It’s NHL playoff time, and that means the intensity will ratchet up to a new level. With players sacrificing their bodies to jump in front of pucks and their opponents, injuries are bound to be a factor. It’s a war of attrition, and often the teams with the most depth are the ones that can persevere to be left standing at the end. Time for the ‘Black Aces’ to make their mark!

The Black Aces are those players called up to NHL rosters to serve as injury replacements, reserve depth and frankly, insurance. They can be added any time after the trade deadline, when the NHL’s 23-man roster limit is lifted. However, because the salary cap is in place until the end of the regular season, teams don’t usually have the cap space to carry extra bodies, so you start to see the influx of the Black Aces as soon as the regular season ends. 

For any team with an AHL affiliate participating in the playoffs, the arrival of Black Aces may be a little delayed. There is no better training ground for developing players than to go through the Calder Cup playoffs, so unless a team’s injury situation is desperate, it would much rather give its AHL players the opportunity to play those meaningful games than to be spare parts on the NHL roster.

The name ‘Black Aces’ is apparently derived from the “dead man’s hand” in poker. In 1876, legendary gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok was murdered while holding a hand of two black aces and two black eights during a game. In the 1940s, Boston Bruins coach Eddie Shore started referring to players that weren’t playing or that were in his doghouse – basically guys that were “down on their luck – as Black Aces. Somehow, the term stuck.