On No Trade Clauses and the Flames



 screen-cap courtesy Capgeek

With Curtis Glencross’ fresh new NMC, the Flames will head into next season with a league-high 10 such clauses on their roster (Iginla, Langkow, Stajan, Bourque, Jokinen, Bouwmeester, Regehr, Sarich, Kiprusoff, Glencross), leading to some understandable consternation about the inflexibility of a roster that is both expensive and hasn’t proven to be all that good the last two years. As such, an investigation of the use of the NTC/NMC is in order I think.

The Benefits

Under the current CBA, a no-move/no-trade clause can give the cap-strapped GM a non-monetary bargaining chip in contract negotiations. Used properly, granting the player a bit more power over his future means lowering the per-season cap commitment of the team and therefore increasing the chances of garnering more value out of the deal. NTC’s can also be used as an added incentive for a player to sign in city A versus city B if the latter team is unwilling to commit to the clause.

For the record, I think the Flames employed the NMC correctly when we look at the Glencross deal in isolation: the chance of the club replacing his contributiuons via free agency at the price of 2.55M per season were, I think, rather slim given the lackluster nature of the market this summer. Unless I’m completely misreading the tea-leaves, I’d say Glencross left about $2M on the table over the entirety of his 4-year deal. At least.

Glencross also had other reasons for taking a "home town discount" (family, success in the org) but the NMC becomes something of a necessity for players signing cap-friendly deals since another natural result of their (ahem) altruism is a more trade-friendly contract. Besides increased autonomy, NMC’s grant the player who leaves some money the table some protection against the team leveraging his contract in trades down the road. If the guy is a good bet to outplay his contract, then this is a defensible mechanism to include in the deal. 

The Drawbacks

As has been mentioned by a number of commenters, A NTC/NMC doesn’t necessarily mean a player becomes completely immovable – numerous NHLers with such clauses in their contracts have been traded since the loock-out. The problem being, of course, that movement clauses can significantly hamper a club’s leverage in trade negotiations. The degree to which varies depending on what moderates the clause, but all but the most nominal NTC’s can artifically whittle down potential trade partners (and therefore demand), thereby reducing the chances of garnering a useful return if and when a player wears out his welcome on a given club.

Dany Heatley, for example, was dealt to the San Jose Sharks despite a NTC. Of course, it was the player in that instance who demanded a trade and the subsequent return for the Senators was, uh…nominal (to be kind). Once Heatley decided he wanted out of Ottawa, his NTC gave him pretty much all the leverage. Outside of suspending the player and drawing things out in sort of messy divorce, Bryan Murray was pretty much forced to deal one of his primary assets for a collection of flotsam. Keep in mind the Oilers had an arguably better package on the table for the Calgary native and the deal was (understandably) vetoed by the player. The Sens sold a former conerstone of the franchise for pennies on the dollar as a result.

A NTC can hamper trade talks in other ways, particularly when it’s been used injudiciously: a bad contract can become doubly so if the deal is further hobbled by further movement restictions. Moving bad dollars is tough enough in a capped environment. Example: Ales Kotalik, whose Sather negotiated cap hit was bad enough, but made even more noxious by the inclusion of the NTC. Only Sutter’s peculiar mania near the end of his tenure allowed Glen to escape that particular misstep mostly unscathed.

Movement clauses also don’t make much sense when they aren’t leveraged by management to lower the players real dollars/cap hit. Aside from intrinsic qualities of the franchise (management, city, ability to compete, current players, etc.) the primary incentives an organization can offer in contract negotiations are: salary (per year), term (number of years) and control (NMC/NTC). Granting all three should be left to the rareist cases; ie "franchise" type players. Otherwise the level of risk for the team is overwhelming. As a result, frugal managers will often deploy salary, term and control in a sort of equilibirium where more of one means less of the others.

Finally, NTC/NMC shouldn’t be granted to players who lack any significant leverage in negotiations. Guys who probably aren’t going to garner a lot of attention in the free agent market, for instance.

These are some of the reasons why many of Sutter’s final contracts are poor bets: he doled out term, salary and control to guys like Matt Stajan and Rene Bourque without any marked discount in return. He also bowed to a NTM for Olli Jokinen, despite the fact the guy flamed out spectacularly in town and was coming off the worst season of his career. There’s no chance Jokinen was a hot commodity on the market last year and he had precious little leverage in negotiations as a result. Why Sutter gave him a NMC is absolutely beyond me. At least he didn’t sign him long-term I guess.

The Flames and NTC’s

Other Flames examples: Cory Sarich (term, cap-hit and NTC) and Jay Bouwmeester (term, cap-hit and NTC). You may also include Langkow and Regehr here, although it’s arguable they signed deals that were percevied to be below market-value at the time they were negotiated.

As mentioned, the club boasts one of the most expensive, clause-ladened rosters in the NHL heading into this summer, which hampers Feaster’s ability to effectively clear the decks and start making real, meaningful change to the roster. While a movement clause doesn’t necessarily mean a deal is immovable in isolation, the effect of stacking one atop the other is an accumulation of risk. The chances of stubbing your toe on a NTC inceases with each new one granted, leading inexorably to the club either being stuck with player (or five) they don’t want or, at best, moving him for a bag of pucks a la Dany Heatley.

In conclusion: NTC/NMC’s aren’t necessarily bad things if used properly and I have no complaints about Curtis Glencross prying one out of Feaster. However, Darryl Sutter didn’t use them properly and the Flames are rather ineffecient as a result.

  • “NMC’s grant the player who leaves some money the table some protection against the team leveraging his contract in trades down the road.”

    Truth be told, this is why I hate the contract so much. Glencross is an ok bet to outplay the cap hit if he is used properly. Because he cost us nothing to acquire in the first place, the return you could get for a Glencross who is playing well could be substantial (in comparison to what it cost to acquire him).

  • jakeryley

    Good read Ken.

    I completely agree with the point on Darryl Sutter misusing clauses in general, although I don’t think you’ll find many who disagree with it. I do believe he did get some of them right though. Iggy, Kipper, Regehr and oddly enough; Jokinen’s deal all make sense.

    He achieved what was perceived as “the impossible” by retaining #12, #22 and #34 with those below market contracts and #13 (…a jersey which I proudly own…at times) makes sense to me only because Darryl’s unwavering faith in Olli finally started to work out for the Flames in January. I don’t think there was any hope in getting Olli to agree to come back to Calgary after the NYR trade debacle without one. The clauses that Bourque, Stajan and Sarich got though – considering the term and dollars involved, is inexcusable.

    Glencross’ contract makes sense to me, completely. I’d also be surprised if Tanguay’s deal doesn’t include one (when it does finally come together). I also think that the Glencross deal will benefit the organization’s appeal from the outside. It’s one thing when a player signs for market-value, or above market-value and gets a clause (…Stajan), but to see a player take a considerable pay-cut to stay in Calgary and openly ask the organization to make a commitment to him as well speaks well of the organization and city.

  • I tried it at home

    As an Oilers fan, I heartily approve your new(?) GM continuing the tradition of handing out NMC’s to everybody on the roster. We sucked large these last few years, but at least we have hope. Hows things at your end?

  • jakeryley

    @walk amok – Hope is literally all you have because the Oil haven’t done jack. So come back to the discussion when the Oil actually do something. Until then, it’s just hope. Try sticking to the topic at hand. I know it’s hard trying not to get distracted… oh wait, here’s a shiny coin – GO GET IT!

    As for the NTC topic, the topic actually on the table here, I think these should be reserved for elite players only. However, the reality is that NTC are on the rise across the league and at the end of the day I think teams are fairly able to manage around them if they really want to trade a guy.

    I’m not saying they dont’ impact the way an organization behaves, I’m just saying they’re not as rigid as they may seem.

    • Bob Cobb

      No, really we do have HOPE. Hall, Omark, Paajarvi, and Eberle. Although they haven’t done anything yet, I would still take them over Stajan, Hagman, Iginla, Tangauy and the other piles of crap that have NTC on the Flames.

      • Though I agree the Oilers have some nice young players, you realize this is the common conceit of consistently terrible teams, right? Year after year without fail, teams like the Thrashers and Islanders can line up their highly respected prospects, point to them and dream of a better future.

        In short – the Edmonton Oilers were the very worst team in the league over the last 2 seasons. All the potential in the world counts for nothing until your management actually cobbles together a competitive squad.

        • If you’re suggesting that the way to do this is to hand out NTCs and NMCs I decline.

          Even with Tamblowe running the show I prefer the Oilers’ position to the Flames. It isn’t like Feaster is a savior. Let’s remember who traded Brad Richards for a back up goalie after all.

    • Luckily that one is incredibly easy to defend. But yeah, in terms of NTCs I’ve generally been more on the “who cares” side of things; it’s entirely understandable that a player wants some stability. And really, between the three points of leverage, an NTC is probably the least problematic in terms of trading; you just have to respect the player’s wishes in that case, as opposed to trying to move a contract that may be seen as too expensive or too long.

      NMCs are a little more problematic, because there’s no flexibility for burying them if the need arises, but otherwise I have to say I heartily disagree with the people who are decrying the Flames’ number of NTC/NMC contracts. The contracts are bad because the players are overpaid, not because they have a clause attached.

  • I tried it at home

    jakeryley wrote:

    “I don’t think there was any hope in getting Olli to agree to come back to Calgary after the NYR trade debacle without one.”

    That is one of the biggest gripes that I have with Sutter handing out so many of his NTCs or NMCs. He had treated some players so shabbily (see Ference, Andrew in addition to the Jokinen example above) that he had to give up NMCs on market deals (or essentially leverage and flexibility) in order to get players because his own dumbassery made players otherwise reluctant to sign here.

    • That’s a good point Tach. I was going to bring up the Ference thing, but forgot about it half way through.

      On Jokinen signing here again…frankly, the Flames didn’t need t re-up the guy. If he demanded the NMC as a result of the Sutter’s action previously, the team should have told him to walk.

      Oh well.

      • Jano

        I guess reasonable people can disagree on whether the Flames “needed” to sign Jokinen (not re-sign, remember he was a NYR directly prior to July 1. I fear the sheer stupidity of it all is clouding your memory). From my point of view, I think Darryl knew that Langkow was a no-go, leaving the Flames with Stajan/Backlund/Conroy/? down the middle. I agree other options may have been better, but signing a $3 million centre was not a terrible idea.

        If you have come to the conclusion that at $3 million Jokinen is a centre who fills a need on your squad for the right price, but he won’t sign the deal without an NMC because last year you treated him like a sack of garbage, then the NMC is not about exchanging one asset the team has (unfettered discretion in trading or assigning players) for another one that may be in short supply (cap space). It is mortgaging off the team’s assets in order to make up for your own personal hubris. Reason #123498 Darryl had to go.

        To bring this all back around to Glenncross, I guess I see his signing as neither a glaring success nor abject failure. Glencross is good third line to credible second line player, probably for 2 to 3 more seasons. $3 million would have been the market price. Instead of ~$500K in dollars we gave him an NTC. This is essentially a market deal.

        That being said, the Flames basically have every player on their roster at this point at either the going market rate, or above the market rate. If everyone on your roster is the market rate, you are a middling team. I question whether the Flames have done anything to rectify this situation going forward by signing Glencross to this contract.

  • I tried it at home

    Well I suppose they could’ve run Morrison/Backlund/Conroy/whoever down the middle, with Moss as an injury alt, and the results might’ve been similar. At least we can agree that the PhotoShopping opportunities wouldn’t have been as bountiful if he wasn’t resigned.

  • Question regarding Ales Kotalik.

    Scuttlebutt had it way back when Dutter traded for him that he didn’t really want to be in Calgary. Why would he waive that NTC then? Even if the Rangers threatened to bury him, Calgary took a chance, and then buried him anyways.

    Does his NTC from the Rangers contract carry over to the Flames? Do we need his approval to ship him off?

    Luckily, Hagman has neither an NMC or NTC…

    Regarding Giordano, I think it’s pretty safe to say that his NMC/NTC dealio is ok to live with. He has been money for the Flames and I don’t foresee him going anywhere in the near future, barring tremendous setbacks.

    • Kotalik was getting butried in NY. Torts couldn’t stand him. He figured he may as well take a shot I suppose, because his fate was sealed as a Ranger.

      And, yes, his NTC followed him to CGY. Reason #123423 why that trade was terrible.

      • SuntanOil

        Kent wrote – “Kotalik was getting buried in NY. Torts couldn’t stand him. He figured he may as well take a shot I suppose, because his fate was sealed as a Ranger.

        And, yes, his NTC followed him to CGY. Reason #123423 why that trade was terrible.”


        This might stir the pot a little more Kent, but a few years ago I learned from league business type that a NMC is a separate agreement between the players’ team and the player, whereas the Standard Players contract is between the league, the player and the team. What this means is that anytime a player with a NMC is moved, the original NMC becomes de facto null and void, and the only reason we are not aware of this is that there has never been a team that has traded for a player and not honored the previous NMC (even though they are under no real obligation to do so). Therefore, the Kotalik NTC clause did not follow him to Calgary – he would have received a new one when he got to town.

        I know that it doesn’t sound like this is right, yet I’ve checked into this on a few occasions and it seems to be factual. Thus it simply drives me nuts when GM’s are in a position to say “no thanks” on NMC’s but none have the guts to do so. (i.e – when Heatley left Ottawa he wanted to go to one team only – would it have killed Doug Wilson to say “umm… no thanks Danny” when asked to rewrite the NMC?)

        Thymebalm – you make a very good point

  • MC Hockey

    Nice job on the article Kent. I pretty much agree that since Glencross took a big discount, then that one is OK. I am OK with the ones for Giordano, Langkow, Kipper, Tanguay (if he re-signs with one again), and Regher due to the consistent (relatively) good play they have given the Flames over the years. The Olli one looks OK right now because the term is short so you can escape from it but obviously Kotalik one and some others not mentioned are a bit weak. DSutter was a bit too generous with those that’s for sure.

    P.S. Expect Hagman, Kotalik, and one other existing forward to be bought out anyways or perhaps “Europe-ified” which is best as that carries zero cap hit (ahem Kotalik).

  • thymebalm

    I also thought they stood for “Not Toronto Clause” and “Not Minnesota Clause”. It’s just a way for players to be safe from getting chucked down to a bottom feeder in a cold city across the continent. Players can waive their clauses at any time..

    That’s the real issue with NTC/NMC. Not that they hamper a GMs ability to trade a player, but that they keep certain teams from being competitive.

    If everyone that has a no trade clause refuses to go to ATL, PHX, EDM, TOR, FLO, etc. than those teams are restricted in how they can become competitors. It’s bad for the game. It creates an attitude that certain teams are lower class than the rest of the league. And if that’s the case, they shouldn’t be in the same league at all.

    Certain franchises have a hard enough time re-signing players (see:ATL vs Kovalchuk) or luring free agents (see:EDM). If you limit their ability to acquire players in a trade as well, than how the heck are they supposed to stay competitive?

    NMCs/NTCs are a detriment to maintaining a competitive league.

    truth bomb.

    • Jano

      Edmonton doesn’t have a problems attracting high quality free UFA’s. It’s not like they had to overpay to get top flighters like Khabibulin and Souray…