FanPost

What if the NHL had a radically different approach to Free Agency?

I’ve recently become interested in cricket, and as I’ve tried to learn how the sport works, I discovered the Indian Premier League, or IPL. It’s considered to be one of the top three cricket leagues worldwide, and features one of the most unique structures I’ve come across in professional sports. Every year, the league conducts a player auction. Instead of players and teams coming to agreements via free agency and player agents, they take every free agent player and auction them off to the highest bidder. Players are able to exert a small amount of control in their own salaries, as they are able to set their base price, which becomes the minimum bid.

The kicker for all of this is that IPL contracts are only 1 year in duration.

This means that every year, in theory, every player could go to the auction. This doesn’t happen in reality, because teams are allowed to lay claim to approximately 5 players, through a combination of declared retention and Right-to-Match cards. The teams are given 3 retention slots and 3 Right-to-Match cards, but may only use 5 of the 6 total. The rest of their players must be acquired through the auction or, after the auction, through signing players that went "unsold" in the auction. All signings, regardless of method of acquisition, must all fit below the team salary cap.

Right now, there’s a fairly big story where a team captain for a very successful team has asked to not be retained for the next auction. Apparently, this is not because he wants to leave the team, but he’s aging, and he thinks that his team could get him back through the auction at a lower cost than if they retained him. This strategy is a gamble, but has been known to happen, where teams risk losing a player for the tradeoff of getting a chance to make a savings on them. From what I’ve read, each year’s auction is a major event every season (for the NHL it would likely span 3-4 days). Coverage of the event and prognostications of teams’ various auction strategies are expansive, and the IPL only has 8 teams.

My question is: how might the NHL look under a similar system?

Obviously, this system likely wouldn’t work for the NHL. I imagine that the Players’ Association would have a coronary at the idea that players would have next to no say in where they play most seasons. In general, I think fans like knowing what their team will look like, and the idea of not having a dedicated prospect pipeline could be terrifying. But, on the other hand, teams could be a lot less secure which could be a boon for many teams. What if the top teams can’t build juggernauts that they can ride to success season after season? What if teams in the mid-bottom tier didn’t have to languish in a purgatory because they can’t attract free agents but also don’t fall far enough to bring in high draft prospects? I think that on a season-to-season basis, there would be more hope for more fan bases.

To me, the biggest issue to be addressed for this thought experiment comes down to how the roster makeups differ. A cricket team fields 11 players per match, but has a roster of 25 players, providing substitutes for matches throughout the season. I haven’t followed enough to get a sense of how much playing time per season these substitutes actually play. However, it seems to me that only retaining 5 players out of your starting 11 means that you’re locking down less than half of your most important starting roster. To account for this, I’d say that NHL teams would be allowed to retain 6 players per season. I’m assuming that the "most important" part of the team’s starting roster would be 9 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 1 goalie, which brings us to 14, so 6 is one less than half of that value. I’d guess that this would just be the 3 straight retention and 3 Right-to-Match cards, but this isn’t really relevant to the thought problem, really. So, I put it to the Cannon:

-Who would your 6 players retained be from the current Blue Jackets roster?
-Who do you think might become available from other teams because they can’t use one of their retentions on them?