The entry level slide and how it applies to the Flames

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One of the most confusing, but relevant, parts of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement relates to entry level contracts and how they’re allowed to “slide”. Now, deciphering the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is one of life’s most painful, tedious, and unpleasant things. But knowing the contract and cap situation of the Calgary Flames, I thought it might be relevant to look at the different scenarios when an ELC can be pushed for another year. I’ll try my best to do it in terms that won’t make your head explode.

When I use the term “slide” I mean the occasion when a standard ELC gets extended for an additional year. It happens all the time around the league, and it can be of great benefit to a team in some circumstances.

It’s crucial to point out that by no means am I a CBA expert. In fact, much of this information I’m about to pass along was totally unknown to me as of a few weeks ago. But because I’ve been caught out on it in recent times, and because the questions keep getting asked, I think this guide might be helpful. For those of you who are more versed in CBA matters than me, PLEASE feel free to correct any inaccuracies in this piece, but I believe my fact checking is correct. All of this is covered in CBA article 9.1, section d.

So how can an entry level contract slide? I’ve pinpointed three different scenarios that allow that to happen. What’s really interesting is how each of these scenarios can affect the Flames and their plans going forward.

The major junior slide

Explanation: This is the scenario I think we’re all most familiar with. When a player is drafted out of the Canadian Hockey League, he immediately becomes subject to the NHL-CHL Transfer Agreement. That agreement states that a CHL player cannot play in the American Hockey League until his overage (or 20-year-old) season. However, the agreement does allow a drafted major junior player to play in the NHL at anytime (like Sean Monahan or Sam Bennett). If an NHL team decides to go down that road, then the “ten game rule” comes into effect.

The ten game rule is something that will be a crucial and constant term used over the next number of paragraphs. This rule allows an NHL team to dress a CHL player for nine regular season games without burning a year of their entry level deal. However, as soon as that player plays in their tenth regular season game, year one of their ELC kicks in.

The “slide” in this case is what happens when ten NHL games aren’t played in any given season. So, for instance, if an 18-year-old doesn’t play more than nine NHL games and stays in junior for his 18, 19, and 20-year-old seasons, then his ELC doesn’t begin until his 21-year-old season.

Who this applies to: This applies to basically every player drafted out of the CHL. For the Flames, we’ll use Morgan Klimchuk as our example. He was drafted as an 18-year-old (his first year of eligibility) in 2013 from Regina of the Western Hockey League. Klimchuk has spent the last two years in junior and is making the jump to pro in his 20-year-old season. As such, his contract slid twice and will only kick in this season playing professional hockey.

The late birthday slide

Explanation: This is where things get interesting. In most cases, higher draft picks will turn pro in their 20-year-old season. It doesn’t happen in every single case, but as a general rule, you don’t see a lot of first and second round draft picks play junior in their overage season. Typically, once a major junior goes pro (whether it be the AHL or NHL) as a 20-year-old, the first year of his ELC kicks in. But not in every case.

My colleague Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun turned me onto this interesting loophole earlier this month. His article about Emile Poirier’s contract situation was fascinating, and quite honestly blew my mind. Yes, this is a comment on how boring and meaningless my life is, but it’s important nonetheless.

As a 20-year-old, Poirier played the entire 2014-2015 season professionally, mainly with the Adirondack Flames. In the vast majority of cases, that would have burned the first year of his deal as per usual. But not in his case. Because of Poirier’s birthday and when he signed his entry level deal, he falls under another rule that allows his contract to slide.

Here is the criteria for this to happen, all of which Poirier meets. First, a player has to be born after September 15th, thus meaning he’d turn 19 the same year he was drafted. Pourer’s birthday is December 14th, so we can check that box. Second, that player has to sign a contract prior to December 31st of his draft year, which Poirier did. Finally, a player cannot play more than nine NHL games in any of the next two seasons. In Poirier’s case, he played zero NHL games as a 19-year-old and six last year as a 20-year-old. If you check all three of those boxes, voila, you have a contract that slides for another year.

In reality, the Flames basically got a free year of Poirier’s services. I mean, they still had to pay him and all, so more accurately they got an EXTRA year of him being under the entry level restrictions. For the team, that’s a good thing. Had they given Poirier four more NHL games last year, though, his ELC would have kicked in like most cases.

Who this applies to: Well, obviously, this rule applied to Poirier. But it also applies to another highly touted prospect in the Flames organization. 2015 second round pick Rasmus Andersson will find himself in the very same scenario next year. Born on October 27th, Andersson signed his entry level deal earlier this month, already checking two of the three boxes.

With him being assigned back to Barrie of the OHL on Sunday, it’s extremely unlikely Andersson will play any NHL games this year, let alone more than nine. He’ll likely make the jump to pro hockey next year as a 20-year-old. You can bet Calgary is well aware that giving him less than ten NHL games will allow his contract to slide.

The European player slide

Explanation: If you’re still with me then I’ve saved the most interesting one for last. There are some cases where a player can play professional hockey in North America for two full years and still have his contract slide both times. The only way that can happen, though, is if he’s drafted out of Europe.

The CBA states that contracts slide when a player plays less than ten NHL games in their 18 and 19-year-old seasons. That applies for players drafted out of any league, North American or otherwise. It gets interesting for European picks, though, because they’re not subject to the CHL-NHL Transfer Agreement we talked about earlier.

As such, a player drafted out of Europe is free to play in the AHL without any restriction. But they can still have their contract slide if they still stay under ten NHL games. In fact, they can have their contract slide twice if the circumstances are right.

Toronto’s William Nylander is a good example to use here. He played 37 AHL games last year as an 18-year-old but played in zero NHL games. His contract has slid to this year as a 19-year-old. If the Maple Leafs decide to play him in less than ten NHL games again, his contract will slide again. In essence, a player in this circumstance can be under entry level restrictions for five years while still getting two full years of professional development in North America.

Who this applies to: The player on the Flames this affects is 2015 second round pick Oliver Kylington. Drafted out of Sweden in his first year of eligibility, Kylington has already been assigned to Stockton of the American League. He could spend the whole year there and not have his ELC kick in, if he meets one condition. Say it with me now: he has to play less than ten NHL games.

This could be absolutely crucial for Calgary. We all know Kylington has some flaws in his game that some time under Ryan Huska could really help with. The fact he could develop and work on his all round game for one, if not two, full years without burning a year of his ELC is huge. Then, when he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL, the Flames will have him for another three years under the entry level system. For a team with a cap crunch on the horizon, this is definitely good news.

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I know this stuff can be really confusing. I made this cheat sheet as much for me as anyone else, because I need help keeping this stuff straight. If it still doesn’t make sense to you, lemme know…we can go for a beer and discuss how little we know about these things.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Good info Pat. I didn’t realized Kylington’s could slide that much. I had in my mind for some reason that he would be in line for a new contract before Andersson because of Andersson going back to junior, but… we could potentially have them each for 5 years under ELC terms. Beautiful! A pair of 23 year old stud defensemen in the last year of their ELC on a team pushing for the cup again for their 2nd consecutive year sounds about right!

  • beloch

    The ten game rule is something that will be a crucial and constant term used over the next number of paragraphs. This rule allows an NHL team to dress a CHL player for nine regular season games without burning a year of their entry level deal. However, as soon as that player plays in their tenth regular season game, year one of their ELC kicks in.

    Question: Does this mean Bennett’s ELC slid last season? He played 12 games, but only 1 in the regular season. Generalfanager shows that he’s burned a year off his ELC.

  • MattyFranchise

    Patty, great article. Couple questions for you:

    1.) On Kylington – What is the impact if he is sent to Brandon this year instead of staying in the AHL, does that change his status altogether as a European drafted player and how they are treated. Does going to the WHL “rescind” his European status in any way?

    2.) American players not playing in the CHL – You didn’t touch on this, what are the impacts for kids that were drafted from the college ranks? Any late birthday, or other interesting points to mention that pertain to them?

    Cheers Boss

    • MattyFranchise

      1.) I have no idea, I’m curious as well.

      2.) NCAA players can not sign contracts or play in any preseason game, they can’t even sign so much as a pro tryout agreement or they lose their eligibility to play in the NCAA. I don’t think this has anything to do with the CBA as this seems like an NCAA rule.

      Rather, a club would retain the ‘rights’ to that player for the duration of their NCAA career. At the end of said career, if the player chooses not to sign a contract from the club that has their rights (ie Jultz) they then become a (restricted) free agent based on their age. That’s where the CBA comes in.

      I would assume that this precludes them from signing the standard ELC that juniors generally do after the draft ie Gaudreau signed a 3 year ELC but year one was burned from that one game he played against Vancouver. Same with Arnold, he signed a two year deal at the same time but year one was again burned in that game against Vancouver which is why he was tendered a qualifying offer as an RFA by the Flames at the end of his ELC this offseason.

      I could be wrong on some of the particulars so hopefully someone can correct me if I am but I am fairly certain that that’s how it works as far as NCAA players are concerned.

    • Good points raised by @MattyFranchise in response to this too, but here are my answers.

      1) Kylington playing in the WHL won’t change the conditions for his contract to slide. At this point, if he plays less than ten NHL games in the next two seasons his contract will slide regardless of where else he might play.

      2) Not overly. Because the “entry level slide” stuff only applies to 18, 19, and 20-year-old players, most college players wouldn’t have this stuff apply. College guys usually turn pro at 21 or older.

      The interesting stuff about college players is the length of the ELC’s they can sign…depending on their age, sometimes they aren’t eligible to sign a three year deal. For instance, Bill Arnold signed a two year ELC after his time with BC because of his age.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I had no idea Poirier’s contract slid. Really great news.

    Given the above raealities it’s no wonder Anderson and Klilington were sent back, aside from the fact neither are ready for the NHL.

    Nice work Pat. Good info and well explained.

  • I’ve been listening to you on the fan 960 for a while now and gotta say I’m a huge fan. You have a great knowledge of the game, despite your best efforts to suggest otherwise, though that’s just a good tactic to reach a larger demographic of fans. You, Lou and Peter were the best radio going and willsy gives his all, us flames fans appreciate how hard it would be to follow up Maher’s legendary performance.
    Keep it up, gonna be an exciting year!