We’re just a week past the trade deadline and the dreaded four-recall rule has reared its head as the Habs have boxed themselves into a corner, some of it self-inflicted. But before getting to how they got there, a quick refresher on the rule itself. This was put in to stop tanking teams from bringing up a bunch of minor leaguers, annoying paying customers in the stands and affecting the competitive integrity of the game.
After the trade deadline, teams are only permitted four non-emergency recalls until the affiliate(s) they’re bringing players up from are finished their season, including the playoffs. An emergency recall is triggered when a team can’t dress two goalies, six defencemen, or 12 forwards due to injury; it can’t be a situation they put themselves into with other transactions.
On top of things, players not on a post-deadline recall aren’t eligible to play in the minors if they otherwise could, often resulting in paper transactions chewing into the four recalls to keep players AHL-eligible (or taxi squad-eligible this season).
As for the three they’ve used, they were all done within hours of the trade deadline:
1) Assigned Alexander Romanov to the taxi squad at 2:59 PM EST on Monday, recalled him at 3:01.
2) Assigned Paul Byron to the taxi squad at 2:59 PM EST on Monday, recalled him at 3:01.
3) Recalled Xavier Ouellet from the taxi squad for the Toronto game. As they technically had seven defencemen on the roster at the time (including Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson who weren’t eligible to play but counted anyway), it had to be a regular recall.
Romanov’s papering down confused me a bit as it’s not as if they necessarily needed to do that unless they anticipate having to send him to Laval over the next few weeks. They’ve left themselves the ability to do that if Merrill and/or Gustafsson push him out of the lineup but it’s an unlikely scenario.
Papering Byron down, in itself, makes sense but that only works while he’s waiver-exempt. (We may see him on waivers for a fourth time in the coming weeks as a result once he gets to 10 games played after clearing.) But with the team in LTIR, they’re less likely to need the cap space unless they’re forced into a series of transactions that would require Byron going down and someone like Michael Frolik coming up with the rest of the difference going towards other recalls. Again, not a likely scenario though, especially since they wouldn’t have a recall left to bring him back.
They didn’t have a choice with Ouellet but how there wasn’t an exception to this rule put in for COVID-related quarantine is beyond me. Someone dropped the ball there.
Montreal’s two paper transactions, at least one of which wasn’t necessarily needed, is why they’re down to just one for the final month of the season and perhaps longer if there winds up being some sort of AHL postseason or an extension with Toronto’s COVID-19 shutdown which postponed Laval’s two games last week.
Now, let’s decipher the situation a bit more from a cap perspective. On Friday, Dominique Ducharme was correct in saying that Cole Caufield couldn’t be recalled for salary cap reasons. With Cayden Primeau being up for Carey Price, they didn’t have the $1.308M to accommodate Caufield’s AAV. But Price is back and Primeau is on the taxi squad again, giving them just over $2M in LTIR space. As a result, they have the cap room to recall him (or Jordan Weal, or Ryan Poehling, players with higher AAV’s) if they wanted to. They don’t need to send Byron or Romanov down to make that happen either even though both are eligible to be sent down. More specifically, they don’t want to do that as they wouldn’t then be able to recall them.
The question at this point is should the Habs be using their final regular recall this early? If they use it on Caufield and he struggles to the point where he needs to be sent down to Laval, they’ve burned that recall and technically couldn’t call him back up until the Rocket are finished. They’d also be committing to a 12-forward roster for the entire stretch run which, given their compressed schedule and veteran roster, isn’t ideal. On the flip side, of course, is that Caufield does well and they have an extra forward the rest of the way which is handy with all of these games in a short period of time. This is the question that Dominique Ducharme and Marc Bergevin have to figure out the answer to; when is the optimal timing to use that last recall?
As for the likes of Frolik, Ouellet, and Jake Evans, they can still be brought up if injuries arise as long as the team is cap-compliant (and this is why they did the paper transactions, to give them a player to move down if necessary). Calling Caufield up makes that a bit trickier as an injury requiring a recall would then require the Habs to send one of Caufield, Byron, or Romanov to free up cap space to do it and in doing so, losing the ability to bring them back because they’ll be out of regular recalls. The better option at that point may be to play a forward short for a game and then apply for a cap-exempt recall as several teams around the league have done this season.
It’s a sticky situation to navigate and isn’t as simple as call up Caufield and hope he makes the roster better as there are clearly consequences to losing that flexibility. Frankly, the fact there isn’t an exemption or modification to this rule given the COVID-19 situation and a lack of fans in arenas is ridiculous but here we are. Hopefully this helps provide some context to Ducharme’s comments about how they’re very limited with what they can do from a recall perspective the rest of the way. He’s certainly not wrong about that.