The beginning of March represents the beginning of the stretch run in the NHL. The trade deadline has come and done so rosters are more or less set (barring injury recalls) and watching the standings becomes a daily practice. However, the turning of the calendar also a couple of important CBA elements are now in play.
Salary cap room can be limited at this time of year after teams have loaded up which has prevented some contract extensions from being signed or at least delayed them due to tagging room. Until March 1st, the tagging space for next season is capped at the current Upper Limit but starting today through June 30th, that threshold is increased by 10% under Section 50.5(c)(ii)(C).
Last year, we saw anticipated extensions for Vegas winger Mark Stone and Anaheim winger Jakob Silfverberg get delayed until the beginning of March for this reason. The deals were done beforehand but their other contractual commitments and required qualifying offers meant the extension would have pushed them over the pre-March 1st tagging limit. There’s certainly a possibility that we’ll see a similar move in the coming days as well.
The other element now in play is much more frequently used and it will undoubtedly be used as early as Monday. Under Section 50.8(d) of the CBA, unsigned picks or draft related unrestricted free agents can now sign future contracts instead of deals that start this season.
We’ll see it used frequently as the NCAA undrafted free agent market starts to pick up in the weeks ahead but in the meantime, there should be a small run of draft picks that sign NHL contracts for next season over the next few days. Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen is a likely candidate for one based on the news earlier in the week that he’ll be loaned to the AHL for the rest of the season; by waiting to sign until now, his entry-level pact can start in 2020-21 without activating the first year right away.
This doesn’t mean that all prospect deals have to be done this way. Teams are still allowed to sign prospects and undrafted free agents to contracts that start this season; some will use that as an inducement to try to get a player as burning the first year now would get them out of the entry-level system quicker. But as of March 1st, they have both options at their disposal.
On the surface, March 1st seems like just another day on the NHL calendar but as a result of these two elements now being in play, it creates the potential for some extra activity on the transaction front.