What We Learned: The problem with NHL no-trade clauses

What We Learned: The problem with NHL no-trade clauses

(ED. NOTE: This published earlier, but the blog ate it. Here it is again.)

The problem with no-trade or no-movement clauses in NHL player contracts is that you have to give them out a lot.

This isn't so much a problem from the players' perspective obviously, because these clauses in their contracts give them significant power, but they do put teams in a tough spot. Today, Capgeek says 176 players currently under contract have at least some kind of no-trade in place — some of those have been waived already, and are therefore void, and others haven't kicked in yet — and that doesn't include a few who had them but ended up being on the receiving end of compliance buyouts. That's nearly six players per team, or almost one-third of a roster.

That's a lot of guys that you can't trade easily, and as you might imagine, these are high-cost contracts given to players who are usually quite valuable, and it is to some extent part of doing business. If teams can keep a good player's cap number down by $1 million or so by giving them such a contract feature, they seem to figure it should be worth it.

In the end, it's often self-defeating, as evidenced by the weekend's happenings. The first of these was obviously the trade that sent Ryan Kesler to a now-totally stacked Anaheim team for relative peanuts. Say what you want about the season Nick Bonino had last year — it was good, not great — but he's a 26-year-old who had a career year behind a pretty big jump in PDO. Luca Sbisa is a borderline NHLer. The 24th overall pick doesn't begin to help in the near term.

The reason for this is that though Kesler was by far the best player in the deal, Jim Benning simply had no leverage at all. Kesler had a straight no-trade clause, so unless he was going exactly where he wanted, he wasn't going anywhere. Bob Murray knew that. He consequently shorted the Canucks in terms of value because he knew he could. If this sounds familiar to Canucks fans, it might be because the same problem kicked up last winter when Roberto Luongo went to Florida and Vancouver got a bag of pucks in return.

Meanwhile, Jason Spezza seems to have shot down a trade that would have gotten him out of Ottawa and into Nashville, where he might have been a good fit. But Spezza has Nashville on his list of cities to which he cannot be moved if he doesn't want to, and his not-wanting to probably speaks to both that rumor that he didn't ask out Ottawa at all, and that he wants to play for a team with a chance to compete seriously for a Cup next year. But as with Kesler, the number of teams perceived to be able to do that and squeeze a player with his cap hit onto their roster is not likely to be high. The Senators, cash-strapped as they seem to be these days, would no doubt love to move that contract, but they can't. Spezza's conditions aren't easy to meet: No Canada, contenders only (this sentence is redundant, by the way).

So many other teams have learned this lesson the hard way in recent years as well. Calgary is probably chief among them. The Flames used to hand out no-trades like it was going out of style and look where it — plus a number of other organizational failings — got them. San Jose is currently finding it difficult with respect to moving Joe Thornton.

It gets back to that question of whether saving $1 million, maybe $2 million, on a restricted free agent — which is what both Kesler and Spezza were when they re-upped — is worth it to hamstring your chances to move an asset if things go sideways. You can bet Bryan Murray didn't give Spezza his current contract (seven years at a total cost of $49 million) thinking “Y'know, by the end of this, we could be awful and he might want to, or have to, go.”

Mike Gillis likewise probably didn't see things going south for Vancouver when they did. You can tell by how he built that roster overall. They might also have thought they'd kick the can down the road and maybe they wouldn't be in their jobs any more to begin with, so it would become someone else's problem.

Of course, that's not the way all general managers' have to give out no-trades and no-moves. Some have to provide them as a condition of netting a targeted unrestricted free agent. David Clarkson, for instance, isn't likely to go anywhere other than his current home of Toronto, because he currently has a modified no-trade clause (he can submit a list of 14 teams to which he cannot be traded), and a no-movement clause so he can't be put on waivers or sent to the minors. This also more or less prevents him from being bought out at any point.

Clarkson is an extreme example of this kind of thing going awry — especially because it did so pretty much immediately — but there are plenty of them around the league. They seem to come standard with the top free agents every year. That's because in addition to absurd term and money, they have the power to ask for assurances that they won't be shipped out as well.

It's the cost of doing business, if that's the way you want to do it. Most teams you'd consider successful in this league give them out to UFA acquisitions or RFAs they want to keep; Chicago and Boston are the only two teams currently in double digits, but San Jose has eight. As do Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Tampa, Montreal, New Jersey, and Minnesota have seven. More of these deals will be given out this summer. Bucking the trend somewhat, Dallas has nine for reasons that defy explanation.

But here's something that's interesting, and it bucks the trend the other way. The number of no-trades or no-moves given out by the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings? Possibly none. They currently have one contract on their roster that came with one: Mike Richards', which had yet to kick in at the time of his trade but may no loner apply because he accepted the move. This is just another way in which Dean Lombardi seems to be outmaneuvering everyone in the league, because with this kind of precedent in place for every player on the roster, no one is going to be able to demand one down the road.

If Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty don't have one, why should any other player get one? That's a very good way to manage things.

(The Sabres also don't have any at present, either. They just bought out Christian Ehrhoff's, and Tyler Myers' doesn't kick in yet. But when you're awful for years and your roster stinks, you don't usually have need of them. Likewise, Edmonton, Colorado, and the Islanders all have just two apiece at present.)

You have to wonder if at some point everyone else smartens up in this regard. Not having future flexibility to manage the roster in the way the general manager sees fit might not, in the end, be worth the few million in savings. Particularly if you're not realistically close to winning a Cup in the first place.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks might have gotten Nick Ritchie at No. 10, and traded for Kesler, but even with their new jerseys, their uniforms remain the worst in the league by a pretty wide margin.

Arizona Coyotes: That contract that everyone said was bad for an overrated player no one seemed to like? Didn't go how Don Maloney thought. Huh.

Boston Bruins: For the third year in a row, the Bruins drafted a locally-born area college player whose dad was once an employee of the organization. BU's Matt Grzelcyk has a dad who works on TD Garden's bull gang (as well as former assistant GM Jim Benning's son Matt, who plays at Northeastern, but he's from Alberta originally so it doesn't count), BC's Ryan Fitzgerald is son of long-time NHLer Tom, and now they've drafted Ted Donato's son Ryan, who will play for his dad at Harvard in two seasons.

Buffalo Sabres: Nice time to be Christian Ehrhoff. You got $22 million for wasting three years in Buffalo, you're guaranteed more than $850,000 every year until 2028 thanks to a kind of bizarre buyout, and you get to hit a free agent market with few other good defensemen as a 32-year-old. Everyone should want this guy.

Calgary Flames: Why on earth do you trade for Brandon Bollig? “We've talked a little bit about adding some size to our lineup,” said GM Brad Treliving. It's gonna be a long rebuild. It would be nice, too, if teams stopped taking on bad contracts from the Blackhawks just because they're the Blackhawks. That doesn't make players good.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes drafted Glen Wesley's son Josh, making him the first drafted player to have completely developed in North Carolina. Pretty cool. More will follow.

Chicago Blackhawks: Seems like Stan Bowman is going to cut Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane a pair of blank checks. These two getting paid more than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. I don't know about it.

Colorado Avalanche: New Avs prospect and first-round pick Conner Bleakley is a center, which could help calm things down in a few years if Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly end up walking. Until then, though, Bleakley is also how you should view the Avs' chances for success.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets re-signed Dalton Prout to a new two-year deal this weekend, which is curious because he's been pretty bad the last two seasons.

Dallas Stars: The Stars tried, unsuccessfully, to acquire one of Joe Thornton or Jason Spezza, but both players said they were all set with that.

Detroit Red Wings: Yeah, the Red Wings don't need Christian Ehrhoff. “Ehrhoff is younger — he turns 32 next Sunday — but while he’s very good offensively, and a great power play guy, he is also a high-risk guy in his own zone, not something the Wings need.” Christian Ehrhoff is exactly what the Red Wings need for a defense anchored by 72-year-old Niklas Kronwall. What are you gonna do? Bring back Kyle Quincey instead?

Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl is something the Oilers very much need. Even if they'd picked first overall they should have taken him. Good stuff outta Craig MacTavish, not that it was a hard choice or anything.

Florida Panthers: Who could have guessed that Ed Jovanovski contract wouldn't be any good?

Los Angeles Kings: See now the Kings are getting to the point of having too many decent fourth-line types to fit into their roster, which isn't a bad problem to have. We're drafting too many guys who can be NHL players oh no!!!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild pushing in for Jarome Iginla would be a supremely wise decision. Dude's still a difference-maker, and Minnesota's still a team that doesn't have enough of them yet.

Montreal Canadiens: Nice to see the Canadiens finally start to go small.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey TeamWhile adding a player like James Nealis a good job in theory, you have to wonder a) how much of Neal's production was a product of being wingman to Evgeni Malkin, and b) who the hell gets him the puck in Nashville? I really don't understand this deal from the Preds' point of view; is Neal going to give you more goals sans Malkin than Patric Hornqvist already was?

New Jersey DevilsCould've been worse. They could've not picked in the first round at all.

New York Islanders: You have to really like that first round outta Garth Snow. Michael Dal Colle could be a very nice complementary player for John Tavares, and Josh Ho-Sang got a raw deal straight through.

New York Rangers: The Rangers aren't likely to re-sign many of their free agents. This is a team that could flat-out stink next year. But they made the Cup Final almost out of nowhere. Totally worth it. Ask the Devils.

Ottawa Senators: The Sens say they're going to probably lower the asking price for Jason Spezza. Shocking turn of events.

Philadelphia Flyers: Great job out of Flyers fans this weekend, getting in their practice for when Steve Mason has a .907 save percentage next season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins don't seem eager to re-sign either Marc-Andre Fleury orPaul Martin just yet. Good call on the former, at least.

San Jose Sharks: Well this was inevitable. Given his GF% being north of 60 the last three years, and dramatically outdoing his CF%, someone should take a run at him on a low-cost deal. He might have something left to give.

St. Louis Blues: How do you get someone to trade you Carl Gunnarsson, who's not great or anything, for Roman Polak, who is definitively bad? Ah yes, you call the Maple Leafs and say the secret word (“Size.”). Right.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Straight salary dump of Jason Garrison to Tampa. He's a power play specialist on a team with Steven Stamkos. That's not going to go well for other teams.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Love the William Nylander pick. Love it.

Vancouver Canucks: Once they acquired Derek Dorsett, you had to think to yourself that maybe the Canucks are just trying to tank for McDavid or Eichel. Good luck catching the Flames and Sabres though!

Washington Capitals: The Capitals are eye-balling Matt Niskanen, which I don't see going well for them.

Winnipeg Jets: Yeah, everyone should want Jussi Jokinen. Jussi Jokinen is good.

Gold Star Award


Shout out to Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, and Sean Monahan for representing You Can Play at the Toronto Pride parade. Great stuff as always.

Minus of the Weekend  

Seems pretty awful to me that the TSN draft coverage spent all this time talking about the “adversity” Anthony De Angelo went through for allegedly insulting people with slurs while Josh Ho-Sang had to answer a bunch of questions about what a controversial figure he is for saying he'sfaced some harder treatment because he's black (and even after he walked back some of those comments, saying they were taken out of context). But no, hockey doesn't have a race problem. At. All.

The on-air people who are giving the former a pass and excoriating the latter should be ashamed of themselves.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week 

User Kesselmania is trying to right a wrong.

To Toronto- Vincent Lecavalier
To Philadelphia- David Clarkson (35% retained), Conditional 3rd 2015 (turns into 2nd if Leafs make the 2nd round)

I had no idea there was so much butt-touching in baseball.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here