Contracts. The never ending topic of discussion. We live with it in our day to day life but it is prominent in the sports’ world where professional athletes are tied to teams through contracts. Depending on the league and the sport, they differ ever so slightly but in the NHL, they are all relatively similar in nature. You have the rookie contract or Entry Level (ELC) which comes with its own cap limit, then it’s open season for players to start making their big bucks. Like anywhere else, some are more fortunate than others and while most is based on talent, other factors such as the General Manager you’re negotiating with can have an impact on the money, term and even clauses attached to that contract.
Unlike the NFL, the NHL has guaranteed contracts. There is a buyout period each year where teams can break the contract by paying out ⅔ of the money to the player, but this comes with serious salary cap implications. Other than that, teams cannot terminate a contract unless it is mutually agreed with the players and approved by the league. This represents a huge security for the player, particularly on a long term contract. If a player signs for $20 million for four years, he is pretty much guaranteed that $20 million, unless the teams buys him out down the road, in which case he will receive ⅔ of the money owed to him at that time.
Special clauses and bonuses
In a competitive market where attracting UFAs is at times difficult, General Managers and players’ agents got creative and decided to place some clauses to contracts. First, there was the No Trade Clause (NTC), where teams could not trade a player without his consent. When in trouble, teams got around that by burying those contracts in the minors so they came out with the No Movement Clause (NMC). With that clause attached to a contract, not only can’t teams trade the player, but they can’t send him to the minors either.
General Managers are experts at tying their own hands. When they’re not handing money hand over fist to players who are not worth that much, they will take any competitive edge they can. We had another example of that when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet last year. They front loaded the contract where $21 million was being paid to the player within the first year of the contract, mostly through bonuses. Carolina matched but that’s not how they like to do business, usually staying away from signing bonuses.
It is my humble opinion that for the good of the game, it should be one or another. Not both. Either contracts are guaranteed or you allow such clauses to contracts. Also, bonuses should not exist. If you truly want to make it a level playing ground, rich teams should not have the advantage of paying most of the contract up front, or through large lump sums.
Current NMC and NTC
As it stands today, there is a total of 173 NHL players with some sort of NTC or NMC attached to their contracts. This represents about 24% of the current NHL players having a say about if, when and where they might be traded. Some General Managers are more “guilty” or “susceptible” than others to handing out such clauses. Doug Armstrong in St. Louis has 10 players with a NTC or NMC. At the other end of the spectrum, Pierre Dorion in Ottawa only has one. It is important to note that St. Louis has a lineup filled with veterans who have been in the league for a long time. Ottawa is in the middle of a complete rebuild, with one of the league’s youngest teams. As you don’t hand out such clause to players on Entry Level Contracts (ELC), Ottawa’s numbers are on par with a rebuild.
This leads us to the possible correlation between players’ age and contract clauses. Is there a correlation? The Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning have the third oldest team in the NHL. They are tied for second with the most contracts with clauses with nine. Since St. Louis won the Stanley Cup two years ago, perhaps it’s a deciding factor? Not so fast… Also tied with Tampa with nine contracts with clauses, are Jim Benning‘s Vancouver Canucks, who have never won the Cup, and Kyle Dubas‘ Toronto Maple Leafs, who haven’t won since… 1967.
Contract clauses and players age
For the most part, there seems to be a link between the average age on a team roster and the number of clauses on that team’s contracts. The older the average age, the more likely the team will have more players with clauses but there are exceptions. St. Louis is 15th in the league in average age yet, first in contracts with clauses. The Leafs also have 10 and they are 11th in age. Also, the Detroit Red Wings are surprisingly second in the NHL in age, but only have four contracts with such clauses. Basically, it’s not a perfect science, far from there. Let’s have a look.
In Edmonton, it is important to notice that neither Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, arguably the two best players in the entire NHL, have clauses to their long-term contracts.
Marc Bergevin went on a signing spree this off season. While he didn’t go after “old” veterans, he did secure the services of Joel Edmundson (27) and Tyler Toffoli (28), he also added Alexander Romanov (20) on time for the COVID Cup playoffs. Bergevin did secure the services of three young veterans in Josh Anderson (26, a year older than Max Domi), Jeff Petry (32) and Brendan Gallagher (28).
The Canadiens’ average age is 27.05, good for 10th youngest team in the NHL. Only Carey Price, Gallagher, Petry, Chiarot and Edmundson have a clause on their contract. Price has a full NMC while Gallagher has a NMC for this season, then a modified NTC – 6 team no trade list – with a NMC (can’t be buried in the minors) thereafter. Petry has a similar clause as Gallagher but it’s a 15 team no trade list. Edmundson and Chiarot have an identical clause of 10 team no trade list. It is important to note that neither Anderson or Toffoli have a clause on their new contract.
So there you have it folks. For more on contracts situations, I highly recommend Capfriendly.com, one of my prefered source of information. In the meantime, get ready for snow as it is falling where I live in the beautiful BC mountains. Go Habs Go!