Some of the most intricate rules in the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement have to do with player draft rights. Depending both on where the player was when drafted, and the path he takes after being selected exclusive negotiating rights can be held for anywhere between two years and indefinitely. When it comes to players joining the NCAA ranks, it gets even trickier.
We saw one of the less often used tactics earlier this summer, when Cal Petersen declared he would not return to Notre Dame for his senior season. Since Petersen had been drafted four years ago, the Buffalo Sabres were given 30 days in which to sign him or lose his exclusive negotiating rights. The Sabres couldn’t get him under contract, and a month later the Los Angeles Kings scooped him up. Petersen could use this tactic because of the year he spent in the USHL after his draft, pushing his scheduled graduation to five years out from his draft year.
But this isn’t the method you want to hear about today. Will Butcher and Alex Kerfoot lead a group of players who will see their draft rights expire today after completing their senior seasons, and will be allowed to sign with any team in the NHL tomorrow, August 16th. Though their free agency is being widely reported as starting today, teams actually retain their negotiating rights through the end of day. From Section 8.6(c)(i) of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement:
If a Player drafted at age 18 or 19 is a bona fide college student at the time of his selection in the Entry Draft, or becomes a bona fide college student prior to the first June 1 following his selection in the Entry Draft, and remains a bona fide college student through the graduation of his college class, his drafting Club shall retain the exclusive right of negotiation for his services through and including the August 15 following the graduation of his college class. The Club need not make a Bona Fide Offer to such Player to retain such rights.
Though it’s quite possible that teams are already talking to the upcoming free agents—probable even, despite not technically being allowed to do so—they won’t be signing with anyone until tomorrow. Since this version of the CBA was introduced only Robbie Russo signed right away, inking with the Detroit Red Wings on August 16th nearly immediately after becoming a free agent. Last year we saw John Gilmour lead the pack by signing with the New York Rangers on August 18th, before Thomas DiPauli and Jimmy Vesey followed on the 19th to Pittsburgh and New York respectively.
While Butcher and Kerfoot are exciting players, and should sign within a few days of becoming free agents we will have to wait for one more day before anything can be officially announced. For now, they’re still tied to the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils.
*Note: Kerfoot actually could have used the method described in Petersen’s case to become a free agent last summer, since he played an additional season in the BCHL after being selected by the Devils in 2012. For ease of reading we did not include all of the CBA provisions, but if you’d like to read more about why his rights are held through and including August 15th, check out Section 8.6(c)(iii).