Common Hockey Misconceptions: Waiver Rules


This is the third in a series of short explanations of common misconceptions about hockey and the NHL. Check the blog for the previous editions on offer sheets and one-way vs. two-way contracts, and follow for future updates on all sorts of topics.

Players are just now starting to hit the waiver wire again, although at this point it is primarily for buyout purposes. Each year, dozens of players pass through waivers, and NHL fans continue to show some pretty serious misunderstandings when it comes to the rules.


What It Is: This link explains things better than I ever could, but in brief, waivers are a system by which players, after accumulating enough experience, have to be exposed to a claim from any team in the league before they can be sent to the minors. This system exists for two reasons. The first is to benefit players that have NHL-level skills but are stuck on a deep team by allowing them a chance to get picked up by another team and earn big-league dollars. The second reason is to aid NHL parity, by preventing the best teams from stashing high-quality players in the minors and allowing the weaker teams to get a crack at this.


Misconception One: There’s Only One Factor Affecting Waiver Eligbility. Fans often think that a player’s waiver eligibility is dependent on just age, or just games played, or just contract status. It’s actually a combination of the first two, and contract status has nothing to do with it (besides players on Entry-Level Contracts being automatically ineligible.) The chart in the link above explains the actual requirements.

Once again, it bears mentioning that whether a contract is one-way or two-way has NO IMPACT on a player’s waiver eligibility, despite many claiming it is the one and only deciding factor.


Misconception Two: Claiming a Player Affects Your Waiver Claim Priority For Future Claims. This is a rule that is common to fantasy leagues, and I think the EA games also used to have it. As most know, teams are offered a chance to pick up a player on waivers in a set order, which is basically the standings in reverse order. This gives the weakest teams the first chance. The misconception comes once a team makes a claim, as many think that doing so bumps a team to the back of the line. This is not true, and waiver claims have zero effect on a team’s waiver position.


Misconception Three: A Player Only Has to Pass Through Waivers Once. Sometimes, this misconception occurs in the opposite direction, too, as fans think that a player has to clear waivers each and every time they are sent down. Actually, once a player clears waivers, they don’t even have to be sent down!

Here’s how it works: when a player clears waivers, their team is free to send them down within the next 10 games or 30 days, whichever happens first. If the team does send the player down, they can recall them at any time, but the same 10 game or 30 day limit remains in effect. This limit is not counting while the player is in the minors, but will begin counting whenever a player is recalled to the NHL roster.


Misconception Four: Re-entry Waivers Exist. They don’t, at least, not anymore. The previous CBA included these waivers that only affected players that had a high enough salary and were already sent to the minors, having been waived the regular way. If these players were ever recalled, they were placed on re-entry waivers and exposed to the entire league at half-price!

It sounds mad now, and it didn’t work then. Teams used this mostly as a way to get out of bad contracts by essentially retaining 50% before retention was a thing, and it made sure that high-salaried players that were in the minors already were likely stuck there for good. The new CBA wisely abolished this silly rule.


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