NHL no-trade clauses are infuriating, but details matter

The Detroit Red Wings have been mismanaged into oblivion, but you knew that.

The Red Wings are currently over the salary cap. The injury exception for Johan Franzen will give them some relief, but they still have to sign Andreas Athanasiou, who is a restricted free agent. That they’ve committed this much money to this pedestrian a roster is baffling in several dozen ways, but here we are.

Yet the total cap number is almost a sidebar to the Red Wings’ biggest issue with this current roster: The comical number of no-trade clauses handed out to players that, in theory, should be available to hasten their rebuild.

The Red Wings have 10 players with no-trade clauses, tied for most in the NHL. Seven of them are attached to players over 30. All of them were handed out by GM Ken Holland, either to bait the hook for free agents or to help bring down the price for the players the Red Wings re-signed.

Colin Cudmore recently published a handy chart of all the no-trade clauses on all the teams in the NHL:

Justin Abdelkader is signed through 2023 with a manageable cap hit, but he has a full no-trade clause for the next three years. Frans Nielsen has one through 2022 that becomes a modified one in 2018, a byproduct of Holland’s sweetening the pot to sign him. Darren Helm and Jonathan Ericsson have them too, and we can only assume its because they had access to a secret British spy dossier on Holland.

But if you asked the Red Wings, or any NHL team, they’d tell you that the NTCs we all lament are unavoidable. The cost of doing business. The coin of the realm. You either give players trade protection, or you run the risk of overpaying them against the cap or not having their services at all if they’re prospective free agents.

Look, a lot of us see no-trade clauses as indefensible. They handcuff teams when the good times stop rolling, as players are able to block trades – which then leads to the excruciating hypocritical backlash against those players for simply utilizing one of the few contractual advantages they have, a trade clause that they earned in negotiations.

But from a team perspective, not all no-trade clauses are alike. The Red Wings are a good example of their misuse, so what about proper usage?

Take the Minnesota Wild, who have six of them. Two of them are for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, free-agent big fish for whom the clauses were mandatory. Another is for Mikko Koivu, because he’s Mikko Koivu, and he’s got one more year on that deal. Another is for Eric Staal, because the Wild had to convince him to come to Minnesota. It’s a modified one, so they’re not entirely stuck with him. Another modified one is for Jared Spurgeon. Another modified one is for Devan Dubnyk.

So the Wild have three full no-trade clauses, two of them used to land the biggest free agents of that summer, and three modified ones. Meanwhile, of Detroit’s 10 no-trade clauses, eight of them are full for next season.

The devil’s in the details.

Here’s my deal with no-trade clauses: Like most things in life, they’re healthy in moderation.

They’re basically mandatory for re-signing homegrown players.

As a free-agent enticement … you have to have some wiggle room. Say what you will about Ken Holland, but Frans Nielsen’s deal was for six years and four of them are under a modified no-trade clause that gives the Red Wings 21 team to whom he can be traded. (Maybe that’s why the $5.25 million for him still seems like overpayment – no full NTC discount.)

On the other hand, what is the possible rationale for Holland giving Trevor Daley two years of full trade protection on a three-year deal for a team that isn’t close to contending?

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning – which has its share of problematic no-trade protections – gave an idiotic two-year contract with an NTC to Dan Girardi, thus eliminating any chance of trading him for a fourth-round pick in 2019. In theory.

Then there are those no-trade clauses that are just empty calories. On the Lightning tip: Who cares if Chris Kunitz has one for one season? Or if Patrick Sharp has one with the Chicago Blackhawks for a year? These types of players aren’t getting traded anyway. This is like when an executive demands to have access to a company plane during contract negotiations and his boss is like “sure” because they actually sold the plane five years ago.

So no-trade clauses are, in the end, a necessary evil for general managers. It’s just how they limit the totality of that evil that matters.

Now, let’s get back to the real question: How do the Colorado Avalanche have just two players with no-trade clauses and yet they seemingly have player transaction paralysis?

(Ed. Note: Portion with the chart was edited for clarity.)

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.