On June 22, 2016, the NHL released the official information on the expansion draft. In the weeks leading up to that release, there was confusion over what the exact requirements would be for a player to be considered exempt. The language released by the NHL did not do much to clear up that confusion.
Specifically, the question many Red Wings fans have been debating is: Will Anthony Mantha be exempt? If so, the Wings would be able to protect another player, an obvious boon to the team's ability to protect their young talent.
I've spent time today combing through the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) with help from JJfromKansas. The short version is that everything that is in the CBA points to Mantha being exempt and nothing points to him not being exempt.
Here's the detailed version:
NHL Rules for exemption
Here is the language from the NHL release:
All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club's applicable protection limits).
The key question is "What defines a professional year?" Let's go to the CBA.
What does the CBA say?
There are four relevant sections to this question. Technically the last two answer the specific question about a player's "professional experience," but the first two sections define a player's age in the same way as the last two.
Article 8 - Entry Draft
8.10 Age of Players. As used in this Article, "age 18" means a Player reaching his eighteenth
birthday between January 1 next preceding the Entry Draft and September 15 next following the
Entry Draft, both dates included; "age 19" means a Player reaching his nineteenth birthday by no
later than September 15 in the calendar year of the Entry Draft; "age 20" means a Player reaching
his twentieth birthday by no later than December 31 in the calendar year of the Entry Draft; "age
21" means a Player reaching his twenty-first birthday by December 31 in the calendar year of the
Entry Draft; and "age 22" means a Player reaching his twenty-second birthday by December 31
in the calendar year of the Entry Draft.
According to this, since Anthony Mantha was 18 on September 15, 2013 (turning 19 the next day), he was considered 18.
Article 9 - Entry Level Compensation
This article covers a player's first contract, and contains the "entry level slide" provision that Kyle wrote about at the beginning of last season.
Here's the relevant section:
9.2 Age of Players. As used in this Article, "age," including "First SPC Signing Age," means
a 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.
SPC is Standard Player Contract, which is further defined in Article 11 of the CBA. So, here again, Anthony Mantha was considered 18 when he signed his SPC, since he was 18 on September 15 of that year.
Article 10 - Free Agency
Because of the formatting, I'm just including a screenshot of the relevant section here:
The important part is the paragraph after the table. You've probably seen this referenced in articles about this topic. Basically, a player who is 18 or 19 accumulates one pro year if he plays 10 or more games in the NHL.
The vital part here is how that age is determined. It is not the players age during the season, but it is defined by his age when he signed his SPC. Anthony Mantha turned 19 on September 16, 2013 (the year he signed his contract), not 20. Mantha was considered 19 in 2014-15 when he played in the AHL, and he did not play any games in the NHL that year, so that year does not count as a year of professional experience according to this section.
Article 12 - Salary Arbritration
I'm sure you won't be surprised to see this by now, but Article 12 is consistent with the other articles above in regards to a player's age being determined by his age at September 15 in the year he signs his Entry Level Contract. Here is the relevant section:
So, here "professional experience" is defined the same way as earlier.
So Mantha is exempt?
I can't say for sure that he will be exempt, but everything in the CBA says he should be. The NHL could change the guidelines, but every mention of determining a player's "professional experience" as well has his age for other sections of the CBA says that Mantha qualifies for exemption.
Here's a quick summary:
1. Players with two years or fewer of "professional experience" are exempt from the expansion draft.
2. Anthony Mantha was 18 on September 15, 2013, the year he signed his contract. According to the CBA, that is the determining factor in his age, not his actual age at any point during the season.
3. Because of #2 above, Mantha's AHL season in 2014-15 did not count as a year of professional experience, since his "CBA age" was 19. He did not play in the NHL, so he didn't accumulate a year of professional experience that way.
4. This past season will count as his first year of professional experience, since he was "CBA age" 20.
5. Since next year will count as his second year of professional experience, Anthony Mantha should qualify for exemption from the NHL expansion draft.
Unless the NHL changes the rules.
UPDATE: An article written June 25 by Greg Wyshynski for Puck Daddy features a discussion of this topic. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has two quotes in the article that appear to support what I laid out above.
One thing we know, for sure: "It's really professional experience under NHL contract," said Daly.
Again, the CBA defines "professional experience" in a specific way, as detailed in Article 11 and 12.
In response to a question about the rule used to determine a player's exemption, Daly had this to say.
"It depends on a player's age. And you're talking about players that are under NHL contract. It's really professional experience under NHL contract," he said. "There are different standards for 18 and 19 year old players than there is for a 20 year old when it comes to pro years."
Once more, this is in line with my interpretation of the relevant sections of the CBA. Beat writers for several teams are still saying that players like Anthony Mantha and Ryan Pulock of the New York Islanders will not be exempt, but I have yet to see a reason stated.