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Getting to Know the CBA - Episode 4, Part 1: Standard Player Contracts

Thanks to the incredible Stevie Roxelle for the new banner logo for GtKtCBA

Stevie Roxelle - @stevieroxelle - Biscuit Fox

We've made it through 10 of 50 articles to the NHL's new CBA and have covered how the draft works, what makes a free agent restricted or unrestricted, and why they have a CBA in the first place. Today, we'll look at one of the larger articles, this time dealing with how teams and players agree on the contracts which define how every team is put together.

You can find the entire CBA here (PDF)

Article 11 - Rules and Procedures Governing Standard Player's Contract

If you remember back to the end-game of the lockout, when the players voted in favor of allowing the NHLPA to disclaim interest, the NHL followed up by filing a lawsuit in federal court. This lawsuit asked(among tons of other things)the court to judge that, since all existing player contracts were signed under a collective bargaining agreement, that the lack of a CBA in place would make all of those contracts void.

Since the CBA got signed, the lawsuit went away and the court never rendered a judgment, but Article 11 here is basically the reason the NHL tried to accomplish this in the first place. As the CBA is a big contract between all the teams and all the players, it has an entire article dedicated to what can and cannot go in the little contracts between each team and each player. The argument is that, without a CBA, there would be no Standard Player Contract. Rules governing player contracts would be a loose collection of habits. Sure, many of them would have common language and most of them would be very similar, but a strict fill-in-the-blanks SPC used by every team without a CBA would be one of many things that would likely end up in antitrust lawsuits.

Personally, I don't feel that the lack of a CBA voids already-signed contracts so much as it clears the slate for future contracts to be non-standardized, but I'm not a federal judge and even if I were, the NHL withdrew the question before getting an answer anyway.

Ok, so lets' get to the actual article, huh? I'm going to break this one down section-by-section because there's a lot of them in here.

11.1 - Standard Player's Contract, Amateur Try-Out Agreement, Professional Try-Out Agreement

Article 11.1 explains that, going forward, the Standard Player's Contract (or a tryout agreement) will be the only thing the teams use for contracts with players and that the SPC may not be amended in any way. Any SPC that had previously been filed and approved under the old CBA would automatically be counted going forward, except they would be modified in any way this current CBA would say so (for instance, the lockout-shortened season created a lot of cases where proration would affect things). Tryouts are for emergency basis and are more heavily explained elsewhere. Section 11.1 points them where to look for how those one-day contracts work and holds the league responsible for registering them quickly enough to be used. Also, both NHL and NHLPA need to keep each other completely apprised of everybody on loan to Europe or on a tryout.

11.2 - Impartial Arbitrator/System Arbitrator

If there's ever a disagreement about a decision made in regards to Article 11, the grievance will go to arbitration (instead of court).

11.3 - Validity and Enforceability

No SPC is valid unless it's been filed with the Central Registry and approved by either the league or the arbitrator. Without an SPC (or try-out agreement), a player can't be paid by a team and can't play for them. There are some procedure-related exceptions, but they're expressly stated (meaning you can't imply a hypothetical situation that's not covered). Also, you can put a guy on waivers at the same time you're registering his contract.

11.4 - Signing Deadline for Group 2 Free Agent

If you can't get an RFA signed and the contract filed with Central registry by 5:00pm Eastern on December 1st, the contract is void and he'll remain an RFA who can't play that season.

11.5 - Filing and Approval Process

A club has to file their contract with Central Registry by 5pm the next day after signing. If we're within 7 days of the regular season all the way through the end of the league year (June 30), the league has until the end of the next day (5pm) to either approve & register the deal or reject it with a written explanation given to all parties as to why. Any other time, the league has 5 days to approve or reject the contract. Every day, the Central Registry will put out a bulletin outlining the changes made since the previous day.

If the league rejects an SPC, the NHLPA has the exact same timetable to initiate & explain their grievance, even down to the time frame based on whether the season is going on or not (1 day for during-season and 5 days for off-season, as explained just above). All grievances will be expedited.

Oh, and this is a passive-approval process. if the league doesn't say no to the contract before the deadline, it's good to go.

11.6 - Rejection of SPCs and/or Offer Sheets; Subsequent Challenge and/or De-Registration of SPCs and/or Offer Sheets

If the league rejects a contract because it goes over either the Salary Cap or the Maximum Player Salary, or because it involves a circumvention of either of those two things, the players rights are treated differently during a potential grievance. If it is for that reason, the arbitration should be finished within 48 hours. If for some reason (other than "The NHLPA is stalling") the arbitrator can't decide within 120 hours, the player can go on playing until a final decision is made. If the reason for rejection was anything else not related to a club's cap space or a player's maximum allowable salary, then the player can go on playing until the arbitrator decides without having to wait (note: this does not count for Offer Sheets, only SPCs)

If the arbitrator rules in favor of rejecting the contract (or the NHLPA doesn't fight the league's rejection in the first place), life goes on as though the contract was never signed. The Arbitrator may amend a contract to fit within the CBA if it's one of those "other" cases that doesn't deal with the Upper Limit or Maximum Player Salary (or can void it if that's more appropriate).

If the arbitrator rules in favor of the NHLPA during a grievance like this, the only thing that can be awarded is that the contract will be registered as of the date it should have been. If the player misses a games-played bonus by 1 game as a result of this, the arbitrator may decide to give the player that bonus. The arbitrator may not punish the league or award the player any extra money in such a case, nor may he/she do anything else which may legally help the player or harm the league.

If you're wondering whether an arbitration decision which carries over an important deadline screws over the team/player, the answer is no. That deadline is just extended 48 hours for that case (example: If an RFA signs on Dec 1st to be allowed to play that year & the league rejects the contract the next day, the player has an additional 48 hours to get a contract which won't get rejected. He doesn't have to wait another year to play again.)

11.6 (continued)

Just because the league approved a contract doesn't mean they can't go back and challenge/de-register if if they learn that it did involve a circumvention of the cap/maximum player salary. There's a difference between challenging and de-registering and it speaks to whether the league think the team did it intentionally, in that only upper limit circumventions can be challenged. In all cases, the player is allowed to keep playing while this gets resolved. If the league challenges the deal and wins an arbitration case (and I can't think why the NHLPA would file a grievance in this situation), then the onus falls to the team to become compliant.The player keeps his contract and his pay, his team is simply forced to do something to fit themselves within the cap before they can actually use that player.

If the league de-registers the contract because information has come to light, or perspective on the contracts has changed which showcases a circumvention*, then the same process as before takes place with respect for the time limits to arbitration and what happens depending on what the arbitrator rules. Since a player can continue playing during this process, the arbitrator may only rule as to whether the contract will become void or whether the league will re-register the contract.

*(as far as I can tell, when the league threatened to look back at other back-diving contracts during the saga which led to the Kovalchuk amendment, they were basically invoking this portion as if to say "We kind of didn't realize how much these were circumventions of the cap at the time and now that we do, we're going to threaten to de-register them if you don't agree to amend the rules regarding how AAV is calculated)

11.7 - Team Performance Bonuses

Clubs can't write bonuses into contracts other than those expressly laid out (entry-level players and players age 35+ on a one-year deal). Teams can't create team bonus plans.

11.8 - Individually Negotiated Limitations on Player Movement

No-Trade Clauses and No-Movement Clauses are only available for Group 3 Unrestricted Free agents. You can sign an RFA to a deal with a NTC or NMC that kicks in once they've hit the qualification to be a Group 3, but you're not bound to abide by the clause until the player reaches that defining threshold. Also, a team that trades for or makes a waiver claim on a player in this situation is not bound to honor that NTC/NMC. They can choose to, but they don't have to.

A player who signs an extension before his current deal is up can have a NTC/NMC become effective immediately if 1) he's eligible to have an No-Trade/Movement Clause and 2) both the player and the team agree. (Example: If Datsyuk didn't already have a NTC, the 3-year extension he just signed could have one that kicks in now, even though the true extension doesn't kick in until after next season.)

A No-Movement Clause cannot prevent a player from being bought out. It gives the player the option of choosing whether he will accept going on waivers prior to the buyout, but it can't stop the buyout from happening. (Vinny Lecavalier is a great example of this).

11.9 - General

  • You can't pay a guy in any way not permitted by Article 50 (Little Caesars can't pay Zetterberg $10M per season to play for the Red Wings at the league minimum salary).
  • If a way to pay a guy isn't listed in the CBA, the way the CBA is written can't be construed to say you can do that.
  • If the CBA and an SPC disagree, then the CBA rules, but only in matters where there's a disagreement. Benefits aren't duplicated by the separation of the CBA from an SPC.
  • Bonuses are to be paid in a timely manner.
  • No Club shall act in bad faith to deprive a player of rights or benefits under this Agreement or any current SPC or with respect to Deferred Compensation earned under a prior SPC (copied word-for-word)

11.10 - No Renegotiation

This one gets confused a lot, but it's very important. If an SPC is signed and registered, it can't be renegotiated for any reason. it can be voided by the reasons stated above and it can be changed in limited and specific ways because of arbitrator decisions, but you can't change the terms of a valid SPC.

11.11 - Conformity

This is a restatement of ideas from both 11.1 and 11.9. Previous SPCs are amended to conform with this CBA in any way they may previously not have been

11.12 - Minimum Paragraph 1 Salary

You cannot pay a player less than the minimum league salary. That salary is laid out year-by-year.

Season Minimum Salary
2012-13 $525,000
2013-14 $550,000
2014-15 $550,000
2015-16 $575,000
2016-17 $575,000
2017-18 $650,000
2018-19 $650,000
2019-20 $700,000
2020-21 $700,000
2021-22 $750,000

You also can't pay a minor league salary less than either $35,000 or the minimum Minor League salary.

11.13 - Option Clauses/Voidable Years

Nope, not allowed. In other sports, you'll sometimes see a team or player option to tack on or eliminate years at the end of a contracts. These are prohibited in the NHL. If you want to extend a guy, you have to do it the old-fashioned way of signing an extension.

- - -

I'm going to stop here. We're already at 2,000 words and the purpose of this project is to break something very large into somewhat short installments, not go into long-form. If you've got any questions which cover a topic here or one that you can think of that might not have been covered yet, just ask and we can go over it in the comments.

There are 8 more sections to Article 11 that we'll cover next week. These cover things like what happens if a club defaults on their obligation to pay a player and how specifically the league handles situations with players who have contracts to play overseas. After that, we'll go through Exhibit 1 and explain the Standard Player's Contract in more-specific detail.