Agenda heats up, beginning with buyouts

Updated: July 19, 2005, 2:13 AM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

Once the NHL and the NHL Players' Association ratify their new collective bargaining agreement, which is expected to happen Friday, the agenda will heat up dramatically for club executives.

According to multiple team sources, there will be several deadlines for franchises to meet in the days after the ratification leading up to the July 30 draft and the opening of the free agent market on Aug. 1.

The first date of note is July 23, when a six-day window begins for clubs to initiate compliance buyouts.

Beginning that same day: a five-day window to negotiate and sign 2003 draft picks; an eight-day period to tender qualifying offers; and a nine-day window for teams to negotiate with their own restricted and unrestricted free agents.

If a team buys out a player during this six-day window of compliance under the new system, the club's buyout cost (two-thirds of the remaining contract value, minus the 24 percent rollback) will not be charged against the salary cap. After this window closes on July 29, clubs can still buy out players, but the cost will be charged against their cap number.

If a team fails to come to contract terms with any of its 2003 draft picks during the five-day window, those draftees will become eligible for selection in the 2005 entry draft scheduled for July 30 in Ottawa.

In accordance with the transition rules, 2003 draftees will be subject to the same entry-level system used in the previous CBA, with consideration of the 24 percent salary rollback. However, as a compromise, the signing bonus that the 2003 draftees, such as Flyers top picks Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, for example, can receive will be limited to no more than 30 percent of their annual salary in any given year. In other words, draftees who signed with their clubs before the expiration of the previous CBA have the opportunity to make a bit more money in bonuses.

Restricted free agents who aren't tendered qualifying offers by their clubs during the eight-day window will become unrestricted free agents on Aug. 1.

Under the new agreement, players earning less than $660,000 (after consideration of the 24 percent rollback) in their last contracted season must be qualified at 110 percent of that salary -- a 10 percent raise.

Players earning between $660,000 and $1 million (after consideration of the rollback) in their last contracted season must be qualified at 105 percent of that salary -- a 5 percent raise.

And, players earning more that $1 million (after consideration of the rollback) in their last contracted season must be qualified at 100 percent of that salary.

According to league sources, lawyers representing the league and the players continue to craft the final document. They are hoping to complete their work and present a finalized CBA by Thursday.

The schedule that teams will follow after the expected ratification:

Saturday, July 23
• Period for initiating compliance buyouts begins
• Period to negotiate and sign 2003 draft picks begins
• Period to extend qualifying offers begins
• Period to negotiate with own club's restricted and unrestricted free agents begins

Thursday, July 28
• Deadline to exercise club and player options for the 2005-06 season
• Deadline to sign 2003 draft picks (if not signed, 2003 draftees will re-enter the 2005 draft)
• Deadline to make required bona fide offers to 2004 draft picks

Friday, July 29
• Deadline for initiating compliance buyouts

Saturday, July 30
• Entry draft

Sunday, July 31
• Deadline to extend qualifying offers

Monday, Aug. 1
• Free-agent signing period begins

EJ Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send EJ a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.

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