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What does RFA mean?

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

All the talk today is about July 1 – the official start of unrestricted free agency in the NHL. It's a feeding frenzy every year, and with compliance buyouts making their way into the picture last summer, it's added another dimension to hockey's silly season.

In case you missed it, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to the team payroll range for 2014-15 over the weekend. The salary cap upper limit has been set at $69 million for next season, the adjusted midpoint is $60 million and the "cap floor" is set at $51 million.

The “interview period” for free agents, a new wrinkle in the latest collective bargaining agreement between the league and players’ association, opened last week and teams have been free to court targeted players while discussing general parameters for a deal. Nothing can be signed, of course, until after noon on Tuesday, but UFAs are only part of the free agency spectrum.

So, let’s talk about the restricted free agent, or RFA, as he’s more affectionately known.

Restricted free agency, or “Group 2 free agency” as its outlined in the collective bargaining agreement, is determined based on a player’s age on September 15 of the calendar year in which he signs a contract.

For example:

- A player aged 18-21 becomes RFA after three years professional experience

- A player aged 22-23 becomes RFA after two years professional experience

- A player 24 or older becomes RFA after one year of professional experience

Entry-level contracts (ELC) are structured as outlined above, which is why you’ll often see recently-drafted players sign three-year deals (typically age 18), college prospects sign two-year ELCs, and all others sign one-year ELCs.

The Blue Jackets did this with Finnish defenseman Ilari Melart, who was over the age of 24 when he signed his first NHL contract, which was a one-year ELC.

Qualifying offers – tendered by NHL teams to their pending RFAs in order to retain their rights, or “first right of refusal” – must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. ET on the first Monday following the NHL Draft. The amount and percentage raise for a qualifying offer depends on the annual value of a player’s expiring contract. Here’s the breakdown:

- Players earning $660,00-$699,000 annually receive a 10 percent raise on their QO

- Players earning $699,000-$999,000 annually receive a five percent raise on their QO (but cannot exceed $1 million)

- Players earning at least $1 million annually receive a QO equal to their annual salary

Qualifying offers are "on the table" for two weeks, according to the CBA:

"A Qualifying Offer shall automatically expire at 5:00 p.m. New York time on July 15; provided, however, that the Club may by written notice to Central Registry and the NHLPA, sent in accordance with Exhibit 3 hereof, provided on or before 5:00 p.m. New York time on July 15, extend the deadline for Qualifying Offer acceptance to a date (which must be a fixed and definitive calendar date) determined in its sole discretion."

If a player accepts his qualifying offer from the club, he is under contract for one more season at the value outlined above.

The Blue Jackets’ restricted free agents are as follows: Cody Goloubef, Jake Hansen, Oliver Gabriel, Sean Collins, Anton Blomqvist, Dana Tyrell, Ryan Johansen, Matt Frattin, Corey Tropp, David Savard, Tim Erixon, Will Weber.

And, their unrestricted free agents as of July 1: Jack Skille, Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau, Nick Schultz, Cody Bass, Matt Taormina, Frederic St-Denis, Mike McKenna, Patrick McNeill, Jeremy Smith, Paul Thompson, Carter Camper.

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