This is uncharted territory for the NHL.
But if what is happening in the NBA right now is any indication, hockey’s free agency period actually began at 12:01 a.m. (EDT) on Wednesday.
For years, the NBA has had what’s called a July moratorium, a roughly week-long period during which free agents can speak with new teams but not sign contracts.
Something similar has been introduced in the NHL as part of its new collective agreement, although in this lockout-condensed season, the period will be just two days (Wednesday and Thursday).
While free agency won’t officially open until Friday at noon, many teams, players and agents are treating that date as a mere formality.
Just as the NBA had teams such as the New Orleans Pelicans showing up in person late at night to shove a pile of money at 2010 rookie of the year Tyreke Evans on Monday, the same could well happen two days later in hockey.
“For all intents and purposes, free agency starts tomorrow,” was the chorus from multiple NHL executives and agents Tuesday.
To what extent deals will get done before Friday is difficult to say, but it’s expected at least a few players will be off the market quickly.
Teams are allowed to make verbal agreements Wednesday and Thursday, and in the NBA, those are often leaked long before ink meets paper on an actual contract.
All that NHL general managers would admit last weekend is they will use the period to get a head start.
“We’re going to talk to people,” new Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said. “We’ll wait until after the draft, wait until the dust settles, and we’ll sit down and address that.”
“It’s an opportunity for every team to reach out and make a case,” Detroit Red Wings counterpart Ken Holland explained to reporters Tuesday. “It’s good for players. In the past, players got calls at noon, and have to make a decision within two hours. That’s a big decision for a player and club. From the club’s perspective, you’d like the opportunity to make contact and tell them about your program. It gives players a chance to hear from a number of teams. It’s a great part of the new [collective agreement].”
It may turn out that the more aggressive teams in this new window ultimately benefit, as they’ll have a chance to make a first impression indicating just how interested they are.
That has already been happening with some of the players recently bought out of their contracts, as they are eligible to talk to teams immediately and a few have drawn some major interest.
Former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier even flew into New York for the draft weekend to sit down with about a dozen teams and agreed to a five-year, $22.5-million (all currency U.S.) deal with the Philadelphia Flyers three days later.
Teams are also still able to re-sign their own players within the window, too, something the Pittsburgh Penguins accomplished with defenceman Kris Letang on Tuesday. After plenty of scuttlebutt he would be traded with one year remaining on his contract, he agreed to an eight-year, $58-million extension that will pay him $7.25-million a season.
In the future, the NHL’s interview period will be longer, beginning on the earlier of June 25 or the day after the entry draft for unrestricted free agents, and the earlier of June 26 or the Tuesday after the entry draft for restricted free agents.
The official “signing period,” meanwhile, will revert back to July 1, just as it’s been for decades.