Monday Morning Musings With Me The Big E: NHL ‘Franchise Player’ Rule?

May 31st, 2010 No Comments

I write about hockey, a lot. I also read about hockey. I read about hockey teams and rumors, bloggers from all over the league and sports celebrities as well as so called hockey experts such as Al Strachan and Pierre Maguire.

I however rarely read anything that gets me thinking like one article did last week.

Patrick Storto of  The Checking Line.com wrote a piece about the possibility of the NHL adopting a ‘franchise player rule’ similar to the one that has been used in the NFL with varying degree’s of success.

It isn’t the first time I’ve thought of this myself and I agree with Patrick’s idea but I think it’s important to provide a little background on the way it works in the NFL before I show you Patrick’s proposal.

I couldn’t find a definite date on when the NFL first adopted the “Franchise Player Tag” but did determine a number of surprising things about it.

I think what surprised me most is that not every team uses it. In 2009 only 15 of 32 teams used it and in 2008 only 12 did.

If the only reason for using the rule was to allow a team to keep the tagged players salary off of the cap, every team would use it wouldn’t they?

The truth is, the NFL’s version of the rule is ever changing and can get a little complicated, here is how Wikipedia describes it.

In the NFL, the franchise tag is a designation a team may apply to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted  free agent. The tag binds the player to the team for one year if certain conditions are met. Each team has access each year to only one franchise tag (of either the exclusive or non-exclusive forms) or one transition tag. As a result, each team may only designate one player each year as that team’s  franchise player.

Usually reserved for players of great skill or of high importance to the team, a franchise tag allows a team’s manager the privilege of strategically retaining valuable free-agent players while seeking talent through the NFL draft or other acquisitions without exceeding the League’s salary cap.

If the designated franchise player elects to play for the team that designated him with the franchise tag, and does not negotiate a contract with another team his one year salary is guaranteed. ( In the NFL, signing bonuses are guaranteed but contracts aren’t that’s why you will often hear of a prospective player holding out for a bigger signing bonus).

If a club withdraws their offered contract the player immediately reverts to an unrestricted free agent

If I’m understanding this correctly, to use Ilya Kovalchuk as an example. Following the rule as the NFL has it would have allowed the thrashers to retain his services indefinitely be giving the Franchise player tag every year.

Wikipedia explains the two different types of tags as follows.

An “exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams.

A “non-exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position in the previous year, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if he signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

There is however a third kind of tag used in the NFL called a Transition tag. It works a lot like an NHL team having a restricted free agent save for the fact that the team in effect makes the player an RFA by applying the tag. Here’s the official definition.

In  the NFL a given player can only be tagged for two consecutive years and although it has proven beneficial to both teams and players, it can be incredibly restricting to both as well.

Patrick Storto’s proposal for the NHL was a lot less complicated.

“Each team will have the opportunity to tag a single player on the team as a ‘franchise player.’ A franchise player’s salary does not count towards the salary cap. A franchise player can only become a restricted free agent. The benefit for the player that is tagged is bonuses. The Franchise player will be eligible for preset bonuses based on team performance. For example, winning the division will pay a larger bonus than simply making the playoffs. Only the franchise player is eligible for the bonus. Once a franchise player is traded or bought out, the tag does not carry with them to the next team.”

The only thing I really don’t like about the whole idea is the length of contract that the NFL uses, it’s only for one year. I’m not suggesting that an NHL team should be able to sign a player for ten years and be able to apply the Franchise tag to him every year,  but a one year contract for a star player doesn’t benefit any one.

To go along with Patricks recommendations, I would add that like the NFL, NHL teams could only apply the tag to a particular player for two consecutive years.

Also, the tagged player may refuse to accept the tag although if he does, he cannot play that season and forfeits the right to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but would still collect his salary for the year.

It is an interesting idea to say the least and one that will be hotly debated if it ever makes it onto the table at one of the GM meetings, for now I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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