Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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NHL makes significant revision to free-agent interview period rule

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild off-season news Updated: June 19, 2014 - 1:51 PM

The NHL has implemented a significant change from last year regarding the free-agent interview period that begins next Wednesday.

In a memo sent yesterday to all teams and subsequently forwarded by the NHL Players’ Association to all agents, the league will now allow clubs and agents to discuss general parameters of a potential contract for a pending restricted and unrestricted free agent.

Last year if you remember, Commissioner Gary Bettman sent a last-second memo reminding clubs that they could not discuss contract parameters at all during the interview period prior to free agency, which begins this year on July 1.

In the June 18 memo (read over the phone to me by an agent), the league states, “After discussions with a number of general managers, we have revised and hopefully clarified with regard to last summer the permissible parameters of player contract and communication during the applicable interview periods.

“Please be advised that clubs are permitted to discuss the potential interest in as well as general parameters of a potential future contractual relationship with another club’s pending RFA or UFA during the applicable interview periods. The clubs may not enter any agreements or make any binding offers, promises, … oral or written concerning the terms of a potential SPC (standard players contract) with another club’s pending RFA or UFA.”

So in other words, teams and agents can now discuss the general parameters of a deal, as in, “I’ll be looking for a seven-year deal at around $5 million annually,” etc., meaning now players and agents at least know where each other is at heading into July 1 and know who’s in the game and who isn’t.

Last year, there seemed to be confusion where nobody had any idea of what could and couldn’t be discussed during the interview period. Some teams/agents apparently followed the rules, some teams didn’t, which created a conundrum that ticked off the teams that did follow the rules.

It’ll be interesting to see if this revision leads to some quick deals as free agency opens July 1.

This revision could also be potentially significant for a team like the Wild. Minnesota would love to find a way to add a scoring forward and a defenseman this summer. It probably can’t achieve both though IF both players it targets want long-term, lucrative contracts.

But if GM Chuck Fletcher learns prior to free agency that one of the players he covets would be interested in a short-term deal, it may allow Fletcher to fill two holes by extending a long-term offer to somebody else, maybe a defenseman.

So, that’s the good part of this NHL revision. Fletcher can now at least discuss general parameters to any potential deal with any potential free agent he covets to figure out what things the Wild may or may not be able to accomplish in free agency.

As I wrote the other day, the Wild would like to fill multiple holes this summer, but it also has to make sure it can re-sign all of its restricted free agents the next two summers. So it wants to be, as Fletcher said, “mindful,” with any long-term deal it gives out to an unrestricted free agent.

This summer, Nino Niederreiter, Darcy Kuemper, Justin Fontaine and Jason Zucker are restricted free agents that need to be re-signed. Next summer is the biggee when Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin can all be restricted free agents (some may receive contract extensions later this summer or into next season, Fletcher has said previously).

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