Article 11.8 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NHL and NHLPA permits “individually negotiated limitations on player movement,” better known as no trade/no movement clauses.
The first time I agreed to such a provision was the summer of 2005 following the lockout. Martin St-Louis and Dan Boyle re-signed with the Lightning and I capitulated on no trade clauses. Brad Richards received my first no movement clause a year later.
While I had sound reasons for agreeing to those provisions at the time, I also had a nagging discomfort I was violating my bedrock management principle: Organizations have success only when all involved stick to their own tasks and do not overreach.
I believe success is possible when owners own, managers manage, coaches coach and players play. Overreach in any area – such as when owners solicit the input of players about signings or who the player would like to play with, or when players decide they know more than the coach and don’t need to play his system – and you create an environment in which success may not be impossible, but will be inherently more difficult.
The no trade/no movement clauses are perfect examples of overreaching. While GMs may have great reasons for agreeing to them at the time, in short order they find their hands tied and options limited.
In today’s NHL there are approximately 150 players with no trade/no movement clauses in their contracts. That amounts to roughly 22 percent being able to dictate to management regardless of performance, economic conditions, fan interest, profits and losses, etc.
Many of the no trade/no movement clauses are modified in some fashion so that players must provide a limited list of teams to which they will or will not accept a trade. Some are also modified based on team performance or apply only to certain years under the contract.
Even these modifications are of little value to a franchise when you consider the implications of the salary cap and the likelihood players will acquiesce generally to the same handful of teams, further tightening the potential trade market. (In the cap world, how many players can Detroit or Philadelphia or the Rangers, for example, acquire, even if they and the player so desire?)
As GM, you agree to these provisions at your own peril – and we all have done so. What happens when one-third or more of the players control their own destinies? What happens when the Dany Heatley fiasco is the rule and not the exception?
Perhaps the no trade/no movement clauses will be seen as another unintended consequence of the CBA the NHL will need to save us from in the next round of collective bargaining. Of course, as managers we could just say “No!”
On second thought, here’s hoping the NHL saves us from ourselves, because we really are our own worst enemies.
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2009-10 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.