There are officially twelve days until the first regular season games in the NHL, which means that the waiver period has begun for non-exempt players. The CBA lists the rules for how a player becomes waiver eligible, but they are in place to make sure that a player with the requisite experience can’t be buried in the AHL by the team that controls that player’s rights.
These rules are there for a player’s protection, but it also gives teams that have weaknesses the opportunity to claim a waived player to supplement their NHL lineup. Sort of like a free trial, with the caveat that the claimed player needs to stay in the NHL. The contract terms remain in place, but if a team wants to trade that player or send them down to their AHL affiliate, they need to go through the waiver process again.
It’s day one, and already Jake Dotchin and Jaycob Megna have been waived by the St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights As teams trim their active rosters down to 23, some of them will be forced to expose some fairly useful players to waivers.
The Ducks find themselves in a position where, outside of the top three, there are questions about who will fit where in the lineup.
Brendan Guhle has 29 games under his belt and has played second pair minutes, but will his defense hold up with expanded minutes? Likewise, Jacob Larsson brings a great transition game, but he still needs work in both the offensive and defensive zone. Josh Mahura showed promise in his 17 games, but is he ready for a full time transition to the NHL? All three are waiver exempt, so if the need arises, it is an easy transaction to send them down to the San Diego Gulls.
Michael Del Zotto brings offense, but will his defensive deficiencies outweigh the positives? Given the Ducks youth on the blue line, Del Zotto is likely a lock in the NHL, but he probably needs a partner who will play a conservative game. Jani Hakanpaa might fill that spot, but there are questions about his speed and his ability to translate his experience from the Finnish Liiga to the NHL.
The Ducks have five pre-season games remaining to answer some of these questions, and if need be, there are also other options further down the depth chart. Ultimately, what it likely means is that the Ducks are going to open up the season against the Arizona Coyotes on October 3 with a mix of inexperienced and flawed defenders in their final pair.
By working the waiver wire, the Ducks have the opportunity to either upgrade that opening day lineup with an experienced defender or to take a flier on a skilled younger player who is no longer waiver exempt.
For instance, either Xavier Ouellet or Christian Folin will be likely waivers for the Montreal Canadiens. Either one would add experience and a serviceable game as a seventh defender. Likewise, the Dallas Stars will waive either Taylor Fedun or Joel Hanley, both who could bring a balanced offensive and defensive game to the Ducks.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity is with the St. Louis Blues, who have eight NHL quality defenders on their pre-season roster. All eight are waiver eligible, which means that Robert Bortuzzo or Derrick Pouliot may be available for a claim.
With all NHL teams reducing their active rosters to 23 over the next two weeks, several teams will be forced to try to sneak players that they want to keep through the waiver process. Given the state of the Ducks lineup, there could be an opportunity for an upgrade.