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When is a free agent not really free? When his name is Johnny Gaudreau

Ken Campbell
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Johnny Gaudreau (right) (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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When is a free agent not really free? When his name is Johnny Gaudreau

Ken Campbell
By:

Johnny Gaudreau led the Calgary Flames in goals, assists and points this past season, but that doesn't mean he'll have any leverage as a free agent. He has no arbitration rights, nor can he be signed to an offer sheet.

As of today, NHL teams are permitted to get in touch with restricted free agents in advance of the free agency period opening July 1. Which is kind of like when Communist governments would hold elections. The fix is pretty much in. Chances are overwhelming that nobody is going to get an offer sheet, despite the fact you could make an all-star team out of the players who are available.

"Over the years you can probably count the number of visits teams have had with restricted free agents on one hand," one agent said. "And I don't think there will be too many this year."

There are a whole host of reasons for that, the most prominent of which is it’s not worth the bother. In most cases, teams are tying up their prime young talent a year before they become RFAs anyway. And if not, they can match any offer, which they usually do and all that accomplishes for the GM making the offer is he’s made himself a lifelong enemy.

Ironically, one of those players who might just be worth the risk of signing to an offer sheet not only will not get one, his phone will be silent. Teams won’t even approach Johnny Gaudreau because he’s a free agent in name only. Actually, there’s not much free at all about his free agency. Instead of being referred to as an RFA, Gaudreau falls in the unique class of RRFAs (really restricted free agents) or YCTFA’s (You call this free agency?)

Gaudreau is what’s known as a 10.2(c) player, named for the provision in the collective bargaining agreement under which he falls, which governs players with fewer than three years of professional experience. And even though Gaudreau’s three-year entry level contract with the Flames expired after this season, he doesn’t have three years of experience. That’s because when Gaudreau signed his deal out of Boston College after winning the Hobey Baker Award, the Flames played him in their last game of the season. That game, in which Gaudreau scored his first NHL goal, burned a year off his contract, but did not credit him with an accrued season of experience.

So because he has fewer than three years’ experience, Gaudreau cannot be signed to an offer sheet. Nor does he have the right to go to arbitration. In fact, the only leverage Gaudreau has is to withhold his services if he can’t reach a deal with the Flames. It was the same situation in which Torey Krug and Jaden Schwartz, who will both become RFAs July 1, found themselves two summers ago.

It’s a bit of a double-edged sword for Gaudreau. On the one hand, he has almost no leverage in contract negotiations, save for the fact that he’s an outstanding player. On the other hand, he effectively hits free agency a year earlier than he would have and will sign his second deal earlier. Had he not played that game, Gaudreau would be entering the third year of his entry level deal at $925,000 with the potential to make another 1.85 million in bonuses.

That’s pretty good money for a 23-year-old kid, but that pales in comparison to what he stands to make this season. There is talk of an eight-year deal worth $60 million in the works. For his part, Flames GM Brad Treliving isn’t terribly worried. The Flames have ample cap space and knows his two prized RFAs, Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, will be signed sooner or later.

“It’s not unusual, we’re working away at it,” Treliving said on the final day of the NHL draft in Buffalo. “Sean was here yesterday and I had a good chat with him. We’re working at it and hopefully we’ll get it done sooner rather than later. In some cases you don’t control when it gets done, but we’ll keep banging away at it.”

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When is a free agent not really free? When his name is Johnny Gaudreau