Monday, July 16, 2012

For Love Of The Game: Should The NHL Do Away With No Trade Clauses?

Since it's the dog days of summer and all, I've been thinking about things I'd like to discuss and post about lately. Inevitably, one of the first topics that always springs to my mind is the issue of no trade clauses in the NHL. It's another offseason filled with players wanting to be shipped somewhere new, but only if they approve the destination and I can't help but feel that rightly or wrongly, the end conclusion is hurting the game and frustrating the fans.

So with the recent leak of the owners offer for the new CBA fresh in my mind, I thought it was time to take a long hard look at the growing problem of NTC's in the NHL. For love of the game is a new series I'm going to do where I look at issues affecting the game of hockey as a whole, not just from a Senators perspective. I know many of you will find it hard to believe, but I do have other interests outside of the red and black.

Before I get started I should mention that this isn't a piece about taking someone's side. I'm not pro owner or anti player, I'm here for a realistic look at what is best for the league as a whole. And yes I know the players have freely negotiated NTC's in their deals and the owners are free to say no to any NTC proposal, so don't bother hitting me with that redundant argument please. Not to be a smart ass but I've heard it ad nauseum, so you're not exactly going over anything new here.

Now stop me if you've heard this before. Player X is a superstar, a franchise player. You know, the kind of guy who's the face of the franchise and moves a ton of merchandise with his name/number on it. The franchise has likely committed anywhere from say 5-10 years, plus let's say somewhere in the ballpark of 30-100 million dollars on this player. At the time of the deal, the player and the organization were both thrilled with the partnership, but like a marriage, they have started to bicker, feelings have been hurt and likely one of the parties, if not both, feel betrayed. So what do you do?

In real life you file for divorce. You divide up the assets and hope it doesn't get too ugly. That's sort of how hockey goes too actually, though the asset in this case is the player and it rarely ends without both sides and a fan base wondering where it all went wrong. The real problem is when the franchise player has a no trade clause. Then the organization is stuck between getting the best return for their star and where the player will allow them to trade him to, and trust me, the two separate needs seldomly allign.

I can't help but think to this summer's Rick Nash and Roberto Luongo problems as an example of everything that is wrong in the NHL if you happen to be a fan of one of their franchises. You have to think that the average Joe Sixpack must be more than a little frustrated seeing a player hold his beloved team hostage so to speak. At least Vancouver is a hockey city, but Columbus? They're in dire need of an injection of talent, yet Rick Nash won't budge on his list of teams he will approve.

As a Sens fan, I've been on both sides of this now. I of course endured the famous Dany Heatley trade demand of in 2009, where his NTC killed a deal to Edmonton, a deal that at the time seemed more lucrative than the one we ultimately took from San Jose. Now I'm on the other side. The Senators were after Rick Nash but he wouldn't budge to come to play for Ottawa. So I'm well versed on being screwed by a NTC or 2 and counting.

The fact is yes the players union 100% negotiated the right to have NTC's and yes the owners don't have to give them out like candy on Halloween. The owners should be able to stop themselves from themselves and in an ideal world they would. But I don't deal with utopian wants, I deal with reality, and in the NHL reality, the no trade clause is hurting the game tremendously. It can be a franchise killer.

If you're a fan in a non traditional market like Florida or Phoenix, and you didn't grow up on hockey like so many of us in Canada have, and your star player has a NTC and then blocks deals that can land you a much better return, can't that ruin any momentum you have in that market? Ottawa can survive because we love hockey and the logo on the front of the jersey will always superceed the name on the back of one, but holding a franchise hostage in another market until they take 60cents on the dollar can destroy their fan base.

If I live in and grew up in Florida and I liked hockey but am new to the sport and my entertainment options include world class concerts, NBA basketball, MLB baseball, NFL football, the Miami Hurricanes, the ocean and beach, golf 365 days a year, tennis, art shows, comedy shows and 1000's of other activities, why would I choose hockey when my team is being handcuffed by a no trade clause? I'll simply find something else to spend my time and money on and that's the part the owners, players and the league all seem to forget.

To put things in perspective, the NBA has two players with no trade clauses at the moment. They are Kobe Bryant and Dirt Nowitzki. Both have NBA championships and both have won MVP's. Even LeBron James doesn't have a NTC to his name but in the NHL things work a little bit different. The NHL has 177 players that had some sort of NTC in the 2011-12 season. Yes, 177. That's an astonishing 5.9 per team and 1 in every 3.72 players in the league. Madness! The Calgary Flames lead the way with 11 NTC's on their roster, while the Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings had no players with NTC's. If you're wondering at home, the Senators had 3 players with NTC's in 2011-12.

It isn't that some players don't deserve them, it's that it's hurting the game, and as long as it's an option for a team to give them out in lieu of money/term or to compete with/match another organization's offer, the NTC parade will continue and more and more teams will be stuck with assets they cannot move. The real issue is the type of player that is getting them now. While I like Chris Phillips as a player and as a person, it's ridiculous that a player of that stature should have had multiple NTC's over his career and if he isn't performing, we're stuck with him as he has to approve a new potential team. Other players that somehow have NTC's include Steve Montador, Ron Hainsey and Manny Malholtra.

So how can we fix it? The league needs to either no longer allow them in the new CBA or allow 1 per team. This would give the teams more options when things aren't going right and would no longer be something teams have to give out to get a UFA to sign with them. Since no team can give out more than one, you'd have to be extremely careful on who you give it to and it would save the owners from themselves. It would also help the fanbases, as any player can be moved should the relationship sour for whatever reason.

I understand this is very unlikely to happen. The players union will want to be able to dictate where they go should they be moved if they can and the owner's will continue to outdo one another in hopes of winning it all, even if it's hurting the league as a whole. That's why the league needs to step in before it's too late, not to take the owner's side or the player's side, but for love of the game.



Canuck Abroad said...

Another option that is easier to sell is if players ask for a trade then it waives their NTC.

David said...

No. Frankly the only answer is the one you hand wave away at the top of your post: if management doesn't want to deal with NMC/NTC contracts, they shouldn't offer or sign them. If they sign them, they should live with them.

The NTC is about player compensation, the recognition that at a certain level of skill, the player wants some kind of control over their destiny and career so that if a contract does go sour, they don't get shipped off to some career graveyard like Edmonton (see also Dany Heatley) in exchange for a bag of pucks (see also Dustin Penner).

Banning NTC contracts would put the power disproportionately in the hands of management, and like him or loath him, Heatley's history with the Senators had afforded him the respect that gained him some measure of control over his destiny should a move be required.

You claim these contracts "hurt hockey". I don't buy that. They hurt individual franchises, yes, and I can see how individual fans could confuse the two. If a franchise becomes stuck with a player who doesn't want to be there, then that's a problem. However, shipping him off somewhere else he doesn't want to be like Edmonton doesn't fix the problem. It merely transfers it. And while shipping Heatley off to Edmonton would have solved Ottawa's immediate problem, it wouldn't have done anything for the Edmonton fan since Heatley clearly didn't want to be there either.

I've written on my own site about the CBA negotiations (see: and as you'll I have no beef with owners and management offering stupid contracts to players. I just think that there needs to be a way to force management to live with them as a discouragement from doing it again in the first place.

I also wrote about the Sundin ( and the Phillips ( situations at the time.

Anonymous said...

yea, canuck abroad has the right idea. Just wipte it if the player asks for a trade. Although, i'm sure some other loophole would come into effect.