Fun With the CBA! Roster Sizes, Contract Limits, and Multiple Waiver Claims

The Vancouver Canucks claimed Reid Boucher off of the waiver wire this morning, and there was much rejoicing – after all, Vancouver fans had grown accustomed to the notion that Jim Benning and co. might never make a waiver claim again.

There is still a little bit of discontent among the fanbase however, as Ty Rattie (who we endorsed) slipped by the Canucks to the Carolina Hurricanes. Between that and Matt Nieto being waived by the San Jose Sharks this morning, there are some questions about the process behind making multiple waivers claims in close succession.

Which means it’s time to dive back in to our trusty Collective Bargaining Agreement.

As a preamble, I’ll note that this article is strictly regarding the CBA processes and implications. It passes no judgement on the claim of Reid Boucher, the lack of claim on Ty Rattie, or whether to claim Matt Nieto. On to the fun stuff.

One of the first questions I saw was: do the Canucks go to the back of the line now that they’ve made a waiver claim?

The simple answer is no, it doesn’t work that way. The waiver priority order is determined only by the standings on the day that the player was waived – no other factors are involved, and there is no resetting of the priority order. I won’t go into this particular facet in any more depth, because our own Ryan Biech already did a great job fleshing out this concept in October, and you can find that here.

Two other questions I saw are:

  • Could the Canucks have claimed Ty Rattie as well, and
  • Could the Canucks claim Matt Nieto tomorrow?

The answer in both cases is yes, but the mechanisms are a bit more complicated.

First things first, there is no provision in the CBA preventing a team from making claims on multiple players. Each waiver claim is treated as an individual case, and there’s no reason why more than one can’t be made in the same day. The reason that this rarely happens (if it ever does) is that teams are limited by three main factors: roster size, the contract limit, and the salary cap. The first issue is particularly relevant to waiver claims, and rarely do teams operate with two open spots on their roster.

Roster Size

A team can only carry 23 players at any one time on its Active Roster in accordance with Section 16.4 of the CBA:

CBA 16.4 (a) Active Roster

Prior to 9:00 am PST this morning, the Canucks were carrying 22 healthy players on their roster – during each game they were sitting one forward (Alex Burrows and Alex Biega last game), while Jannik Hansen is out and expected to miss 4-6 weeks. While Jannik Hansen is not listed as being on the Injured Reserve by major cap sites like Cap Friendly, that is undoubtedly a move the Canucks have now made.

The Injured Reserve, a component of the Reserve List, allows players that are expected to be out of action for at least seven days to be removed from the active roster, and is laid out in section 16.11:

CBA 16.11 (a) Injured Reserve List

Between moving Jannik Hansen to the Injured Reserve and adding Reid Boucher to their Active Roster by claiming him, the Canucks are now back at 23 players on their active roster, which means they are at their limit. This means that as their roster currently stands, they cannot make another waiver claim without accompanying it with an additional move (or moves).

Let’s explore what those might be.

Working Around the Roster Limit

As I said near the top, the Canucks could have claimed Rattie and could place a claim on Nieto before tomorrow morning if they choose to do so, although the work involved would seem to be a little bit more than this management group is usually willing to deal with.

In order to add another player, one must first be removed from the active roster. There are a few players on the roster that we could imagine the Canucks assigning to the minor leagues: namely Michael Chaput, Jayson Megna, and Brendan Gaunce. In the case of the first two, waivers would be required. This is a non-starter in this particular situation.

In order to send Chaput or Megna to Utica, they would have to have already cleared waivers:

CBA 13.1 Waivers Before Loan

(This is just lawyer speak for “the player has to clear waivers before being loaned”.)

By virtue of the waiver process, it takes a full day to waive a player. So here’s a hypothetical situation:

  1. The Canucks see that Matt Nieto is available after 9:00 am PST on Wednesday.
  2. The want to send Michael Chaput to Utica to make room, but cannot waive him until 9:00 am PST on Thursday, because the waiver request must occur before 9:00am.
  3. Michael Chaput cannot clear (or be claimed, as the case may be) until Friday, and given that Nieto’s waivers expire on Thursday, this is useless.

The alternative option is to reassign a player that does not require waivers. The Canucks currently have two such players. One is Troy Stecher, one of their best defencemen, who they probably should not be going a single game without. The other is Brendan Gaunce, who has been in and out of the lineup recently, and gets minimal ice time when he does play.

The solution is as follows:

  1. See player (ie, Matt Nieto) on waivers on Wednesday.
  2. Reassign Brendan Gaunce to the American League now, or after the game tonight, so long as it’s before 9:00 am PST on Thursday (tomorrow).
  3. Make a claim on Matt Nieto before 9:00 am PST on Thursday.

From here you have two options: you can keep Brendan Gaunce in the American League, or, if it was one of the waiver eligible players that you wanted Nieto to replace (eg, Chaput or Megna), you request waivers on that player at the next opportunity, wait until they clear or are claimed (they’d probably clear), and then recall Brendan Gaunce.

Voila. Crisis averted.

Now I’m not saying that this is what the Canucks will do or even should do – it’s simply what they could do if they decided to add another player, like Nieto. Additionally, they could have performed these maneuvers yesterday if they want to add both Boucher and Rattie.

As mentioned earlier, there are two other factors involved in making waiver claims, so we’ll clear those up real quick.

The Contract Limit and the Salary Cap

Simply put, an NHL team can only have 50 players under contract at any one time – the exception being players who are reassigned to junior teams, whose contracts then “slide” and no longer count towards the limit – Guillaume Brisebois and Olli Juolevi are currently in this position.

With the addition of Reid Boucher, the contracts have 46 players under contract, leaving them with four spots available. Adding another body would be no issue for them at this time.

Keeping contract slots open at this point is a good play for the Canucks. If they were to sell veterans at the deadline (even though Jim Benning has said that he won’t), they could take multiple assets on NHL contracts back. They also have space to sign previous draft choices, as well as free agents, either out of the CHL or the NCAA, or from within their own organization (cough, Curtis Valk, cough). Making waiver claims is another benefit afforded to teams with contract slots, and the Canucks have exercised that right and could do so again.

The salary cap is the other factor that could prevent teams from making waiver claims. However, most players that are waived are making salaries close to the league minimum (Reid Boucher is making $715,000 for instance, while Matt Nieto is making $735,000), so only teams that are pressed tightly against the salary cap would be prevented from taking on another player for this reason.

The Canucks still have around $950,000 in cap space after acquiring Boucher, meaning they have the space to add another Nieto-sized chunk of cash. Additionally, through one of the moves mentioned above, they’d have Gaunce’s $894,167 cap hit off the books, perhaps to be swapped with one of Megna or Chaput’s $600,000 cap hit in the coming days. In any case, they’d be fine.

Another thing to remember – even with Jannik Hansen on IR, his $2,500,000 salary still counts against the cap. It’s only when players are placed on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), an entirely different option, that the team receives relief for that cap hit.

One last thing before we finish up.

The Return of the Re-Claiming

You might remember that I wrote one of these CBA articles while Emerson Etem was on waivers (by Anaheim), noting that the Canucks could claim him and send him directly to the American League, because they had waived him once already this season.

CBA 13.22 Waivers and re-waivers

This is exactly what already happened to Reid Boucher this season, as he was both waived and then claimed by the New Jersey Devils.

You might be wondering why the Devils would claim Boucher and then waive him the next day, but the answer can be found within the rules. In section 13.22 above, you’ll see that loaning a re-claimed player is only allowed when the awarded team is the only team that made a claim. The fact that the Devils waived Boucher again clearly indicates that another team also made a claim.

It also indicates that the Devils probably made the claim hoping that they would be the only team to do so, with the intention of sending him straight to their affiliate in Albany. When they discovered after 9:00 am PST on Monday morning that they did not have that option, they quickly made the decision to dispatch him again.

Lastly, the mysterious team that laid the other claim: could it have been the Canucks, who ended up claiming him two days later? Logic says: probably. But we can’t prove it, yet.

All Salary Cap data came from


On the Conclusion of the CBA (from Ryan Biech)

Waiver Priority Order (from Ryan Biech)

On Emerson Etem, and Reclaiming the Claimed