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  • Writer's pictureRyan Lake

NHL Has A Unified Draft, But The Rules Don’t Treat Europeans The Same

The spotlight was as hot as the Texas sun during the NHL Draft.

The first round of the draft, held in Dallas this year, showcased the strength of the international game. For the first time in 19 years, the top three picks were all born outside North America.

The growth of European talent is immensely significant for the growth of the game; however, it is not widely known that European players are treated differently under the Collective Bargaining Agreement from their North American counterparts.

Teams that draft a player from a European club have exclusive rights to sign the player to a contract for four years. However, if the player is from a North American club, the NHL team has only two years of exclusive rights.

The National Hockey League faces the difficult challenge of having one unified draft for all prospects in the world. The complexities of hosting such an international experience have resulted in different treatment of players from North American teams and those coming from European clubs.

Different Treatment of Players from European Clubs

Section 8 of the NHL CBA governs the draft process. After a team drafts a player, he is placed on the team’s “Reserve List.” At that point, the club will have a window of time with the exclusive rights to the player. For players drafted from a North American club, the team will have two years to present the player with a “Bona Fide” offer of a Standard Playing Contract (SPC) to the player. However, if the player is selected from a club outside North America, the club has four years to offer the SPC.

If a player is not offered a “Bona Fide” contract offer within this window, the player is awarded several rights and, subject to certain clauses of the CBA, will either become an unrestricted free agent or be allowed to re-enter a future NHL draft.

Rasmus Dahlin, an impressive defenseman from Sweden, was the first overall pick. Dahlin becomes only the eighth European player to be chosen first overall. Since Dahlin played for Frölunda HC in the Swedish Elite League last season, the CBA provides the Buffalo Sabers a four-year window of exclusive rights to sign Dahlin. However, since Dahlin is an exceptional talent, he will likely sign an NHL deal in the near future and thus render the exclusive window rules moot.

Once a player signs an SPC, Section 9 of the CBA, which governs the regulations of the SPC, is invoked. Other players from European clubs, however, will have to understand and navigate the multitude of regulations in the CBA, including this Section 8 nuance.

Making the Move to North America

While the additional two years of rights are beneficial for the clubs, in many ways the additional time is a hindrance to the player. While on a team’s reserve list, the player is not free to negotiate with other NHL clubs. Many talented players get stuck on the reserve list of a team and ultimately have their NHL careers delayed; in some cases they are not able to make it to the league.

Athletes traditionally have fewer rights and power than workers in other employment situations. Players have very limited bargaining power while a club holds their rights, so the additional two years of rights have resulted in many agents advising their European players to move to North America before they become draft eligible.

One of the first European players to do this was Nail Yakupov, who left Russia to play in the Canadian Hockey League, for Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League. While this is not the only factor considered when picking a junior club, it has become a more significant element of the equation. Ultimately, the goal of agents is to get players a contract as soon as possible and to have the opportunity to maximize the market value of the player. The best way for agents to ensure that their European players are offered a contract within two years of being drafted is by having them move to a North America junior club.

Since the implementation of the new CBA in 2012, a total of 81 European players were selected in the first round. Of those players, 31 (or 38%) made the move to a North American club before the draft. Additionally, a total of 560 European players have been chosen in the draft, regardless of round, since 2012. Of those 560, 26% have made the move to a North American club before the draft. The following charts show a year-by-year breakdown.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”6006″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”6007″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row equal_height=”yes” content_placement=”middle”][vc_column][vc_column_text]While it is not surprising that the percentage of first-round picks who have moved to North America has regressed, since these players are likely offered an SPC shortly after being drafted, it is interesting that the rate of players making the move who are selected in later rounds has remained relatively consistent throughout the years.

This year’s draft has made it clear that European players will continue to have a tremendous impact on the NHL game for years to come. In fact, the number of European players drafted has increased in the last seven years. Now that this rule has been in place for several years, it will be interesting to see if more agents will advise their European players to move to North America to improve their bargaining power in future negotiations.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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