How does the NHL collective bargaining agreement relate to NCAA players?

Justin Schultz is one example of an NCAA player who used the NHL's CBA to leverage his negotiating rights.

A cheat sheet to understanding the NHL collective bargaining agreement and why it's important for NCAA hockey players and fans.

College hockey is putting more players into professional hockey than ever before, and every season there are questions regarding the NHL collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and how it relates to college hockey. While I don't claim to be an expert on this topic by any means, I've covered quite a few players the past few seasons with odd situations where we've had to ask for clarity on the CBA and how it plays a role in deciding when players stay and leave the NCAA ranks.

With that in mind, I've put together a cheat sheet of sorts to hopefully shed some light on some common situations that will arise over the next few days, weeks and months as teams are eliminated from NCAA contention. Since the CBA is 517 pages long, hopefully this will help answer some questions you may have in a much easier fashion.

There are a few things to consider with every player when evaluating his status. Three of the most important include if the player was drafted, the age of the player if he was drafted and how old the player will be when he's going to sign his first entry-level contract (ELC).

Draft age

A player who turns 18 on or between January 1 and September 15 in the year they are drafted are considered to be drafted at age 18, regardless of the actual age of the player the day of the Entry Draft.

A player reaching his nineteenth birthday by no later than September 15 in the calendar year of the Entry Draft the player is selected will be considered drafted at age 19.

Players who turn 20 in the calendar year (January 1 through December 31) in which they are drafted are considered to be age 20 players.

For example, if Jeff Jones is drafted in the 2014 Entry Draft and turns 20 on August 15 of 2014, he is considered an "age 20" player, even though he was drafted when he was actually 19.

Age when a player signs his first contract

The age of the player when they first sign a contract is important because the length of the contract term varies for players of different ages. Players signing their first standard player contract (SPC) are bound to the entry-level system. Most players would like to get out from the entry-level system as quickly as possible, as it limits the amount of money they can make during that period.

According to Article 9.1 of the CBA, players who sign their first SPC between the ages of 18 and 21 are bound to a three-year contract. Players who sign their first SPC between the ages of 22 and 23 sign two-year contracts, while players who sign at the age of 24 sign one-year contracts. Players age 25 and older are not bound to the entry-level system and therefore have no limits on the years or compensation amounts.

According to Article 9.2 of the CBA, the age of the player is defined as the 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.

How long do teams hold the rights of players they have drafted?

This can be a little tricky based on the things we've previously discussed as there are rules for different players depending on how old they were when they are drafted, and how long ago they were drafted. I'm going to attempt to make the language as easy as possible so that it makes sense for all of us.

  • Example 1: A player is drafted at age 18 or 19 and is either a college student at the time of his draft, or becomes a college student prior to the following June 1. Basically, this example includes players who were drafted as college freshmen, or players who were drafted in high school but enroll in college immediately the next year.

    Examples include Joseph LaBate, who was drafted out of high school by the Vancouver Canucks and entered Wisconsin as a true freshman the next fall, as well as Jake McCabe, who was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres following his freshman season at Wisconsin.

    In this case, the NHL club will retain the rights of the player for exclusive negotiation through August 15 following the graduation of his college class provided he remains a college student through at least the start of his senior season.

    If the player drafted under these circumstances leaves school prior to his senior season, his drafting Club shall retain exclusive rights for the negotiation of his services until the fourth June 1 following his selection in the Entry Draft.

    Either way, a player drafted under this scenario can't become a free agent until the summer following their senior season.

    Other Wisconsin player(s) who fall under these rules: Nic Kerdiles (Anaheim Ducks), Grant Besse (Anaheim Ducks), Jedd Soleway (Phoenix Coyotes), Joe Faust (New Jersey Devils), Michael Mersch (L.A. Kings), Brad Navin (Buffalo Sabres).

  • Example 2: A player is drafted at age 18 or 19 and becomes a college student prior to the second June 1. This is for players who play one season of hockey in juniors or elsewhere following the year they are drafted and don't enter college until the next season.

    An example of this is Justin Schultz, who was drafted in 2008 by the Anaheim Ducks, but spent the 2008-09 season playing in the BCHL. Schultz came to Wisconsin the following season, prior to the second June 1.

    Like the previous scenario, the NHL club will retain the rights of the player for exclusive negotiation through August 15 following the graduation of his college class provided he remains a college student through at least the start of his senior season.

    The difference between the two examples is when a player decides to leave school early. According to Article 8.6(c)(iv) in the CBA, the drafting club shall retain exclusive rights for the negotiation of his services until the later of: (a) the fourth June 1 following his selection in the Entry Draft, or (b) thirty (30) days after NHL Central Registry receives notice that the player is no longer a bona fide college student.

    What that means is a player in Schultz's shoes can become a free agent after three years in college because he spent a year following his draft playing junior hockey. The fourth June 1 following the year he was selected in the Entry Draft is the summer after his junior season. This rule in the CBA allowed Schultz to become a free agent and sign with the Edmonton Oilers.

    Wisconsin player(s) who fall under these rules:
    Eddie Wittchow (Florida Panthers).

  • Example 3: A player drafted at age 20.

    In the scenario that a player is drafted at age 20, and that player is either a college student at the time of his selection or becomes a college student while his drafting club retains exclusive rights, then his drafting club shall retain his rights until the second June 1 following the date of his selection according to Article 8.6(c)(v).

    That means a player drafted at age 20 can potentially become a free agent after only two years in college.

    With that in mind, the club will still retain exclusive negotiating rights with the player through August 15 following the graduation of his college class should the player start his senior season.

    Wisconsin player(s) who fall under these rules: None

  • Example 4: College free agents

    The rules are pretty simple for college free agents, they are free to sign with any club. They are still signing their first SPC, which means they are bound to the entry-level system, but they can pick the best situation as they see fit.

    Wisconsin player(s) who fall under these rules: Mark Zengerle, Frankie Simonelli, Tyler Barnes.

How do these scenarios affect college players?

NHL teams walk a fine line in this process, allowing college teams to develop players for them at no cost to the franchise, while being fully aware the longer they let kids stay in school without signing the player to a contract, the more likely the chance they could lose the rights to the player.

Obviously it doesn't happen a lot, but as you know from the Schultz situation, teams can lose very high profile players to free agency if they aren't careful.

This is the reason why you see a lot of NHL teams making a big push to sign elite prospects who fall under scenario one and have completed their junior seasons. Those NHL clubs know if they allow a player to return for his senior season, he could eventually walk in free agency the following summer.

The same is true for players in scenario number two. Most likely the NHL club will make a push to sign that player following his sophomore season because they know he has the CBA rights to become a free agent following his junior season if he wishes to do so.

We don't see players drafted at age 20 very often, but they would fall under the same umbrella. If the NHL team feels they are worthy of being signed, they are going to want to lock them up before losing that player to free agency.

Entry-level compensation

According to Article 9.3(a) of the CBA, players signing their first SPC are bound to the following maximum salaries while they are in the entry-level system. If a player signs a three-year deal, he will be bound to this maximum salary for all three years of the contract.

Players may be paid a signing bonus of up to 10 percent of the maximum compensation correlating with the draft year of the player. That signing bonus is included in the maximum compensation for that season. The player will be paid the signing bonus for every year of the ELC.

DRAFT YEAR NHL MAXIMUM COMPENSATION
2005 $850,000
2006 $850,000
2007 $875,000
2008 $875,000
2009 $900,000
2010 $900,000
2011-22 $925,000

    Other things you should be aware of:

  • Burning a year: You'll hear the term "burning a year" a lot around this time. That has to do with the years on on the ELC for a player. Sometimes as an incentive to get a player to sign, an NHL team will "burn a year" to entice a player to sign with them.

    For example, let's take Simonelli. Since he's considered an age 21 player, he will be forced to sign a three-year entry-level contract with whatever team he ends up with. Normally, that contract would start next year with the 2014-15 season. In order to sweeten the pot since Simonelli is a free agent, a team may offer to sign him immediately following Wisconsin's season and "burn a year" so that that the first year of his contract actually starts this season. In that case, Simonelli would receive his signing bonus right away, and only have to wait two years until restricted free agency.

    Obviously NHL teams would like to keep players under the entry-level system as long as possible, so they don't like to burn a year if they don't have to. This is one negotiating tactic between agents and NHL clubs that is discussed regularly.

    Burning a year is not only used for college free agents, but players who are drafted as well. If an NHL team is seriously concerned about losing a player to free agency down the road, they may offer to burn a year for an underclassmen in order to get him under contract now.
  • ATO's: ATO's are a way for NHL teams to agree to contracts with players and have them play the rest of the season in the American Hockey League while not burning a year for the future.

    For example, after Wisconsin's season is over, a guy like Mersch could agree to terms with the Kings for next season with his three-year ELC starting for the 2014-15 season. A lot of times the NHL club would like the player to get his feet wet in the AHL at the end of this season, however, and they sign a player to an ATO for the rest of the AHL season to do so.
  • Was I able cover everything there is to know about the NHL collective bargaining agreement in relation to the NCAA? Of course not. With that said, I think this should cover the bases on a lot of players and situations that you will see arise over the next few weeks and months.

    Leave any questions in the comment section and I'll do my best to get you an accurate answer.

    For more hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter --
    You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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