NHL Roster Size

NHL Roster Size: All You Need To Know

If you’re someone who is trying to understand the granular details of Ice Hockey, knowing about the NHL roster size will help you massively.

In order to understand how the teams work, and how many players are on an Ice Hockey team, the bylaws of the NHL roster provide great insights to know it all. In today’s blog, let’s discuss deeply all the details about the NHL roster and how it works!

What Is A Roster In NHL?

The National Hockey League (NHL) is the premier Ice Hockey league in North America, and its roster size and bylaws are of interest to many fans.

A roster in NHL refers to the list of players that are a part of the team. The NHL bylaws dictate the number of players who can be on a team’s roster at any given time.

How Many Players Are On NHL Roster?

The quite simple answer is 23, the number has been a subject to fluctuation over the years, and there are many exceptions and variations attached to it as the season progresses in NHL.

NHL Roster Size

Which we will discuss later on in this blog. But first answer a question that is popping up in your mind, why 23 players?

Why 23?

The NHL has a bylaw that states that every team must have a roster of 23 players. This bylaw was put into place in order to create parity among the teams. It ensures that each team has a fair shot at winning, no matter how talented or inexperienced their players are.

So, if you’re wondering how many players are on an NHL team, the answer is 23. But why 23? Let’s take a closer look.

The NHL roster size was increased from 20 to 21 in the 1943-44 season. The three extra spots were given to the veteran players who had served their country during World War II.

The roster size was increased again in 1967 when the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams. The new rule stated that each team could carry two additional players, for a total of 24.

However, in the 1979-1980 season, the NHL roster size decreased back to 23 players. This is because the league wanted to increase scoring, and they felt that having fewer players on the ice would create more open space and lead to more goals.

Despite the roster size fluctuating over the years, it has remained at 23 players since 1980.

How Many Players A Team Can Have Under Contract?

An NHL team can have a maximum of 50 players under contract at any given time. This bylaw was put into place in order to create parity among the teams.

And to ensure that each team is at equal terms, no matter how talented or inexperienced their players are.

However, the number of players on an NHL team’s active roster can vary throughout the course of a season. For example, teams are allowed to carry veterans who have played in more than 320 NHL games.

These veterans can be exempt from waivers, which means they can be sent down to minors without having to clear waivers first.

What Is The Injured-Reserve List?

In addition, teams are allowed to carry players on injured reserve. Here’s the fun part, these players can be placed on injured reserve at any time during the season.

NHL Roster Size

And they do not count against the 23-man roster limit, which allows the team to call up other players to fill in for the injured player without effecting their roster limit.

Any player who incurred an injury, or is unable to play due to any physical reasons, should be placed on the injured-reserve list for a minimum of 7 days.

What Is The Minimum Number On NHL Roster?

An NHL team can have a minimum of 20 players on its roster. If a team has fewer than 20 players on its roster, it must declare an emergency goalie.

This is a goaltender who is not under contract with the NHL team but is available to play in case both of the team’s regular goaltenders are unable to play.

An emergency goalie can only be used if both of the team’s regular goaltenders are injured or ill. If an emergency goalie is used, he must be dressed in a jersey that is different from the jerseys worn by the team’s other players.

So, while an NHL team can have up to 50 players under contract, the minimum number of active players is 20.

The Reserve List:

Last but not least, there’s another limit in addition to the 50 players a team can have under contract. That is the reserve list, which includes a total of 90 players on team panel including the 50 players discussed under contract before.

Breaking It Down:

It’s also essential to understand how players are divided in the NHL roster, here is a quick breakdown.


There is a maximum of 3 goaltenders on the NHL roster!


There are a maximum of 20 skaters on an NHL roster, of which at least six must be defencemen.


There are a maximum of 14 forwards on an NHL roster, and they are divided into three groups:

  • The top two lines are made up of the team’s best offensive players and usually play against the opposition’s best defensive players.
  • The third and fourth lines are made up of the team’ depths players and usually play against the opposition’s depth players.
  • The fifth line is made up of the team’s enforcers and is used primarily to intimidate the opposition.

So, that’s a quick breakdown of an NHL roster. 23 players, 20 skaters, and three goaltenders. Of those 20 skaters, 14 are forwards and six are defencemen.

When The NHL Roster Limit Is Waived Off?

Once the trade deadline is over in the NHL, the Roster limit is waived off and teams can call up any number of players from the minors to finish out the season.

So if your team is in the hunt for the playoffs, they may bring up some young talent or veterans from their AHL affiliate to help make a push for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

NHl Roster Size

The NHL roster limit is also waived during the playoffs. This is because teams often have players who are injured or suspended during the playoffs, and they need to be able to replace those players with healthy ones.

What Is The Taxi Squad In Ice Hockey?

A taxi squad is a group of players who are not on the NHL team’s active roster. But who are available to play if needed. These players can be called up to the NHL team at any time, and they do not count against the 23-man roster limit.

The taxi squad is also known as the emergency roster or the black aces. These players typically practice with the NHL team and travel with the team to games, but they do not dress for the games.

It is usually made up of young players who are still developing their skills, or veterans who are trying to make a comeback from an injury.

NHL Roster VS AHL Roster; Key Differences:

The key difference between the NHL roster and the AHL roster is the number limit. Unlike NHL, there is no limit to how many players can be on the AHL roster. However, teams usually carry up to 25 players.

Another significant contrast is the number of players under contract, while in NHL, this number is stretched to 50 players under contract, in AHL, there is no such limit.


Finally, here we are with all the tiny details covered and gone through about the NHL rosters. These regulations are quite fascinating to understand if you love the game. And knowing more about Ice Hockey makes it even more thrilling as you know the hindsight of the game that you watch so passionately!

Got questions? Leave them below and we will take care of the answers for you. Keep supporting and stay tuned as there is loads of great Ice Hockey articles coming your way!

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