Restricted free agents have limited options in NHL

With NHL training camps scheduled to open in mid-September, time is running out for some teams to sign their big-name restricted free agents. But although they are “restricted” the players are still unsigned and free to play elsewhere such as Europe and Russia if they don’t agree to terms with their NHL clubs.

Free agency can be confusing to some fans since there are unrestricted and restricted free agents. Players are eligible for unrestricted free agency when their contract runs out after turning 27 years old or playing in the NHL for a minimum of seven years. As for restricted free agents, it is ruled by a combination of their age when being signed to their first professional contract as well as their amount of experience in any of the world’s pro hockey leagues.

Those who ink their first contracts from the age of 18 to 21 will be restricted free agents following their first three seasons of pro experience. Players who first signed at 22 or 23 become restricted free agents with two years of pro experience and if signing your first pro deal at the age of 24 or older you qualify as a restricted free agent following the first year of experience.

In today’s NHL, most youngsters who are drafted end up signing a three-year deal known as an entry-level contract. This is a league-wide standard contract which is set at a specific amount of dollars. However, there are also one and two-year entry-level contracts and all players entering the league must sign one if they’re under the age of 25. The length of the contract depends on your age with shorter deals for older players. Typically, a drafted player will sign a three-year entry-level contract and will become a restricted free agent when it expires.

When the contract is over their NHL club has to give them a qualifying offer for a new one-year deal after the entry draft in June. This enables the team to retain negotiating rights with the player. If a team doesn’t send a qualifying offer then the player is eligible for unrestricted free agency. Depending on the player’s previous salary, qualifying offers must include a raise of five or 10 per cent unless they were making over $1 million a season. In this case, the qualifying offer has to be at least equal to the previous salary.

A player has the right to decline a qualifying offer and remain a restricted free agent. Those who turn the offer down can negotiate a new contract with the club but won’t be able to play in the NHL if they haven’t agreed to terms by December 1st. Restricted free agents are eligible to speak with other NHL clubs and allowed to sign an offer sheet with a team if one is received. If an offer sheet is signed, his club has the right to match it within seven days but isn’t allowed to trade him or negotiate a contract during this time.

If the offer sheet is matched and the player stays, his team isn’t allowed to trade him for a year. If an offer sheet isn’t matched, the team that signs the player must give up draft picks as compensation. The exact draft picks and the number of them are determined by the average annual dollar-size of the contract over five years . The more the contract is worth the more draft picks have to be given up. Restricted free agents can also sit out the season if they don’t sign or in some instances can have an arbitrator rule on their salary.

Restricted free agents who have played in the NHL for a minimum of four years or signed their first professional contract at 20 years of age or older are eligible to request salary arbitration. The player’s club also has the right to request arbitration in this case and their salary offer can be up to a maximum 15 per cent lower than the previous salary The team and player give the arbitrator a dollar amount for a salary and after hearing arguments from both sides the arbitrator will rule on the amount. If the ruling favours the player and the player requested arbitration, the team must decide within 48 hours if it wants to pay the salary or let the player qualify for unrestricted free agency by walking away from the deal.

If the team requested arbitration they can’t walk away and have to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.

When a player is scheduled for arbitration, no other clubs can sign him to an offer sheet however the player can still negotiate and sign with their own club if they hope to avoid arbitration. It’s not the easiest process to follow but it means there’s still a chance some of this summer’s top restricted free agents may sign before the season starts. However, if they haven’t inked a deal by December 1st they’re out of luck as far as the 2019/20 NHL campaign is concerned.

NHL quietly announces rule changes

Rather quietly and without much fanfare, the NHL recently announced several rule changes for the upcoming 2019/20 season. The major alterations come to the existing coach’s challenge and video-review system with the league’s general managers, competition committee and board of governors approving them earlier this summer. Commissioner Gary Bettman said the video technology is in place so it may as well be put to good use.

Last season, NHL coaches were allowed a video challenge for offside and goalie interference after a goal was scored. They will also be able to challenge a missed stoppage of play if it results in a goal. For example, this could include an illegal hand pass or high stick or if the puck leaves the area of play and hits the protective netting above the glass. As long as the puck stays inside the blue line before a goal is scored, coaches will be able to make a challenge regardless of how much time has ticked off the clock. However, if the puck leaves the zone and re-enters it before a goal is scored a challenge isn’t possible.

These are basically plays that are black and white in nature and don’t include discretionary or opinion calls such as missed penalties etc. In addition, a coach’s challenge which fails will result in a two-minute penalty for delay of game for the first one and any failed challenge in the same game after that will result in a four-minute double minor. Last season, minor penalties were only handed out for failed offside challenges.

Bettman stated that the league doesn’t allow coaches to challenge alleged missed penalties such as tripping and hooking etc. since they are called at the discretion and opinion of the on-ice officials and are often debatable in nature. However, referees will be asked to quickly review any double-minor high-sticking and five-minute major and match penalties which don’t involve fighting on a monitor to make sure they have made the right call.

When it comes to major and match penalties, the referee will then have the option of sticking to the original call or change it to a minor penalty. For a double-minor high sticking call the official may cancel the penalty altogether. Bettman said it’s often difficult for referees to tell how players have been injured with a high stick and sometimes they may be injured by their own stick or that of a teammate’s.

Like last season, the league’s video replay situation room, which is located in Toronto, will be able to initiate reviews during the last minute of regulation time as well as in overtime and will also have the final say on all coach’s challenges during a game.

One rule changes has to do with player safety and will also be implemented in 2019/20. Any player who loses his helmet while on the ice will either have to leave the playing surface or immediately retrieve the helmet and place it on his head. However, if he has the puck at the time he will be allowed to finish making a play before retrieving the helmet or leaving the ice. Any player who doesn’t replace the helmet or leave the ice will receive a minor penalty and any player who removes the helmet of an opponent intentionally will receive a two-minute penalty for roughing.

A defensive team will not be allowed to change lines if its goaltender freezes the puck from a shot which came from the other side of the centre-ice red line. Also, a line change won’t be allowed if the defensive team accidentally knocks the net from its moorings and the attacking team can choose which circle the faceoff will take place in. The attacking team can also choose the faceoff dot when the defensive team is called for icing or a penalty.

The NHL announced that a goal will be awarded automatically if a goaltender intentionally knocks the net off its moorings during a breakaway. In addition, if the attacking team knocks the puck out of play inside the other team’s blue line, the faceoff will remain in the same zone.