The Washington Capitals activated defenseman Michal Kempny from the injured reserve today, but it’s what they didn’t do that’s making headlines. The Capitals made no corresponding move after adding Kempny to the roster, presumably leaving them with more than the CBA-allotted 23 roster players. How this was possible sent reporters scrambling for information. What they found was both surprising and potentially dangerous.
It turns out that the Capitals had not exceeded the roster limit, as suspended forward Tom Wilson had been granted “non-roster player” status. CapFriendly relays the information from the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan, while adding some context to what that label means. A “non-roster player” does not count against the roster, allowing the Capitals to activate Kempny by discounting Wilson. The CBA states that “non-roster player” status must be specifically granted by the Commissioner and it is reserved for special instances of non-injury absence. Among the examples given are the birth of a child or bereavement. Notably not present is suspension and there is little precedent for suspended players being placed on this list. Granted, a suspension is a non-injury absence, but use of the “non-roster” exemption begs the question of whether teams should share in the punishment of a suspension.
Wilson’s 20-game suspension for yet another illegal check, this time to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the preseason, is obviously a blow to Capitals. They won’t have their menacing power forward for the first quarter of the season, perhaps when they need him most as the defending Stanley Cup champs who everyone wants to play hard against. Yet, shouldn’t Washington also bear the weight of one of their regular players being worthy of such as suspension? Why should the team that employs a frequent offender be given a roster exemption and added flexibility while he remains out? The San Jose Sharks were given this same treatment when Raffi Torres was suspended for half of the 2015-16 season, CapFriendly reports, so the league is seemingly comfortable with using the “non-roster player” exemption for suspensions, but there are certainly reasons that they shouldn’t be.
The next question is where do they draw the line? It seems that the NHL is heading down a slippery slope by using this exemption for suspensions and could be setting a dangerous precedent. Case in point: the Capitals are enjoying Wilson’s “non-roster” status through 20 games for a dirty hit, whereas the Vegas Golden Knights have seemingly not been afforded the same luxury for defenseman Nate Schmidt’s 20-game suspension for a failed drug test on little more than a technicality. Why are the two treated differently? Why aren’t all suspended players exempt from the roster limit? The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler opines that the NHL has gone “down the rabbit hole” with this decision and now nothing is stopping every team from requesting a “non-roster player” exemption for each and every suspension. The league simply can’t go case-by-case and assign “non-roster” status behind the scenes. A can of worms has been opened and a blanket policy on the “non-roster player” status of suspended players seems to be the only solution.