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Restricted Free Agency in the NHL Needs to be Changed

The NHL needs to desperately change the way they do restricted free agency. After hearing nothing surrounding one of the top RFAs in the NHL, Mikhail Sergachev has signed a 3 year,  $4.8/year contract to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sergachev was just one of many restricted free agents this offseason who very easily could have received an offer sheet.

Typically, any contract a RFA agrees to can be matched by their previous team. In the NBA, this happens quite frequently. We just saw it happen with Bojan Bogdanovich. He agreed to a contract with the Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings had the chance to match the offer. If the Kings decided to match, Bogdanovich would be a King whether he liked it or not. However, there is an extra layer that the NHL requires.

Compensation – Restricted Free Agency

In the NHL, if a team signs a restricted free agent, the new team must provide the old team with draft pick compensation. This is how Scott Stevens became a New Jersey Devil. The St. Louis Blues signed Brendan Shanahan from the Devils. However, the Blues still owed the Capitals compensation from signing Stevens away from the Caps. Therefore, other compensation had to be negotiated. The Devils got Stevens as compensation from the Blues for losing Shanahan. Stevens went on to captain 3 teams to a Stanley Cup.

The NHL is still using the compensation system. Depending on the AAV of the contract, the new team must part with a certain number of draft picks.

This is the compensation break down from 2017. The only difference is that the money aspect is a little different. The lesser number in each tier is now higher than it was in 2017. The real kicker is that all of the picks given have to be that teams own picks. Picks that were traded for are not allowed to be included.

Consequences

As a result of this rule, offer sheets in the NHL rarely happen. We saw it happen with Sebastian Aho, but the Hurricanes were easily able to match the Canadiens offer. Submitting offer sheets is an easy way to make a team’s life difficult. For example, the Islanders and Lightning are both in cap hell. However, they both are the home for some of the league’s top RFA talent. Matthew Barzal, Mikhail Sergachev, and Anthony Cirelli were all RFAs this offseason. If a team wanted to make the Islanders and Lightning’s life difficult, all they had to do was offer any of these players a contract above the amount of cap space that team had. They would either have to let the player walk, or let go of other quality pieces in order to retain them.

However, there is a reluctancy amongst NHL GMs to submit offer sheets. The draft pick compensation is a huge deterrent as teams do not want to go for top tier talent and give up four first round picks. Teams should be lining up to sign guys like Barzal and Sergachev. They are top tier talent but because they come with draft picks attached, nobody will touch them.

Final Thoughts

The NHL offseason is incredibly boring compared to the NBA’s. Woj is dropping Woj bomb after Woj bomb while the NHL is just sitting there. They need to get rid of this ridiculous compensation rule in order to make the offseason more exciting. However, the owners would never agree to such a thing when negotiating the next CBA. Barzal should easily be the most sought after name this offseason but it is inevitable he winds up back with the Islanders because no one is daring enough. We need to see more action in the NHL offseason and changing restricted free agency is an easy way to do that.

-Pete Chatterton (@Pchat12)

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