How Many Players Are On a Hockey Team?

Posted on May 23, 2022 by Dan Kent
NHL Game

An NHL team has a set number of players that they’re allowed to “carry” at any given time. This number was briefly set aside for COVID due to taxi squads, but it has since gone back to normal.

According to the NHL’s operations guidelines, there may be a maximum number of 23 players on a club’s active roster at any given time. The teams must consist of a minimum of 20 players at any time — which needs to be made up of 18 skaters and two goalies. It’s important to note that players who are on the injury reserve roster don’t count towards the active 23 men on the team.

Active Rosters Vs. Game Day Rosters

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Fans may be more familiar with the concept of a game-day roster — as it’s the list of players who will physically dress for the game and who will be sitting on the bench and taking the ice throughout the night. This may seem like the most important roster, but there are several more that make up your favorite NHL team.

However, a team’s active roster can include additional players who don’t necessarily take the ice but who are still “active” on the team and can be subbed in on a day-to-day basis. Players on the active roster are in healthy playing condition and the few players who don’t dress for the game are considered healthy scratches.

Unlike players on the injury reserve roster, healthy scratches are ready to play but there was simply not enough room on the game roster for that night. These scratches get paid the same as if they did play, so it’s not such a bad deal overall considering they get to watch the game and have the night off.

Of the 20 players who dress for the game, they must come from the NHL team’s current active roster list. Naturally, there will be 3 players left over who inevitably need to be scratched. Any changes to either of these rosters require approval from the NHL Central Registry in advance and a team must show them to the game officials before the first puck drop.

What is the NHL Contract Limit?

NHL teams have a set limit for how many players under contract they can have during any given season. Currently, this number is at 50 professional players maximum that a team can have during the year.

These players under contract include all of the active roster players as well as anyone on the injury reserve list. However, draftees are usually unsigned at first — so they don’t count towards this number until the team decides to offer them a contract.

There are several types of contracts that an NHL team can offer, namely one-way, two-way, and entry-level contracts. Two-way contracts are often for players who can go up and down between the AHL and be called to the NHL when they’re needed.

These players may end up spending most of their season in the American Hockey League, they’re still technically under contract with the NHL club. All entry-level contracts are two-way contracts and all players under 25 years of age must be signed to an entry-level two-way contract as their first contract in the NHL.

How Many Players Can an NHL Team Have on Reserve?

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When it comes to reserve lists, it gets a bit more complicated and clubs have to finesse the numbers to ensure they’re staying up on protocol. According to the NHL rules, a team can have a maximum of 80 players in total who “belong” to the team in one way or another.

This number may not exceed 50 pro players and can also be made up of signed junior players and unsigned draft choices. For the junior players, to meet this eligibility they must have played in fewer than 11 professional games.

Of these 80 players, they’re not all necessarily NHL ready and many will continue to develop for several years before they get the chance to play in the big league. However, it’s in an NHL team’s best interest to have a solid group of developing promising young players as they will more than likely be the next generation of NHL stars down the line.

Players On the Injury Reserve List

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If a player’s injury is severe enough, they can be placed on the injury reserve list — thus clearing an opening on the team’s active roster. Injured players don’t count as active players or healthy scratches, as they’re unable to take the ice at that moment.

However, once a player is placed on the injury reserve list, they must remain there for at least seven days. Depending on the injury, a player can be on this list for quite some time while they receive care and even surgery in some instances.

Injured players are still permitted to travel, attend team meetings, and practice with the team if they’re able to do so. There’s no benefit to shunning an injured player, as it could negatively impact mental health to do so and it’s best to keep the player around their teammates to boost motivation and wellbeing.

NHL Rosters Can Be Complicated

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There’s a lot of juggling that goes into keeping up with a team’s different rosters. Younger players who are developing are always hoping to get a contract offer — which an NHL team only has 50 to give out.

Active rosters and game day rosters are the ones that most fans have familiarized themselves with, as these are the players they’re seeing the most often. It can be exciting when a new player gets called up and fans have the chance to see them on a bigger stage and perhaps even earn themselves a spot on the team permanently.

NHL rosters are made up of active and healthy players, those who are injured and rehabilitating, developing draftee picks, and even players who have defected to the European leagues for a period of time. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to bring an NHL team together and it’s something many people are unaware of.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada,

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