The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) restricts player contracts—called Standard Player Contracts or SPCs—in three ways: length, amount, and salary variability. Pro Hockey Rumors will give you a crash course in how the CBA defines legal SPCs, and uses fictional player phenom Francois Yakov to illustrate certain points.
The CBA limits SPCs to a maximum term of seven years. Teams may sign its own players, however, to an eight-year SPC if the player was on its roster as of and since the trade deadline. This added option expires if a player reaches unrestricted free agency
Yakov played for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, and is four days away from becoming a UFA. Teams can offer Yakov contracts up to seven years in length. Toronto, Yakov’s team, can offer a contract up to eight years in length, but only up until July 1st. Once Yakov becomes a free agent Toronto loses the additional year advantage.
No contract can pay less than the minimum salary defined in the CBA, or more than 20% of the CBA’s upper limit (read: cap ceiling) in effect when the contract is signed.
The CBA’s variability restrictions are a result of the NHL’s effort to curb front-loaded long-term contracts. The rules limit how much a player’s salary changes from year to year, and different restrictions apply if the SPC is front-loaded.
A contract is considered front-loaded if the majority of a player’s salary is paid in the first half of the SPC. The easiest way to determine that is to:
- Divide the contract term in two, and
- Add up all the salary paid in the first half. If the contract is for an odd amount of years, use half the salary in the middle year.
If the added salary in the first term is greater than the SPC’s cap hit, the SPC is front-loaded.
If a contract is front-loaded, two variability restrictions apply:
- Any change in salary/bonuses from year to year must not be more than 35% of the contract’s first year; and
- Any year’s salary must not be less than 50% of the SPC’s highest year’s salary.
So, if our Yakov makes 5MM his first year, salary change in any year cannot be more than by 1.75MM (35% of 5MM). Moreover, Yakov’s lowest salary year cannot be less than 50% of his highest salary year.
If a contract is not front-loaded, the CBA imposes two other variability restrictions:
- The difference in salary and bonuses from the first year to the second year must not be greater than the salary/bonus amount in the lower of those first two years; and
- In any subsequent year the salary/bonus amount cannot increase by more than the amount of the lower of the first two years, and cannot decrease by more than 50% of the amount of the lower of the first two years.
If our Yakov makes 5MM his first year, the second year cannot be lower than 2.5MM (2.5MM difference) or higher than 10MM (5MM difference. If he makes 5MM his first year, and 4MM his second year, any year-to-year salary increase cannot be by more than 4MM, and any salary decrease cannot be by more than 2MM.
The NHL CBA governs almost every aspect of the relationship between the players and the league. Defining a contract’s term, amount, and variability goes to the heart of the relationship, and was the product of intense bargaining during the lockout.