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The CBA & the 2013 NHL Draft

by Thomas Drance / Vancouver Canucks
The 2013 NHL Draft, taking place in Newark this Sunday, will be a fascinating marathon.

As a result of the lockout which shortened the 2012-13 campaign, this year’s draft will take place all on one hectic day, a departure from the two-day event we’ve come to know.

The 2013 draft will also mark the first entry draft to be run under the rules of the newly agreed upon 2013 NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement (CBA). If you care to look that document over, you can download a copy of it from the NHLPA’s website.

The NHL Draft is a time for teams to think about their long-term trajectory and plans. This is a major reason why the event has historically resulted in a flurry of transactions and player movement.

Beyond that truism, there’s an additional correlation of unique forces at work which could make the 2013 draft one of the busiest hockey news days in recent memory. Consider that the 2013 draft class is very highly regarded for the quality and depth of talent available, while the 2013 free-agent class is kind of the opposite. Not only are there fewer options available to clubs on the free-agent market this summer, but with the upper level of the salary cap descending (from 70.2 million to 64.3 million this offseason), many of the traditional “cap ceiling” teams will be hard pressed to find room for some of the bigger name free-agents.

Theoretically a deep draft class gives rebuilding clubs additional incentive to take on future assets, while a weak free-agent class and the descending salary cap may incentivize “win now” teams to be more aggressive on the trade market.

There are also a variety of fascinating new devices in the 2013 CBA – devices like “retained salary transactions” and “compliance buyouts” – which could further lubricate player movement on June 30th. Teams are aware that they have a variety of new player management tools at their disposal; for example, in a Team 1040 interview Canucks assistant general manager Laurence Gilman recently – and rather colourfully – described these sorts of devices as “weapons… in the arsenal of the collective bargaining agreement.”

Beyond potentially impacting the transactional volume of draft day, rule changes regarding the NHL draft process in the new CBA could have an impact on draft strategies employed by various clubs, and by the Canucks in particular.

Specifically, I’ll be extremely curious to see how Mike Gillis and the Vancouver Canucks front office handle their late round picks this year. During his tenure as Canucks general manager, five of Mike Gillis’ sixteen “late round selections” (which we’ll define as picks occurring in the fourth round or later) were players bound for the NCAA. That includes all three of the teams late round picks during the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh (Ben Hutton, Wesley Myron and Matthew Beattie).

After last year’s draft, while addressing the media, Gillis shed some light on the club’s late-round draft strategy:

“In the fourth round and beyond we like to select players who are going into a college program to develop for a few more years. It gives you more opportunity and more development time.”

Under the 2005 NHL CBA – which Gillis has operated under for the entirety of his tenure through to this most recent season – drafting college bound players was the only way to retain “exclusive negotiating rights” to an “unsigned draft pick” for four years (so long as that player remained a “bona fide student”). Meanwhile teams would only retain the exclusive negotiating rights to international or CHL players for two years. To summarize simply: under the previous agreement, if a team drafted an NCAA player (or an NCAA bound player) they’d receive a longer timeline for which to evaluate that player before deciding to sign him to one of their fifty available contracts.

Under the rules pertaining to the entry draft in the 2013 NHL CBA, teams will still retain exclusive negotiating rights to NCAA (or NCAA bound) players aged 18 or 19 for four years, so long as that player remains a “bona fide student.” But there’s also a new type of player that teams will retain the exclusive right of negotiation to under the new CBA: international prospects (or in the language of Aritlce 8.6 (d): players drafted from a club outside North America).

Of course, it’s not quite so simple. A player has to be aged 18 or 19 for a club to retain his negotiating rights “through and including the fourth June 1st following his selection.” But the point remains: where a year ago the Canucks admittedly looked to the NCAA to find draft eligible players whose rights they would retain for four years, the team can now look abroad for those players as well.

All told this very probably won’t mark a significant departure for the Canucks late round draft strategy, after all, the club has used five of their sixteen late round picks to select international players during the Mike Gillis era as well.

But in a fluid industry it’s a change worth noting, and one we shouldn’t be surprised to see the Canucks take full advantage of in Newark on Sunday.

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