Skip to main content
The Official Site of the San Jose Sharks

Understanding Free Agency in the NHL

by Alex Aragon / San Jose Sharks
Each July 1st – known to our neighbors north of the border as Canada Day, the day that commemorates Canada’s unification as a country in 1867 – hockey fans throughout North America celebrate the beginning of the NHL’s free agency period. To help Sharks fans understand some of the roster changes they might have heard about or might see on, we have compiled some FAQs on Free Agency in the NHL.

Q: What is the difference between Restricted Free Agents and Unrestricted Free Agents?

A: This offseason, Sharks players who are not already under contract for the 2009-10 season fall into two groups: Group II Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) and Group III Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs).

The NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) outlines specific criteria for RFAs and UFAs based on each player’s accrued service, age and other metrics, then places each player into subgroups as detailed. Each group has different rules governing their free agent status, however the most basic difference between the two groups pertains to negotiating rights – specifically offer sheets and qualifying offers – which is explained below.

To review a copy of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, follow the link.

Q: I read on Monday that Ryane Clowe, Thomas Greiss, Torrey Mitchell and Brad Staubitz were all issued Qualifying Offers, but eight other players were not. How do QOs apply to a player’s RFA or UFA status?

A: Per the NHL’s CBA, in order for the team to protect a player’s RFA status, the organization must issue that player a QO. The player then has the right to sign the QO, continue contract negotiations with the current club, or may sign an offer sheet after July 1 with another NHL club.

If a player signs an offer sheet with another club, the original club that protected that player’s rights has the option to match the offer sheet and retain the player’s services. If they choose not to match the offer sheet, the original club is awarded compensatory draft picks depending on the annual salary detailed in the offer sheet.

If a player is not issued a QO, that player becomes a UFA on July 1, free to sign with any club without any compensation or matching ability from that player’s previous club.

Q: I was looking at the ROSTER section on and I noticed several players are missing. Why is that?

A: Beginning July 1, Unrestricted Free Agents will be automatically removed from the roster section by the NHL’s Central Registry database and teams will not be able to re-add players to the roster section until each player has a contract on file with Central Registry.

This is not an indication that a specific player will not return to the club, it simply indicates that the player in question is not currently under contract with an NHL team per the League’s Central Registry database and thus cannot be listed on a member club’s website.

Also beginning July 1, Restricted Free Agents who have been issued qualifying offers will be automatically removed by the Central Registry database, but teams will be able to re-add players (at the team’s discretion) to the roster section until a final contract is filed with Central Registry.

Q: The Sharks have signed an Unrestricted Free Agent already, but that player is not showing up in the ROSTER section. What gives?

A: The Sharks Roster section on is populated by the names in the NHL’s Central Registry database. The database refreshes automatically each morning at 6:00 AM (Pacific), then the updates are pushed out to member clubs’ Websites shortly thereafter.

If the Sharks have signed a player and that player is not yet showing up in the roster section, it is likely because the NHL’s database has not been refreshed in time for the Website to reflect the current update. Pending the 6:00 AM refresh the following morning, the current roster will reflect what is on file with Central Registry.

For additional questions on the NHL's Free Agency Period and specific player updates, visit the Official Sharks Twitter Feed (available at or and send @replies with your questions.


NHL Network in the U.S. will have six hours of live coverage to celebrate the opening of the NHL's free agency period at 9:00 AM (all times Pacific) on July 1. The hockey experts from NHL Live! will get things started with two hours of news, analysis, interviews and viewer phone calls beginning at Noon ET. Next, NHL Network for U.S. viewers is presenting a live airing of TSN’s third annual NHL on TSN: Free Agent Frenzy special from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM Hosted by James Duthie, the show features TSN's team of reporters and correspondents providing news of the day's transactions.

TSN Hockey Insiders Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger will be at the ‘News Breakers' desk to bring viewers the most up-to-date information on NHL signings. Duthie is joined by TSN hockey analysts Pierre McGuire, Darren Pang and former Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster on the Instant Analysis panel while Gino Reda will deliver an in-depth look at all of the Free Agents in play.

Duthie will also conduct live interviews with players, coaches and GMs from around the League, providing viewers with comprehensive access to instant reaction from the deal-makers and players involved. Dave Hodge is joined in-studio by a panel including Michael Farber, Dave Naylor and Chris Stevenson with additional opinions and analysis. NHL Network will be the only place on television for U.S. NHL fans to keep updated on all of the transactions of the day.


In celebration of Independence Day in the U.S., NHL Network is presenting 12 hours of programming dedicated to hockey in the United States. The special programming block begins at 9:00 AM, and consists of all three games of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey USA vs. Canada final series; the 2008 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony featuring Cammi Granato, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter; the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championship Gold Medal Game and more. The schedule for U.S. viewers on Saturday, July 4 is (all times Pacific):

9:00 AM     1996 World Cup of Hockey - USA vs. Canada, Game 1
11:00 AM    1996 World Cup of Hockey - USA vs. Canada, Game 2
1:00 PM     1996 World Cup of Hockey - USA vs. Canada, Game 3
3:00 PM      2008 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
4:30 PM      The Hodge Stove League: Ron Wilson
5:00 PM      2008 Lester Patrick Awards Ceremony
6:30 PM      The Hodge Stove League: Brian Burke
7:00 PM      2004 IIHF World Junior Championship Gold Medal Game - USA vs. Canada

View More