It’s the week before Christmas. Almost all of us at our day jobs know that at the end of this week, we’ll have a long weekend to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
Professional sports are a notable exception, as the NFL and NBA both play highly marketed games while and after Santa Claus is out delivering presents.
The NHL lets their basketball and football-playing counterparts have those December 24th and 25th game times. The NHL takes it a step further by having a complete roster freeze for ten days this season from December 19th and ending December 28th.
Players cannot be traded, waived, put on LTIR, or sent to the minor leagues for the next week or so.
The trade freeze began in the early 1990s and was first brought up during the 1992 players' strike.
The NHL has a roster freeze ahead of the holidays to avoid issues.
In the few seasons before that, there were notable trades that happened right before Christmas such as Greg Millen being traded from the St. Louis Blues to the Quebec Nordiques in 1989 and Rob Brown being traded from the Pittsburgh Penguins to Hartford Whalers in 1990.
The “closest to Christmas trade” was a Corey Millen for Randy Gilhan swap between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers on December 23, 1991.
The 1993 memorandum of understanding included a reference to a trade freeze and it was added to the 1995 CBA. That set the official and annual December 19th-27th timeline. After the 2004-2005 lockout, it was extended to minor league loans as well.
There are a few exceptions. On the waiver side, if a player is out on waiver December 19th and claimed, he still must report to his new team on the 20th even though the roster freeze is in effect.
That’s the only exception that would send a player to a completely different and unexpected location. If a player who was on LTIR is healthy and can return during the roster freeze then the team is allowed to make the necessary transactions.
Players who were “emergency recalled” from the AHL before the 11th can be sent back down by midnight on the 23rd with the stipulation that they do not need waivers.
Coaches don’t get that same luxury. The New Jersey Devils barely waited for Peter DeBeoer to finish opening his gifts when they fired him on December 26, 2014.
There have already been several in-season coaching changes this season but last year there was only one in-season coaching change. That was when Rick Tocchet replaced Bruce Boudreau as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks well after the holidays on January 22nd.
The NHL used to play games on Christmas Day until 1971. In the 2013 CBA, they added the day after Christmas, known as “Boxing Day” north of the border, as an additional day off.
The league largely avoids scheduling games on American Thanksgiving. That doesn’t stop a stray game from happening occasionally, like a 2019 game between the New Jersey Devils visiting the Montreal Canadiens.
Like the players and coaches of the NHL, the holiday break is a time of physical and mental rest to spend with their family.
At least D.J. Smith can spend his Christmas with some peace of mind now that his inevitable firing finally took place. The holiday roster freeze officially ends on December 28th at 12:01 a.m.