For new fans, learning the rules and the ins and outs of hockey can be overwhelming and a little tricky. Even for existing fans, new stuff pop up all the time that can be difficult to get a handle on. To make it easier for everyone, this hockey guide will hopefully clear up some things like what icing is, what is the difference between a one-way and a two-contract, why some players file for arbitration, and what the hell is offsides, with more!

Arbitration Edit

NHL salary arbitration is one of the few bargaining tools available for restricted free agents (RFAs), and is used to settle contract disputes. The player and team each propose a salary for the coming season, and argue their cases at a hearing with a neutral, third-party arbitrator. The arbitrator is the one who decides the player's salary.

Most players must have four years of NHL experience before they are eligible for arbitration. If the player signed a contract at age 21, 22-23, or 24 or older, the NHL-required experience is reduced to 3 years, 2 years, and 1 year, respectively.

Player-elected Arbitration Edit

There is no restriction for how many times a player can ask for arbitration or the amount of the salary awarded. A player must submit a written request for arbitration by 5PM (New York time) on 5 July as of the end of the league year. Cases are usually heard in late July or early August. A player and team can continue negotiating up until the date of the hearing. The player must pay his own expenses for the arbitration process.

Club-elected Arbitration Edit

A Team can also ask for salary arbitration. However, a player can only be taken to arbitration once in his career, and can never receive less than 85 per-cent of his previous year's salary. If a player has been taken to arbitration before, he is no longer eligible for club-elected arbitration.

Result of Arbitration Edit

The arbitrator must make a decision within 48 hours of the hearing. A contract awarded in arbitration can only be for max two years. A club reserves the right to refuse the award, or "walk away" in any player-elected arbitration if the award exceed a certain amount per year. In the event that the player was awarded a two-year contract, the team can only walk away from one contract year. At the conclusion of the first year of the two-year contract, the player will then automatically become an unrestricted free agent. In the even that the is awarded a one-year contract, the team can still exercise its right to walk away, and the player will immediately become a UFA.

In the event that the award is the result of a club-elected arbitration, the team does not retain its "walk away" right.

Evidence Presented Edit

Each party reserves the right to argue their case and preset evidence in their favour.

This can include:

  • The player's "overall performance" including statistics in all previous seasons.
  • Injuries, illnesses and the number of games played.
  • The player's length of service with the team and in the NHL.
  • The player's "overall contribution" to the team's success or failure.
  • The player's "special qualities of leadership or public appeal."
  • The performance and salary of any player alleged to be "comparable" to the player in the dispute.

Example of evidence that is not admissible is:

  • The salary and performance of a "comparable" player who signed a contract as an unrestricted free agent.
  • Testimonials, video and media reports.
  • The financial state of the team.
  • The salary cap and the state of the team's payroll.[1]

Contracts Edit

Standard Player Contract Edit

A standard playing contract (SPC) is a typical NHL player contract that follows a certain format and contains specific clauses. A SPC primarily consists of salary and terms of the deal, but also details player conduct, dispute resolution, buyout procedures, etc..

Entry Draft Edit

"Entry Draft" means the NHL's annual draft of rookie players.

Offer Sheet Edit

An offer sheet is a contract negotiated between an NHL team and a restricted free agent on another team. It includes all the terms of a standard player contract, including length, salary, bonuses, etc. When a player signs an offer sheet with a new team, his current team is notified. That team has the right to "match" the offer sheet with an identical contract and keep the player. Or it can decline and let the player join the new team under the terms of the offer sheet. The original team has seven days to make a decision on whether they want to match the terms of the offer sheet.[2] If they do not, and the team who made the offer acquires the player, the original team may be eligible for compensation depending on the player's salary:

Average Annual Value Compensation
Less than $1,239,226 Nothing
Over $1,239,226 to $1,877,615 Third-round pick
Over $1,877,615 to $3,755,233 Second-round pick
Over $3,755,233 to $5,632,847 First and third-round picks
Over $5,632,847 to $7,510,464 First, second and third-round picks
Over $7,510,464 to $9,388,080 Two firsts, a second and third-round picks
Over $9,388,080 Four first-round picks

It should also be noted that in order to provide the compensation, the team that makes the offer sheet, has to have their own draft picks available, meaning they cannot trade for picks and use these as part of the compensation for an offer sheet.[3]

Professional Experience Edit

Professional experience counts towards a player's right and agency status. The requirement for what counts as professional experience depends on the age of the player. For example, for a player aged 18 or 19, “Professional Experience” is defined as playing at least 10 games in the NHL. Players older than this gain “Professional Experience” by playing 10 or more games at any professional level, including NHL, AHL, ECHL, and European leagues.[4] That means if a player aged 18 plays minimum 10 NHL games one season, and below 10 NHL games the next, he only has 1 year of professional experience. If he plays minimum 10 NHL games one season, and minimum 10 NHL games the next, he has 2 years of professional experience, and so on.

Qualifying Offer Edit

A qualifying offer is a contract offer extended to a restricted free agent by his current team. It's essentially a one-year contract, and must be issued by 25 June or the first Monday following the NHL Entry Draft. By making a qualifying offer, an NHL team maintains the player's status as a restricted free agent, even if the offer is rejected. If the qualifying offer is not made by the current team, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any NHL team on 1 July.

By making an offer, teams are given the right to first refusal or compensation should a player sign an offer sheet with another team. For a qualifying offer to be valid, players who earned less than $660,000 in the previous NHL season must be offered at least 110 per cent of the previous season's salary, players who earned up to $1 million must be offered 105 per cent, and players who earned over $1 million must be offered 100 per cent.[5] Once a player has been given a qualifying offer, he is free to reject it, go to salary arbitration, negotiate a new contract, or sign an offer sheet.[6]

Restricted Free Agents Edit

In the NHL, a restricted free agent (RFA) is a player who has completed his entry-level contract (ELC), but does not have the requisite experience to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA). The required experience needed to become an RFA depends on the player's age at the time he signed his first contract. To become an RFA, players aged 18-21, 22-23, and 24 or older, need 3 years, 2 years, and 1 year of professional experience, respectively. Once a player has achieved RFA status, the team that held his player rights at the conclusion of his previous contract, initially retains his rights and the primary right to negotiate a new contract. The process of negotiating a new contract begins with the team offering the player a qualifying offer. Should the team fail to do so within the day following the NHL Entry Draft, the player becomes a UFA on 1 July that same year. As long as the club offers the player a qualifying offer, the player remains a RFA regardless if he accepts the offer or not. Provided he meets the correct requirements, an RFA can file for salary arbitration in the even of a contract dispute.

A RFA can also begin contract talks with a rival team on the day following the entry draft. If a rival team provides the player with an offer sheet, the first team must provide the player with a qualifying offer to retain the player's negotiating rights, or else the player is free to sign any offer sheet from 1 July of that year.

An RFA who does not sign a new contract by 1 December, is no longer eligible to play for the rest of the season.

Salary Edit

A player's salary is the amount of money the player is paid according to his contract and must always be paid in American dollars. The CBA specifies that players are to be paid on the 15th and 30th of each month from either the start of the regular season or whenever the player reports to the team, whichever comes later. If a player is not with a team for the whole season, the salary is pro-rated to whatever portion of the season the player has played.

If a player is on a two-way contract, the salary will differ depending on which league he plays in. A player's salary in the NHL, for example, will be bigger than the player's salary in the AHL.

There are restrictions on how much a team can pay an individual player. For example, the maximum amount is always 20% of the team salary cap in the year the player signs with the team. That means if the cap is set at $70 million, $14 million is the absolute most a player could be paid in all salary and bonuses. Teams are also obligated to set a dollar amount and cannot be paid in percentages as a way to circumvent the maximum payout limit. That means that if $14 million was 20% of the cap the year the deal was signed, and the cap rises to $80 million the next year, the player must still be paid $14 million as opposed to $16 million, which would have been 20% of $80 million.[7]

Unrestricted Free Agents Edit

In the NHL, an unrestricted free agent (UFA) is a player who has full control over his own player rights. This means that he can sign with any team without restriction. There are several ways for a player to become a UFA.

Common UFAs Edit

Group 3 Edit

The most common type of unrestricted free agents is a player who has played seven years in the league, and/or is aged 27 or older as of 30 June of the end of the League year, provided his current contract expires that year or he was already without a contract.

Group 5 Edit

"Any player who has completed ten or more professional seasons (minor league or NHL seasons, but excluding any season in Major Juniors), and who did not earn in the final year of his standard player's contract (SPC) more than that year's Average League Salary."[8] It should be noted that Group 5 UFAs aren't particulalry common, as most players fulfil the requirements for Group 3 first.

Group 6 Edit

Any player who is age 25 or older and has completed three or more professional seasons, whose SPC has expired and: A) in the case of a player other than a goaltender, has played less than 80 NHL Games, or B) in the case of a goaltender, has played less than 28 NHL Games (minimum 30 min = 1 game played). A professional season means: A) a player aged 18 or 19, where he played in eleven or more Professional Games (including NHL Regular Season and Playoff Games, minor league regular season and playoff games, and games played in any European professional league, while under an SPC), and B) a player aged 20 or older, mean any season where he played in one or more Professional Games.

Undrafted players Edit

Any player aged 22 or older who is undrafted is free to enter the NHL as a UFA.

Any player aged 21 or older who is undrafted and has played at least one season in North America when he was age 18, 19, or 20, is free to enter the NHL as a UFA.

Junior Players Edit

  • A junior player can become a UFA usually two years after his selection in the draft.

When a player at age 18 or 19 has been drafted by a team in the NHL, that team holds his player rights and exclusive negotiating rights for two years, until the second 1 June following his selection in the NHL Entry Draft. If the player has not received a contract by this time, or refused to sign a contract, he will become a UFA.

NCAA/College Player Edit

  • A college player can become a UFA usually four years after his selection in the draft, or five years after his selection in the draft provided he falls under the right criteria.

Players who graduated Edit

If a player at age 18 or 19 has been drafted by an NHL team, and is or will be a college student prior to the first 1 June following his selection in the NHL Entry Draft, that team holds his player rights and exclusive negotiating rights through and including 15 August following the graduation of his college class, usually four years. In the event that a player does not immediately enter into college the year he is drafted, but takes a "gap year" where he plays in a junior league or similar, his player rights and exclusive negotiating rights can be held by the team that drafted him for five years, provided he entered into college prior to the second 1 June following his selection in the NHL Entry Draft. If the player has not received a contract by this time in either scenario, or refuses to sign a contract, he will become a UFA.

Players who did not graduate Edit

In the event that a player following the criteria mentioned above does not graduate (ceases to be a student), the team that drafted him will hold his player rights until the forth 1 June following his selection in the NHL Entry Draft. However, in the event that the player ceases to be a student on or after 1 January of an academic year in his forth year of college, the team that drafted him holds his player rights and exclusive negotiating rights through and including 15 August of that year.

Restricted Free Agents Edit

See Restricted Free Agents.

Unsigned Draft Choice Edit

An unsigned draft choice is a player selected by a club in an Entry Draft who has yet to sign a SPC.

References Edit

  8. Group 5 Free Agents
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