Hockey is back! This offseason may have been short, but it definitely delivered. A flurry of goaltending signings, an expansion draft, a flat cap, a drama-filled offer sheet, and a new market being set for young defensemen set the stage for a number of franchise-altering moves that many teams made this summer.
To build an NHL roster, general managers have a few different options to acquire players: the draft, trades, free agent signings, waivers, expansion, and offer sheets.
For the sake of the breakdown, a player only counts as a drafted player if they were drafted by the organization and never left that organization in between. For example, Zdeno Chara is back with the team that originally drafted him, the New York Islanders, but he counts as a signed player, not a drafted player.
Let’s see how rosters shape up for 2021–22.
Roster players acquired via the draft
One of the hallmarks of good teams is their ability to grow talent from within, develop their drafted prospects into impact NHLers, and maximize the value of entry-level contracts. The back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning are among the league leaders in roster players originally drafted by the organization.
With star players opting to stick with their original team much more often nowadays than in the past, it is crucial to draft well and constantly have players pushing for NHL jobs. Just this season alone we saw long-term extensions given out to Aleksander Barkov, Nick Suzuki, Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse, Cale Makar, Mika Zibanejad, Quinn Hughes, Kirill Kaprizov, Sean Couturier, and Andrei Svechnikov. It’s a long list, and all represent franchise cornerstones for their respective teams. It is nearly impossible to find these types of players in free agency so it is essential to draft top players and retain them for as long as possible.
For all the graphs in this article, information was gathered via CapFriendly, and season opening rosters were used for all teams. Not all teams intend on opening the season with 23-man rosters, and many teams utilized the long term injured reserve (LTIR) and season opening injured reserve (SOIR) to remain cap compliant.
The Anaheim Ducks are the league leading team for roster players drafted by the organization. The Ducks are not a great team now, but represent one of the most promising up and coming teams in the league. Following the Ducks are the Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils. After these four teams, three extremely strong teams are next in the Lightning, Winnipeg Jets, and Islanders.
The Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights have the fewest drafted roster players but of course, this is due to them being recent expansion teams and simply not having enough drafts to accumulate and develop players. The fact that the Golden Knights have four drafted players on their roster already is impressive—just one behind the Chicago Blackhawks’s five, the lowest non-expansion team total.
Out of 815 roster players on opening night this season, 301 were acquired by their teams via the draft. That represents 37% of all players and the most frequent acquisition method.
Roster players acquired via trade
Trading has become much more complicated than in the past. With all the different types of conditions that teams add to trades, whether it’s team performance or player performance, trade conditions have gotten incredibly specific and complex.
One of the more unique conditions was when the Flames and Oilers exchanged overpaid fourth liners Milan Lucic and James Neal, and a condition of the trade was a draft pick exchanged based on the number of goals Neal scored compared to the number of goals Lucic scored, and it even ended up settling with modified terms due to the unexpectedly shortened 2019–20 season.
Blockbuster trades have become much rarer as well, though it is still among the most prevalent acquisition methods.
The Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks are the leaders in roster players acquired via trade. With 13 players on their opening night roster acquired through trades with other teams, this represents 57% of a 23-man NHL roster. The Ottawa Senators are next with 12 traded players, and four more teams are tied with 10.
The Kraken don’t hve any players on their opening night roster who were acquired via trade, which speaks to their inability to execute deals in the expansion draft. Several players the Golden Knights acquired through trades in their expansion draft are still on their roster, including Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore, and Alex Tuch.
Other than the Kraken, four teams have the fewest players acquired via trade, the Islanders, Maple Leafs, Oilers, and Stars, all with four traded players.
Out of 815 roster players on opening night this season, 216 were acquired by their teams via trade. That represents 27% of all players and the third most frequent acquisition method.
Roster players acquired via signing
Free agency is always a busy time of the year. It used to be the time when players would finally get to cash in by testing the market, but the flat cap has made this difficult for top free agents. This is another reason why teams have been able to lock up their stars because they are able to offer cost certainty to their players a year in advance.
This type of acquisition method includes players signed in free agency. This exclusively includes unrestricted free agents, including those signed from other leagues and undrafted players. Restricted free agents who sign offer sheets are part of that acquisition method.
Three teams lead the league with 13 players acquired via free agent signing: The Canucks, Islanders, and Maple Leafs. The Oilers and Stars are next with 12 and 11 players respectively, and then a drop off to the next set of teams.
The Jets have the fewest players acquired via signing with just two. There is a significant gap to the next lowest team on the list, the Ducks and Capitals are next with five players acquired via signing.
The breakdown of this group of players has very distinct ledges. It’s different than the other acquisition methods, though the range from the most to the fewest is fairly large.
Out of 815 roster players on opening night this season, 255 were acquired by their teams via signing. That represents 31% of all players and the second most frequent acquisition method.
Roster players acquired via waivers
Waivers are a very interesting part of the NHL’s CBA. At the beginning of the season, and especially the beginning of last season, there were a plethora of quality players available through waivers. However, almost none were claimed by other teams.
Last year’s Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic was on waivers at the start of the season and wasn’t claimed. Now, every team is kicking themselves for not putting in a claim.
A total of 20 teams do not have any roster players that were acquired via waivers. Nine teams have one player added via waivers, two have two players, and the Canadiens lead the league with three players added via waivers: Adam Brooks, Sam Montembeault, and Paul Byron (an infamous claim from the Flames back in 2015 when Calgary opted to have three goaltenders on their roster).
Out of 815 roster players on opening night this season, 16 were acquired by their teams via waivers. That represents 2% of all players and the most infrequent acquisition method other than offer sheets which are only included here because of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Players acquired via expansion
This is a unique acquisition method that will eventually be irrelevant, but due to the Seattle expansion just occurring there are a decent number of players who qualify under this acquisition method.
Of course, there are only two teams that show up on this chart, Seattle and Vegas. It’s surprising to see Vegas with such a low number of players acquired via expansion. The Vegas expansion draft was in 2017, just four years ago. Three has been significant turnover in Vegas’ roster over the past four years, and they’ve managed to remain a top Cup contender in each of those seasons. The only players that are still members of the Golden Knights from that were taken in the expansion draft are William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, William Carrier, and Brayden McNabb.
Seattle opened the season with 21 players acquired via expansion.
Out of 815 roster players on opening night this season, 25 were acquired by their teams via expansion. That represents 3% of all players and the second most infrequent acquisition method not including offer sheets.
Roster players acquired via offer sheets
As stated above, this acquisition method is only included because of the Hurricanes. I broke down how rare offer sheets are in the NHL in the summer, and despite the juicy options for offer sheets this offseason, only one was signed and even that was a shock.
It’s a very boring graph, but the Hurricanes lead the league with two players acquired via offer sheets. No other team has any players who fall under this acquisition method.
Sebastian Aho actually signed an offer sheet with the Canadiens, but the Hurricanes smartly matched the offer sheet. The other player is Jesperi Kotkaniemi who was signed to an offer sheet his offseason by the Hurricanes from the Canadiens. The Canadiens chose not to match the offer sheet.
Full breakdown of NHL rosters by acquisition method
The full breakdown of all teams by all acquisitoin methods is below.
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