What Are Waivers? 7 Things Fans Should Know

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Posted December 29, 2017

Every day at noon, a list of men hits the waiver wires. These men consist of the overpaid, unwanted, or frequent healthy scratches. Their destinations are either the minors, release, or another team.

Waivers are a fascinatingly complicated wonderland of paperwork and nail-biting. A promising prospect, an expensive contract, and an underperforming veteran can all be found at midday eastern time on the list of names up for claim.

Not everyone has to go through this tedious process. Some are exempt, and others are good enough to stay in the NHL.

For all the names on the list, most clear waivers and make their way to the AHL. Hockey fans see the names every day, but the waiver process needs a closer look.

1. AHL-Only Assignments

The only clubs considered “minor league” by the CBA are those in the AHL, as defined by Article 13.10. Article 13.11 specifically forbids direct assignment to the ECHL, unless the player consents to it.

2. Waiver Claims Cost Money

Contrary to popular belief, a player lost to waivers is not “lost for nothing.” Depending on the experience of the claimed player, it could cost teams quite a bit of cash.

Article 13.16 of the league’s CBA lists the pricing for players based on professional experience. Skaters with under two years experience cost $67,500 to claim, and goaltenders with the same experience cost $90,000 to pickup. Any player with nine years or more of experience costs a flat rate of $3,375.

Any player claimed off Unconditional Waivers, typically the first step in terminating a contract, will cost a team $125.

3. Not Everyone is Eligible

There are a few ways to qualify for waivers, and it depends on the age at which you sign your first NHL contract and how many NHL games (including playoff games) you have played. For skaters who signed as an 18-year-old, five years or 160 games later means he is waiver eligible. For goalies, it takes six years or 80 games played.

If you sign at 25 or older, you have to wait one year to be waiver eligible. In fact, all you have to do is play one game in any season to be waiver exempt for that season.

Players at the age of 18 or 19 can start their waiver clock a year after making their NHL debut, if they play 10 or fewer games in that first year. This is the “Slide” rule as it is often called, because the waiver clock slides to the next season.

Article 13.4 details the full breakdown for each age group.

4. The Pecking Order (Article 13.19)

Once a player gets waived by a club, any other team can put in a waiver claim. The teams are organized by their position in the standings, in reverse order. Worst team gets prority.

Up until November 1, the waiver standings are frozen to how the previous regular season ended. If two or more teams put in a claim for the same player, the team lowest in points percentage (points won out of total points available) gets the player. If there is a tie in points percentage, there is a tiebreaking procedure.

If the tied teams have played against each other, whoever has the worst record of those games wins the claim. If the teams are still tied, the team with the worst goal differential (goals for-goals against) wins the claim.

5. Waiver Claims Can’t Be Traded (Sort of)

This is a protection against using the waiver wire as a “claim-and-flip” wire to sweeten trade deals. If a club claims a player and they get him, he is not allowed to be traded until the end of the playoffs of that season… but there is one catch.

Article 13.2 B says if a player is claimed by multiple teams, that player can be offered in a trade to those teams on the same terms as waivers. If said offers are refused, then the team can trade the player to any other team in the league.

6. Player Compensation

What happens to that house or apratment the player must leave to join his new team? Who pays the rent or mortgate? What about new dwellings in the new city?

Article 14.3 details the ways players can get some measure of financial assistance when moving from city to city, provided they ask the club. Teams are on the hook for the moving expenses of one car (two if the player is married), and helping the player’s family move to the new city. If the player decides not to move his family immediately, he has 12 months to do so at the team’s expense.

The team gets to choose the moving company, which may include one they already have a partnership with.

For late-season trades, hotel rooms are part of the bill. Article 14.4 points out that players are allowed one hotel room for up to 21 days in the new city. If the trade is made after February 15, the player has a choice. He can either take that one-room accomodation for the remainder of the season, or take the money the club would have paid for the room for himself.

7. Getting Re-Waived

If a claimed player — like Nathan Walker — does not work out for whatever reason with his new team, he can get re-waived. Article 13.22 says the original club, provided no other team makes a claim, can take the player back.

There is an added bonus for the original team: they can assign the player to the AHL without waivers as long as the player does not play in ten NHL games, or stay on the NHL roster for over 30 days.

In the case of Walker, who the Caps re-claimed from the Edmonton Oilers December 20, that means the Capitals can send him to Hershey without needing to go through waivers any time until January 19. Including tonight’s game against the New York Rangers, there are exactly ten games left between now and then.