Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rules: Length of rights of draft picks in the NHL

Thank you to reader Tony for asking about the retention of draft picks. It's a good topic for a post. This area is more complicated than one would expect, and it's timely because tomorrow is one of the deadlines. How long a team retains the right of a draft pick is determined by what kind of league the player comes from: college, junior or European. The rules are found in Article 8 of the CBA (8.6 to be exact).

The rights of college players last until Aug. 15 of the year that the player's class graduates. If the player leaves school early, the team still holds his right for four years from the year of drafting (deadline to sign changes from Aug. 15 to June 1). This rule is designed to avoid players leaving school early and playing in the minors so that they can become free agents (see: Mike Van Ryn). The deadline to sign all of them used to be in June, but they moved it to August, which gives more leverage to teams I think because it's hard to find a job this late in the offseason. The rules above also applies to college-bound players, as long as they enter college within a year of being drafted. Blake Wheeler entered college two years after being drafted, which allowed him to become a free agent this summer and sign with whoever he wanted, which obviously was not Phoenix.

The rights of players drafted out of the Canadian Hockey League are retained for two years. The deadline to sign them is June 1. If they are not signed, then they generally go back into the draft. The exceptions here are for older draftees, but generally speaking this is what happens.

The rights of players drafted out of European leagues are supposed to be for two years to match the junior players (the CHL pressed for this in the last CBA because they thought junior players were being underrepresented in the draft). This worked fine for the first couple of years after the 2005 CBA until the IIHF agreement fell apart. Now, since there is no IIHF agreement, the NHL has decreed that the unsigned European draft picks are all "defected" and thus teams retain the rights until it says so. We're kind of in a holding pattern now. As this drags out, reality drifts back to the previous CBA timelines which held rights through a player's prime years.

But the Canadian junior leagues certainly got what they wanted in any case -- fewer Europeans and more junior players are being drafted. And now they're talking about eliminating Europeans from play in their own leagues. If that happened, the consequences would be huge. But it seems unlikely to happen due to the amount of money involved right now. But that's a topic perhaps for another time.

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