The Tampa Bay Lightning were active leading up to the trade deadline. As a result of the moves they made, the Lightning re-assigned defenseman Cameron Gaunce and forward Mitchell Stephens to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL ahead of the trade deadline. The NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) includes a rule that any player on an NHL roster at the time of the trade deadline must remain with the NHL club for the remainder of the season (with a couple of minor exceptions that won’t apply to the Lightning this season).
One other important reason for these reassignments is that by being in the AHL at the trade deadline, the player will be eligible to play in the AHL playoffs. This was especially important for the Crunch when they got back Gaunce and Stephens. The Crunch are battling to get into the playoffs and both players would be a needed boost to the roster. Gaunce has been the Crunch’s top defenseman all year, but has spent much of the last month in the NHL due to injuries on the Lightning’s blue line. The signing of Zach Bogosian allowed the Lightning to send Gaunce back. The acquisition of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow likewise allowed the Lightning to re-assign Stephens.
Once the trade deadline has passed, each team is allowed four regular recalls until their affiliated AHL club’s season has finished. At that point, the team can recall any number of players from the AHL. The rosters also expand following the trade deadline and teams are not held to the 23-player roster limit. Players don’t need to be placed on Injured Reserve to make room if the team is already at 23 players.
Often with the trade deadline, you’ll see teams, especially ones that are on the playoff bubble, perform a “paper transaction.” That is, re-assign a player to the AHL before the trade deadline and then recall them after. This allows the player to be sent back to the AHL later and play in the playoffs if the NHL team doesn’t make it or is eliminated early while their AHL team continues deeper into the playoffs. It’s referred to as a “paper transaction” because it’s only on paper. The player doesn’t actually fly back to their AHL club and report there because they are going to be called right back up to the NHL.
Going into the trade deadline, I figured on Stephens being one of those paper transactions. He had played well enough to stick in the NHL, and Julien BriseBois’ comments following the deadline confirmed that. However, it became a numbers game that had already forced Carter Verhaeghe to the press box and was going to do the same for Stephens, after the Lightning acquired Goodrow. On a side note, I expect Stephens to be a very strong contender to make the Lightning roster out of training camp and spend all of next season playing in the NHL.
You’ll notice that earlier I called it “regular recalls.” There is an exception to the four players allowed to be recalled. Teams may use emergency recalls at any time. An emergency recall is allowed when a roster emergency exists. That is defined as the team falling below 12 forwards or six defensemen or two goaltenders that are healthy and available to play. So if the team is left with eleven healthy forwards, they may recall a forward on an emergency recall.
Teams also must recall a like-positioned player, so you cannot recall a defenseman when a forward has been injured. That forward can remain with the team until the emergency situation has ceased to exist, i.e the injured player returns to game action. At that point, the team must immediately re-assign the player or convert their emergency recall to a regular recall using one of the team’s four allowed regular recalls.
After Steven Stamkos left Tuesday’s game, the team was left with twelve healthy forwards, or so we thought. Mitchell Stephens was called up from Syracuse, but news quickly came that it was an emergency recall. With the team taking their normal morning skate before tonight’s game, Pat Maroon and Blake Coleman were not on the ice suggesting that at least two of the three, and maybe all three, will be unavailable for tonight’s game.