One of the CBA rules that rarely gets the spotlight of media attention, yet affects NHL organizations every year is that of the Standard Player Contract (SPC) limit. Each team is only allowed to have 50 NHL contracts on the books at any one time, including two-way contracts and players on injured or long-term injured reserve. The Arizona Coyotes currently find themselves at that limit, with 50 players already signed. That’s why the recent Marian Hossa trade included Andrew Campbell and Jordan Maletta going back to the Blackhawks, despite neither really being very valuable to an NHL team. The Coyotes couldn’t take on all three of the contracts for Hossa, Vinnie Hinostroza and Jordan Oesterle without matching with the same outgoing number.
The Coyotes do have a pair of players who likely will not count towards the 50-contract limit this season, as Barrett Hayton and Pierre-Olivier Joseph are both young enough—18 or 19 years old—to be removed from the SPC list when they are sent back to junior hockey. That of course assumes that they won’t make the Coyotes out of camp, something that isn’t necessarily guaranteed but should be expected. Even with those two added slots, the Coyotes will have to be wary of their contract totals all season long. Staying right at the limit is dangerous given that you may run into injury trouble and want to sign a veteran out of free agency or promote a player on an AHL contract. It also limits what you can do in terms of signing players out of the college ranks.
Today a list of sixteen players became unrestricted free agents after failing to reach an entry-level contract with the team that drafted them. One of those players, Jared Fiegl, couldn’t have been signed because of the Coyotes current situation even if they had wanted to. While Fiegl was just a seventh-round pick and likely wouldn’t have earned an NHL contract anyway—he has since signed with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL—there are always players who deserve contracts at the end of the college season, both drafted and undrafted.
In Arizona’s system for instance, there are Ty Emberson and Cameron Crotty who will both be playing in the NCAA this season. Each a third-round pick, there is always a chance of a breakout season and the desire to turn pro in early spring. If there are no contract slots available, the Coyotes won’t be able to bring them into their system on an entry-level deal right away and run the risk of them returning to school for another season. The undrafted players pose an even bigger risk, as a team without a contract slot would be at a severe disadvantage in free agent negotiations.
Though the Coyotes are currently the only team right at the limit, there are several others who are flirting with it. The Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights are already at 48 contracts and each have a restricted free agent left to sign in Nick Ritchie and Shea Theodore respectively. The Ottawa Senators are also at 48, and two players that could potentially come off the list in Brady Tkachuk and Alex Formenton both might not be playing in junior this season. Tkachuk could potentially go to the AHL to work with the Binghamton Senators if he doesn’t make the NHL, while Formenton already has an NHL game under his belt and might jump right to Ottawa this season.
Living on the edge doesn’t cripple a team, but it does reduce their flexibility when working out trades or negotiating with free agents. Teams like the Minnesota Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs dealt with that issue at times last year, and many others could this time around. Though it rarely gets much attention it is definitely something to keep an eye on as training camp comes around next month, and injuries start to pile up.