NHL roster size: How many players are on a hockey team?

When you go to watch hockey games you must notice the different number of players in different hockey games. These different numbers of players confuse you, and now you are wondering know the accurate (number of players) roster size in a hockey game.

So, how many players are allowed on an NHL team? Shortly, a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 23 players are allowed to carry at one time. The number of players varies from 20 to 23 players which cannot exceed 23 players. The 20 players team consists of 18 skaters and two goaltenders excluding players on injured reserve.

During Covid-19 rules were not the same for the 2020-21 seasons if you watch them on youtube. But now, they are normal as usual, thankfully. There are four different roster limits that we will discuss in this article. Finally, we are going to answer your question in detail so stay tuned and read the article till the end.

How many players are on a hockey team?

NHL teams do not carry an unlimited number of players. They carry a limited number of 23 players in a game. The teams can have a maximum 23 number of players and a minimum of 20 players on their roaster. They are not allowed to dress more than 23 players including skaters and goalies.

If we take the example of 20 players in a game 18 players would be skaters and the other 2 would be goalies. This rule is being followed since the 1982-1983 hockey seasons. The injury reserve players are not included in the 20-23 number of players. 


All NHL hockey teams submit their “Opening Day Playing Roster” before starting the season. Then they make sure they do not exceed 23 players. The Nhl roster of players is divided into four different categories of limited players:

CategoryNumber of Players
The maximum number of players for the “Dressed list”20
The maximum number of players for the “Active NHL roster”23
The maximum number of players for the “Contract in the whole organization”50
The maximum 90 players for the “Reserve List”90

Why does a team don’t want to have 23 numbers on the player roster?

This question ponders in the minds of all who know that most a team doesn’t want a 23 players team. Simply, the answer to this question is “Salary cap”. Every team has a limited amount of money to spend on the roster of players. 

The given amount looks like enough money for the players but all players and agents are good at negotiation. Mostly, team managers have to manage 21 to 22 players’ rosters to meet the salary cap. They manage this number of players so they can create flexibility for the roster to add new players in the future if needed. 

Teams often require more players if there is any injury to a player during the game. Then the NHL team suddenly needs to add some new players to the roster. The salary cap during the 2020-2021 seasons was $81.5 million maximum and $60.2 million minimum.

Related Post: Why do NHL Players get paid less than NBA, NFL, and MLB?

50 Players under contract: Minor league teams and the NHL roster

Every NHL team has another minor league that trains the players or an NHL hockey game. This minor league is not considered as the players of the NHL roster. But, they are counted under the players who are allowed to enter as a  roster player in the case of an emergency.

The NHL team calls this minor league during all the seasons if needed. Again, the manager would enter new players into the roster by keeping the salary cap in mind. There is a total 50 number of players signed to contract as a minor league.

 This minor league contains:

  • Entry-level contracts 
  • Players on short-term injured reserve 
  • Players on long-term injured reserve
  • AHL player who signed a two-contract 
  • Active roster Player

Players contracted with NHL teams, playing in Europe teams or CHL is not included in the 50 contracted players. These prospects can be called for an emergency if they have played at least 11 NHL  games in one season. If the players are under the limit it will allow the players to submit waivers and make claims and have more fun.

Gameday or Dressed List Players

The total number o game day (Dressed) players are 20. 18 players of 20 players act as skaters out o which 12 players will be forwards and 6 will be defencemen. The remaining 2 players will be goalies. Sometimes the coach dresses the team with 11 forward players and 7 defencemen.

 But this happens very rarely throughout the season. The arrangement of two goalies is like one goalie playing the game alone till the end. The second one will act as a backup player and wait throughout the game. The backup goalie will enter the game due to two reasons.

One: If the first goalie gets injured and is not able to play.
Second: If the starting goalie has a number of goals and now the coach wants to check the performance of the second goalie.

The Number of “Reserved List”  Players

Each NHL team has a limited reserved list of 90 players. These 90 (number of players) are the complete number of players we count in the NHL organization. The complete 90 players hold the roster players, unsigned Juinor drafted players, players who are under the contract as a minor league, and unsigned European players.

The 90 Players are the maximum number of players that an NHL team can have including all the categories of the Nhl game players. The NHL team cannot have players of more than 90 throughout the season.

NHL roster from the end of the trade deadline to the end of the season

The roster limit does not exist from the trade deadline to the end of the regular season. The roster teams can call 4 players from their American Hockey League team. In case of injuries to players while the game teams are allowed to recall an unlimited number of players to the roster. 

The teams do not call all players at one time in the game because they still have to manage the salary cap. The 4 players at a time will increase the roster size and affect the salary cap. Furthermore, the coach also does not prefer a large number of players around a roster during the game. 

NHL Rosters

Managers and coaches of the teams are really conscious to maintain the normal rhythms of a 22 to 23-player roster for a game. So, they try to recall the players one by one when needed. A team can freely sign unrestricted free agents. This is because new players can not as skillful as the existing players on the roster. It is also due to the salary cap, a team does not want to disturb its salary cap.

How many healthy scratches can a team have?

Healthy scared are the players who are not included in the roster size. The number of healthy scratches can be easily determined if we minus the number of players playing the game and the number of players who are not playing. For example, when there are 22 or 23 players there will be 2 to 3 healthy scratches per game. 

These healthy scratches sit and watch the game till the end throughout the seasons. The game will end on all healthy scratches who were set to watch the game. Healthy players prove beneficial in case of any injury. To maintain the salary cap teams often continue to play with less than 20 players.

If any player got injured they do not increase the rooster size to keep the salary cap. maintain. This is a big disadvantage for a team, luckily, this never happened more than one or two times to any team.

What is an injured reserve?

An injured reserve is a status that a player gets if he is not able to play. When a player gets an injury the injury management would decide whether they should put the player on injured reserve on not. Because once a player goes to injured reserve he has to wait for at least 7 days.

Injured Reserve

 If the player does not get any serious injury he might not go on the injured reserve. If there are any serious injuries player must go to the injured reserve. Hence, the player will not be able to play any game for his team.

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

The injured reserve does not affect badly to the roster team because the injured player does not count as a part of the team. So, the team can call a new player from the minor league. Not only this, the injured player does not count for the salary cap anymore. Injuries are a natural part of the NHL hockey seasons. If no player gets injured throughout the game it will be an oddity.

Related Post: How long do NHL players stay on waivers?

How does the NHL roster change for the playoff?

There is no limit for a roster during the playoffs. But, the players should be under 50 contracts of organization. They should belong to the roster before the trade deadline. This deadline is not considered an actual deadline in which no team can trade anymore.

The teams can trade even after the deadline but they will not be able to play with the players in the playoffs. After starting the playoff the NHL team will be allowed to add as many as players they want. The 50 players will be under contract with the team.

How does the NHL roster change for the playoff?

This is why, at the end of the AHL playoff the teams bring minor league players into the team, even if they act as non-playing players. These minor league players will not be able to play until there are a  large number of injuries on the team. The Non-player’s practice is separate from the roster players.

The Roster Rules for the 2020-21 season and the Taxi Squad.

The roster rules were not the same for the 2020 to 2021 seasons as they were before these years. Fortunately, now we are back to normal life and the rules are the same as they were before that pandemic years. The 23 players rule was still the same during the 2020-21 seasons. 

The main difference between the normal season and the 2020 hockey season was the taxi squad. In the 2020-21 season, there was a taxi squad consisting of a minimum of 4 players and a maximum of 6 players. One of these players was acting as a goalie. 

The taxi squad was a separate team that practiced and traveled with the NHL team. But they were not included in the roster of NHL players. A taxi squad team was similar to a minor league. The taxi squad worked just like a minor league.

For instance, if a player was needed in the NHL team in case of an emergency the new player added to the roster of the NHL players was a taxi squad player. In regular seasons there is a minor league team that works the same as a taxi squad did.

Conclusion: NHL roster size

An NHL hockey roster size has a minimum 20 number of players and a maximum number of 23 players for a game. The 18 players are skaters and the remaining two play the role of goaltenders. There are four different categories of limited players. 23 players for the Active NHL roster, 50 players for the “under contract”, 20 players for the “dressed list” and 90 players for the “Reserve List”.

The NHL roster size rules were slightly different from the rules of normal seasons. The main reason for the difference was the taxi squad. This was a team of 4 to 6 players and they play when needed just like a minor league.

Similar Posts