NHL Roster Size: How Many Players are on a Hockey Team?

NHL Roster Size

The NHL has devised rules for all aspects of hockey, and one of these is NHL roster size. There are rules carefully formulated that determine the number of players each team can have. So, how many players is the team allowed to carry on its roster?

Throughout the entire regular season, each NHL team must have at least 20 players and not be allowed to exceed 23 players. As the NHL trade deadline approaches and the playoffs approach, roster vacancies increase. Additionally, in case of injuries, there are emergency provisions.

Let’s break down NHL roster size to understand the nitty-gritty and try to find out why teams are only allowed to carry a maximum of 23 players for each NHL season. Moreover, what’s the NHL roaster deadline?

How many players are on a Hockey team?

How many players are on a Hockey team

As per NHL rules, teams cannot carry an infinite number of players. They can carry 20 – 23 players with them. Some essential categories are having a different number of players are described below:

CategoryNumber of Players
Maximum players dressing for each game20
Maximum players on the roster for each team23
Maximum players under contract for any team50
Maximum players on the reserve list90

So, this was a brief overview.

How many players are on each Hockey team?

No NHL team can carry more than 23 players into their roster during the regular NHL season. There is an NHL trade deadline in the first week of March. During this time, all the teams must have at least 20 players.

Why wouldn’t a team want to have a 23 player roster?

Even though the teams are allowed to have a maximum of 23 players on the roster, teams usually do not take twenty-three players. Curious why?

Why wouldn’t a team want to have a 23 player roster

This is because of the salary cap. All the teams have a limited amount of money to spend on their complete roster team. Therefore, the teams usually prefer fewer players than the maximum limit to pay all the players without extra pressure. It also helps them have flexibility, and they can include another player in the team when required.

NHL Rosters from the end of the trade deadline until the end of the season

This restriction to have 20 – 23 players on the roster is during the regular seasons and is lifted when the trade deadline ends at the end of the season. During this duration, the teams can have unlimited players on the roster.

But there is a condition. A team can call only four players from their American Hockey league team. If the team has injured players on the roster, they are not restricted to having some limited number of emergency recalls; instead, they can keep an unlimited number. The teams can call four players from the American Hockey League, but they do not. The main reason is the salary cap again, which has to be considered while signing the players.

NHL Rosters trade deadline

Another important reason is that neither the coach nor the players want a crowded team. The greater the number of players, the more difficult it becomes to manage the team and do the practice. Also, the players available are not so talented, and every team wants the best for itself. So, usually, the teams go with the same 20 – 23 player limits.

How many players can dress for one game?

The roster has 20 – 23 players, but how many players dress for the game? The answer is only 20 players. Out of these 20, there are:

  • 12 forwards
  • Six defensemen
  • Two goalies

Sometimes, 11 forwards and seven defensemen may go for the game, but this is rare.

How many players can dress for one game

One plays the game out of the two goalies, and the other stays as the backup. If the goalie playing the game gets injured, the backup goalie goes to play in his place. Another instance is when the goalie is not performing well in the game, the coach calls him back and sends the backup goalie.

How many healthy scratches can a team Have?

Players on the roster who do not dress for the game are called healthy scratches. It is the total number of players on the roster minus the number of players dressed for the game. Usually, a team has 2 – 3 healthy scratches left for each game. The remaining players go to play the game.

These players only have to stay with their team, sit in the stands when the team is playing and watch the game. Of the total 82 games of the season, sometimes the healthy scratched ones get to play only 20 – 30 games.

What is the injured reserve, and how does it affect roster size?

The injured reserve is the number of injured players on the team. When a player is injured during a game, the management of that team decides if he can play the following games. Depending on the condition and the severity of the injury, the administration may put him on the injured reserve.

If the player goes to the injured reserve, he must stay there for at least seven days. This minimum span of seven days may even extend to the whole season. Such players cannot take part in any games. A minor league player replaces such players on the list. The players on the injured reserve are also excluded from the salary cap.

50 players under contract: Minor League teams and the NHL roster

All the NHL teams also have their minor leagues along with their teams so that they can nourish and train new players for the future. These teams are separate and do not come under the NHL roster, but the NHL still has a restriction on the number of players. The teams cannot sign up more than 50 players.

If a player in the NHL team is not performing well or if any player is injured, the team management calls the players from the minor league as a substitute. Again, there are salary cap implications that the management has to keep in mind.

How does the NHL roster change for the playoffs?

Playoffs are the most remarkable part of the NHL, with the regular season just a means to an end. There are some special rules for the playoffs.

How many players can dress for one game

There is no limit on the roster size in the playoffs. The only condition is that all the players becoming part of the team must be among the 50 contracts of the team, and the team must have their rights before the trade deadline. The teams can trade the players after the deadline, but those traded after the deadline cannot play in the playoffs. So, the teams make sure to do the trading before this deadline.

What is the 90 player reserved list?

All the teams contain a reserved list constituting 90 players. These are the players who are attached to their organization. This reserved list has those players who:

  • Are on the roster
  • Are under contract
  • In the minors
  • Drafted players
  • Junior players not signed yet
  • Players have the rights but still have not signed the contract

The list must not exceed 90 players according to NHL regulations.

The Roster Rules for the 2020-21 Season and The Taxi Squad

Due to COVID, rules were changed worldwide, as in the NHL. Things are now back to normal but let us discuss the changes. Most of the regulations were the same, but a different thing was the taxi squad.

Every team introduced a taxi squad with 4 – 6 players, one of whom was a goalie. The squad stayed with the team in every regard, but it was not part of the roster. The roster size stayed the same: a maximum of twenty-three players per team. The rules for these players are the same as those for the minor players.


In conclusion, each NHL team usually allows a maximum of 23 players and a minimum of 20 players on their roster. There are also changes to this size which we discussed above. And that is all about the NHL rosters!

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  2. What is the lowest salary in the NHL?
  3. What is the average salary in the NHL?
  4. How much do the NHL coaches get paid?
Austin Taylor

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