Unrestricted free agents, or UFAs as we geeks call them, are going to play a massive role in the Expansion Draft come June of next season. The rules on UFAs are a bit confusing so I’ll attempt to break them down, and then show why their impact will be so significant.
Before we get into the rules though, it’s important to have a grasp on the league calendar. Each league year begins on July 1st, which means all contracts are built around this date. When a player signs a 4 year deal in 2014, his contract ends on June 30th, 2018. This is important because it means during the Expansion Draft all UFAs are still technically under contract with their current club.
So, here’s where the rules come in. UFAs are treated like any other player on a roster meaning they can be protected as part of the nine or 11 protected players or exposed by their current (for the next 10 days) club. They do not however fulfill the 40/70 rule. This rule requires teams to leave at least one defenseman and two forwards unprotected who have played 40 games the prior season or 70 the past two years.
UFAs 2016-17 contracts do NOT count toward the 60% salary cap requirement Las Vegas must meet in selecting their 30 players in the Expansion Draft. But… If a UFA is selected, and signed by Las Vegas during the draft, their contract will go towards the 60% requirement.
That brings us to the portion that makes the entire situation incredibly sticky.
During a normal season, NHL teams are strictly prohibited from speaking to pending UFAs until the league year begins on July 1st. However, if a UFA is left unprotected in the Expansion Draft, Las Vegas will be granted exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with the player during the three day draft period on June 17-20. If Las Vegas comes to an agreement with a player, and a deal is signed, that player is considered Vegas’ selection in the draft from the UFAs current team.