Alright, we’re getting into the meat of the CBA now. The good news is that most of the articles we’re going to dig into are pretty focused. Welcome back to CBA School.

Let’s dive into Article 10: Free Agency!

Article 10 focuses on the different ways players can be free agents. As you can imagine, they all fall into two big bins.

The four types of unrestricted free agents

Group 3 (Section 10.1(a)) is simple, as it refers to any player who has seven accrued years of service or is 27 or older when their standard player contract (SPC) expires.

Group 5 (Section 10.1(b)) refers to any player who has played 10 pro seasons (either in the NHL or the minors) and didn’t earn more than the league’s salary in the last year of their contract. This is the rarest type of UFA, as virtually everyone who would fit under his category would already fit in Group 3. If you’ve played 10 pro seasons and your SPC expires, you’re already at least 28 years old and qualify as Group 3 due to age alone.

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Group 6 (Section 10.1(c)) refers to any player who:

  • Is 25 or older when their contract expires, AND
  • Has played three or more pro seasons (defined as playing 10+ NHL games at age 18 or 19 and any games at age 20+), AND
  • Has played fewer than 80 NHL games (if a skater) or 28 NHL games (if a goalie) in their career

Group 6 is basically the “tweener NHLer” UFA category.

Finally, under Section 10.1(d), any player no longer eligible for the draft (as described in Section 9, usually due to age) and that isn’t already on a team’s reserve list is a free agent.

The three types of restricted free agents

Group 2 free agents (Section 10.2(a)) are the most common type of RFAs, and are generally what’s referred to when we think about RFAs.

So here’s how it works: when a player becomes a Group 2 RFA depends on their signing age (just like with ELC duration):

Signing Age
Group 2 eligibility after…
18-21
3 seasons
22-23
2 seasons
24 or older
1 season

Now, because this almost entirely matches up with the ELC duration chart, almost always a player will become a Group 2 RFA when their ELC expires. However, the exception is college players. Because a “season” only counts when an 18 or 19 year old plays 10+ NHL games or a 20+ year old plays pro games of any kind, a college player doesn’t get credit for a season under this category if they “burn” the first year of their contract unless they play 10+ games.

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Now, potential RFAs only become RFAs if the team gives them a qualifying offer, due the later of 5pm ET on June 25 or the Monday after the draft. (It’ll obviously be weird this year.) The amount of their qualifying offer depends on what their NHL salary is the year their contract expires, and the qualifying offer has to be a one-way (rather than a two-way) if they’ve played a certain number of NHL games over the past few seasons and haven’t cleared waivers.

If a player doesn’t receive a qualifying offer, they become a UFA.

Section 10.2(b) gets into the complicated world of Defected Players and Group 4 Free Agents. Basically, if a player is under contract to an NHL team and signs with an “unaffiliated team”, or has their negotiation rights held by an NHL team (either via the draft or their contact expiring and them becoming a pending RFA) and they sign with an “unaffiliated team,” they’re considered a Defected Player. A Defected Player becomes a Group 4 Free Agent when they meet a very convoluted set of criteria. Long story short: if a Group 4 Free Agent is given an offer sheet, the team holding their rights get right of first refusal, but don’t get any compensation if they choose not to match the offer. (Group 4 RFAs are exceptionally rare.)

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  • It’s not spelled out cleanly in the CBA, but in the cases of Defected Players like Spencer Foo or Linden Vey, the team holding their RFA rights retains them until the first July 1 where the player is 27 or older (e.g., old enough to qualify as a Group 3 UFA) as long as they received an initial qualifying offer.

Finally, Section 10.2(c) free agents are Group 2 RFAs that don’t meet the experience requirements. They’re not eligible to be signed to an offer sheet. (Johnny Gaudreau and Jon Gillies fell into this category.)

How offer sheets work

As detailed in Section 10.3, Group 2 RFAs can receive offer sheets for their services. The team holding their rights has seven days to match or decline to match after an RFA accepts an offer sheet. If they match, they keep the player. If they don’t match the offer, they get draft choice compensation from the team signing them.

Draft choice compensation for RFAs

The level of draft choice compensation, laid out in Section 10.4, is scaled based on the salary connected to the offer sheet. The salary scale is updated every season and scaled to salary inflation.

Here’s the 2019 scale:

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OFFER
COMPENSATION
$1,395,053 or below
None
Over $1,395,053 to $2,113,716
Third-round choice
Over $2,113,716 to $4,227,437
Second-round choice
Over $4,227,437 to $6,341,152
First-round and third-round choice
Over $6,341,152 to $8,454,871
First-round, second-round and third-round choice
Over $8,454,871 to $10,568,589
Two first-round choices, one second- and one third-round choice
Over $10,568,589
Four first-round choices

And that’s free agency!

Next up? Article 11, Rules and Procedures Governing Standard Player’s Contract! (It’s not as dry as it sounds.)