The NWHL issued a press release today which addressed the details and policies regarding the league's first restricted free agency period. Following the thrilling culmination of the league's inaugural season in which the Boston Pride seized the Isobel Cup, fans and media were eager to look ahead toward the impending offseason. The news today has shed some light on the procedures put in place to prepare teams as they head into their sophomore seasons.
As the league announced just over a week ago, the unrestricted free agency period will begin on May 1 and will continue through to July 31. Questions remained about a potential restricted free agency period and what the protocol would be for teams re-signing their players given the fact that all players were issued one-year contracts prior to the start of last season. We now have our answer -- Restricted Free Agency will begin today, April 1 and will extend until April 30.
As per the league's official press release:
"The National Women’s Hockey League has announced a restricted free agency period during the month of April, during which time players can choose to resign with their former organization and 2015 draft selections can commit to the club which drafted them. On May 1, restricted free agents who have not signed contracts and draft picks who did not sign with the team which drafted them become free agents and can sign with any organization in the league."
This affords teams a full month to negotiate and secure contracts with players who had played for the club in the past season. Every team will need to analyze their strengths and weaknesses during this crucial period of self-assessment and personnel management. There are a lot of players in this league worthy of contracts and there are even more players coming through the pipeline of women's hockey at the collegiate and international levels. It will be exciting to see how teams manage this potentially chaotic time and just how much change we will see in the league dynamic and parity.
The second aspect of this restricted free agency period refers to the draft tax which will be implemented during the offseason. In simple terms, each team has the primary and initial right to sign players whom they selected in the 2015 draft. The teams may do so without competition from other franchises during the restricted free agency period. If a contract has not been signed between the draft pick and their drafting team by the start of unrestricted free agency on May 1, then the player may sign with any franchise in the league.
However, a team which signs the draft pick of another franchise during this free agency period will forfeit salary equal to the value of the pick as determined by the round in which they were selected. This compensation will incentivize clubs to not only sign their draft selections, but deter them from poaching picks of other teams.
The league provides further detail on the draft tax policy:
"The member club which drafts a player retains exclusive rights to the player, but must abide by NCAA and CIS rules (if applicable) to ensure the player can continue their collegiate career. Once drafted, a player must complete their degree and continue playing to the same level of commitment as when drafted. If the player returns to college for a fifth year, the club that drafted them retains the exclusive rights to that player through the free agency period following her final year of college. If player decides to sign with another club, that club will forfeit between $1,000 - $5,000 of their salary cap to the club that drafted the player. $1,000 for 5th round picks, $2,000 for 4th round picks, $3,000 for 3rd round picks, $4,000 for 2nd round picks, $5,000 for 1st round picks."
This news should come as a relief to fans of the New York Riveters who hold the rights to the first overall pick and future superstar Alex Carpenter. In order for another team to sign Carpenter, they would have to forfeit $5,000 of their cap. Considering the fact that teams need to be wary of negotiating contracts with their existing players, their own draft picks, upcoming free agents from college, and new international players, the odds of top picks of other teams being poached seems unlikely.
However, as fans of the NWHL have learned, nothing is off the table and expecting the unexpected has become standard procedure. Stay tuned for more coverage of what is sure to be a riveting offseason.