Almost Famous: The Drama of Restricted Free Agents

On the calendar of armchair general managers worldwide, few days evoke greater anticipation than July 1st. The opening of the NHL’s free agency period represents a unique blend of discourse, speculation and excitement. But when the X-Box inspired theories and message board rumors are eventually discarded, one thing remains abundantly clear. Money talks.

In the post-lockout NHL, the signing of marquee free agents has led to Stanley Cup titles (Scott Niedermayer, Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa), crippling albatrosses (Scott Gomez and Cristobal Huet) and the re-examination of the league’s collective bargaining agreement (Ilya Kovalchuk). But at its core, July 1st is about more than just the names and the dollars. It’s about the prospect of change for 30 teams league-wide.

While the majority of media headlines and hypothetical scenarios conventionally involve unrestricted free agents, an enticing group of younger players is often ignored. This group, known as restricted free agents, generally includes all players under the age of 27, with the exception of those who have played in the NHL for a minimum of 7 seasons. Though lacking the distinguished resumes of their unrestricted elders, the restricted free agent class often includes the faces, building blocks and superstars of the NHL’s next generation.

The 2012 RFA class is headlined by Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber, Jamie Benn, Carey Price, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and Cory Schneider. As of July 1st, these players are eligible to sign with any NHL club. However, this free agency comes with a distinct catch.

If an RFA signs with another NHL club, his former organization has seven days to tender an identical offer and retain the player’s services. If they do not, they are reasonably compensated by the player’s new club. Pursuant to the existing CBA, RFA compensation is governed as follows.

Over the past 22 years, RFA signings have led to some of the most dramatic, intriguing and bizarre moments in NHL history. The very finest of these moments are presented below.


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