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What exactly is a restricted free agent?

by Missy Zielinski / Tampa Bay Lightning

As the draft and free agency  approach for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the rest of the NHL, it’s time to tackle some of hockey’s trickiest topics. Today we uncover what exactly it means to be a Restricted Free Agent.


Because the restricted free agent (RFA) pool can get complicated, the most common RFAs in the National Hockey League consist of players who are no longer considered “entry-level,” but do not yet qualify as unrestricted free agents when their contracts expire.

Below’s table breaks down how much professional experience is needed to qualify as an RFA:

First SPC Signing Age Years of Professional Experience
18-21 years old* 3 years
22-23 years old 2 years
24 years or older 1 year

*Please note: If the player is 18 or 19 years old “Professional Experience” is defined as playing at least 10 games in the NHL. Players older than this gain “Professional Experience” by playing 10 or more games at any professional level (i.e. NHL, AHL, ECHL, European leagues).


The deadline for teams to send their RFAs qualifying offers is the day following the NHL draft (June 29). On that same date, RFAs can begin contract talks with rival teams. A qualifying offer is needed to retain negotiating rights to that player if they are given an offer sheet from a rival club. If a team does not send a qualifying offer to their RFA they become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) on July 1. Stipulations for qualifying offers include: offering at least a one-year contract and offer at least 100% of their previous salary.

Below’s table breaks down what a club must offer the RFA based on salary:

Player's Salary Qualifying Offer
$660,000 or less No less than 110% of player's salary
$660,001 -$952,380 105% of player's salary
$952,381-$999,999 $1 million in salary
$1 million or more 100% of player's salary
  • Player does not have to take amount offered in a qualifying offer. After the offer is made they can reject it and remain an RFA, while negotiating for another amount
  • A qualifying offer becomes a contract. If you sign it, you get the salary/years offered
  • Once free agency begins (July 1), if the player did not sign the qualifying offer with their respective team they are free to sign an offer sheet with any other club
  • Once a RFA signs an offer sheet they are no longer eligible to receive offer sheets from other clubs
  • If an offer sheet from a rival club is signed by an RFA, the team that owns their rights has seven days to match the offer
  • If a RFA is signed away via offer sheet from a rival club, the team that player was signed away from receives draft picks in compensation
  • Offer sheets are a rare occurrence. Since the salary cap was implemented in 2005 only eight NHL players have signed offer sheets. Of those eight players, Dustin Penner was the only player successfully signed away

(Forwards) Richard Panik, Alex Killorn, J.T. Brown, Ondrej Palat; (Defensemen) Andrej Sustr, Keith Aulie, Mark Barberio; (Goaltenders) Anders Lindback
Non-roster RFA’s: Brett Connolly, Cody Kunyk, Dmitry Korobov, Philippe Paradis, Geoff Walker, Charles Landry


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