Pals, the National Hockey League’s collective bargaining agreement has a lot of weird twists, turns and quirks. Within one of those quirks lies a pretty big age-related incentive for the Calgary Flames to get 2020 first round selection Connor Zary signed before the end of 2020.
The quirk lies within one of the clauses governing entry-level contracts that’s known as “the slide rule.”
There’s two CBA sections that are key here. Article 9.2 defines the age of players as it relates to their entry-level signings:
As used in this Article, “age,” including “First SPC Signing Age,” means a Player’s age on September 15 of the calendar year in which he signs an SPC, regardless of his actual age on the date he signs such SPC.
Zary was 18 years old on September 15 – he turned 19 on September 25 – so if he signs his ELC before the end of 2020, his “First SPC Signing Age” will be 18.
This matters because of Article 9.1:
(d) (i) In the event that an 18 year old or 19 year old Player signs an SPC with a Club but does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the first season under that SPC, the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for a period of one (1) year, except that this automatic extension will not apply to a Player who is 19 according to Section 9.2 by virtue of turning 20 between September 16 and December 31 in the year in which he first signs an SPC. Unless a Player and Club expressly agree to the contrary, in the event a Player’s SPC is extended an additional year in accordance with this subsection, all terms of the SPC, with the exception of Signing Bonuses, but including Paragraph 1 Salary, games played bonuses and Exhibit 5 bonuses, shall be extended; provided, however, that the Player’s Paragraph 1 Salary shall be extended in all circumstances.
(d) (ii) In the event that a Player signs his first SPC at age 18 and has had his SPC extended pursuant to Subsection (i), and such Player does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the second season under that SPC, then the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for one (1) additional year. Unless a Player and Club expressly agree to the contrary, in the event a Player’s SPC is extended an additional year in accordance with this Subsection, all terms of the SPC, with the exception of Signing Bonuses, but including Paragraph 1 Salary, games played bonuses and Exhibit 5 bonuses, shall be extended; provided, however, that the Player’s Paragraph 1 Salary shall be extended in all circumstances.
In other words: if Zary signs before the end of 2020, he’ll be considered an 18-year-old signing. If he doesn’t play 10+ NHL games in 2020-21, his deal slides automatically. He’s probably headed back to junior this season regardless, so that’s a moot point. But the second subsection stipulates that if that automatic slide happens in his 18-year-old season and he doesn’t play 10+ NHL games in 2021-22, his 19-year-old season, a second slide happens – even if he’s playing in the American Hockey League.
In essence, Zary’s three year ELC can become a four year ELC (with a “free” first season of development) if he signs before the end of 2020. Zary receives his signing bonuses anyway and makes money as a pro player in 2021-22, but the Flames get a free year of development within the entry level system. Because the signing bonus was already paid, it’s removed from the calculation of the annual cap hit and so the cap hit dips slightly – presuming Zary gets a “standard” ELC, the cap hit would drop to about $894,166 – and that makes it easier to fit Zary into the Flames roster cap-wise going forward. (Everybody seems to have an incentive to sign.)
If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Flames did this recently with Oliver Kylington (who got two slide years of free development in the AHL) and Rasmus Andersson (who got one free year). It’s a nice incentive for teams to sign players with “late” birthdays between September 16 and December 31 of the draft year.
For the curious, Zary was the 24th overall selection in last week’s draft and 23rd overall pick Tyson Foerster signed with the Philadelpha Flyers this week, giving a preview of what we can expect with Zary’s ELC. Foerster received a three year deal at the rookie salary cap ($925,000 per season) but received no performance bonuses. Whenever Zary signs, he’ll probably receive the exact same deal.