The no-trade clause — and its more stubborn sibling, the no-movement clause — is one of the tools that NHL general managers use to secure talent, and then bemoan its existence when attempting to move or acquire talent.
Like every other contractual issue facing the League, it's a problem of their own making, but one that's blamed on the avarice of the players and systemic flaws in NHL economics.
For hockey fans, frustrations with a no-trade clause are rarely seen as the players' fault -- even Roberto Luongo has escaped the ire, despite limiting his options to Florida and the Panthers. He was given a contract with those terms, mutually agreed upon, and then wields that power to prevent or direct a trade when the Vancouver Canucks decide to move him.
That blame shifts to the player if they've requested a trade and then stubbornly refuse to broaden their options — see Dany Heatley or, increasingly, Rick Nash — or when a player refuses to move despite having compelling reasons to do so — see Ray Whitney's leveraging at the trade deadline or Mats Sundin's refuse to "take one for the franchise."
Mike Brophy of Sportsnet wants to see the end of them in the next CBA, citing the Sundin flap:
No-trade and no-movement clauses suck the life out of the NHL. Big trades in the NHL used to be commonplace, but with each passing year trade deadline day becomes more and more anti-climactic. For weeks leading up to the deadline we are bombarded with potential deals that could take place (my pal Bruce Garrioch in Ottawa single-handedly trades half of the league in his daily column) only to see fewer and fewer deals of any significance consummated.
Blockbuster trades! And, like, lots of them! Which is great news for media with trade deadline shows to fill … and slightly less-than-great news for players seeking stability and consistency in a business that treats them like cattle.
But what about the fans: Do we like or dislike no-trade clauses?
We ask because Ian Mendes did in the Ottawa Citizen, in an interesting piece on what the fans want from the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. On putting an end to the current no-trade clause rules:
For a passionate hockey fan, there is nothing more frustrating than watching your favourite player demand a trade — and then get to hand-pick his destination. The Dany Heatley and Rick Nash trade demands turned into drawn-out sagas because the two players held all the cards. A no-trade clause used to be about making sure a player stayed in a city, but now it has morphed into giving him a choice of his next destination. My proposal would be to allow a player to choose 10 cities where he would not be willing to play. If a player has a no-trade list that is longer than 10 teams, then maybe it's time to talk about contraction.
I don't agree with Mendes's assessment of the changing standards of the no-trade clause. It was always about limiting options in case a team attempted to trade the player; i.e., giving the employee a voice in the separation process, and in most cases dictating terms. It feels like the intent of the NTC has shifted because we see so many GMs going back on their perceived "word" not to deal them.
This arrangement described above already exists in some cases, but doesn't speak to whether the NTC is good or bad for hockey.
I feel it's good, despite its frustrations, because it offers an added layer of protection to the player (and his family, says the father of a 2-year-old daughter) that the team can't simply drop a trade bomb in Year 2 of an 8-year deal without some level of trepidation or negotiation.
(Unless of course you're signing with the Philadelphia Flyers, in which case a dozen-year term or a no-trade clause is no match for Paul Holmgren.)
Yes, they've put a damper on player movement, as have long-term contracts. But in both of those cases, they've also (a) aided some of the NHL's weaker franchises in attracting and/or retaining talent and (b) therefore have helped maintain parity.
Would you like to see the no-trade clause dealt away in the next CBA?