers is important for management to be aware of and track. It will impact who they can send down to Utica without risking losing the players to the rest of the league. That is what being waiver exempt means. Brian Halonen, for example, can be sent down to Utica at any point in 2023-24. Multiple times or one time, it does not matter. Until 2024-25 ends or he plays in 60 NHL games, which ever comes first, he does not need to go through waivers before going to the AHL. No other team can get him unless the Devils trade for him or he becomes a free agent.
This can be a factor in terms of who gets a longer look in camp over others. Remember Nolan Foote from earlier in this post? He lost his waiver exemption at the conclusion of last season. Should Foote not make the New Jersey roster, he will have to be made available for the rest of the league for 24 hours before he can go to Utica. There are no re-entry waivers, so there is no issue with a call-up. But if he were to be sent down, assuming he was not called up on an emergency basis, he would have to go through waivers again. This is why this camp is really important for players like Foote and even Tyce Thompson. Impressing in camp and preseason games may force the Devils’ proverbial hands to keep them around and opt to send someone who is waiver exempt down. If not, while the Devils may not like losing them, the possibility that they clear may mean they could be stuck in Utica. After all, if 31 NHL teams do not pick up a skater for little additional cost one time, then what would make them want to do it later? (Note: All players that clear waivers are temporarily exempt for 30 days or 10 games played, so a quick demotion and recall may not necessarily mean a second trip through waivers.)
This is also a factor for some of the other players looking to take a spot in camp, such as Graeme Clarke. Clarke understandably wants to get a shot at the NHL. He led Utica in scoring and shown legitimate improvement since going professional. He is also in the last season of his contract. However, the Devils do not feel the same pressure at the moment. Clarke is exempt from waivers for 2023-24. They can just send him down without any risk of losing him, re-sign him as a RFA, and then figure out what to do in 2024-25 when he becomes waiver eligible. This is not to say that Clarke or Alexander Holtz or Hatakka has no real shot at making it since they could be sent down without going through waivers. But it means they will need to really impress for management to consider sending someone else down - even if it means sending them through waivers.
And as one final reminder, waiver status is driven by three things: The age that a player signs a NHL contract, how many seasons they have been signed for, and how many NHL games - playoff and regular season - they appeared in. The thresholds are a little different for goalies compared with skaters, but those factors are still the factors. It has nothing to do with their contract status or whether they are on their second or third contract.
For this coming season, there is only one real player that could lose this exemption and that is Schmid. That would require him to appear in 28 games - regular season and playoffs combined - in 2023-24. The remainder will either lose it after this season or become closer to losing it in the future. Time marches on as always. What do you make of the waiver-exempt Devils for this coming season? Does this sway your opinion on who needs to do well in preseason? Or who gets a call up in this coming season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the waiver-exempt Devils for 2023-24 in the comments. Thank you for reading.