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10-04-2007, 06:18 PM
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Underage player rules

From Bob McKenzie's blog. I think it explains it well.
With eight underage juniors (still eligible to be returned to their CHL teams) set to start the season in the NHL, perhaps we should very clearly explain the rules and regulations regarding them and whether they go back to junior or stay in the NHL.

The first thing you should know is this: If the underage junior plays nine or less regular season games in the NHL he can be returned to his junior team without the first year of his contract actually taking effect.

In other words, if the Edmonton Oilers return Sam Gagner to the London Knights before he plays in his - not the team's - 10th NHL game, the first official year of his entry-level contract will be 2008-09, not this season.

Conversely, once Gagner, or any of the other seven underage players, plays his 10th game, the first year of his contract is tied to this season no matter what happens after the 10th game.

If an underage junior is returned to his CHL club - regardless of whether it's before or after the 10-game mark - the player ceases to be paid his NHL salary and is not eligible for his minor-league salary either. The only monies he would get from the NHL team would be any signing bonus - which he got at the beginning of the season - or the pro-rated salary for the games he did play while in the NHL.

But playing 10 games in the league this season, while burning the first year of the contract, does not have any impact on the player's long-term free agent status.

According to the new CBA, a player who enters the league at 18 - like number one overall pick Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks - is eligible for unrestricted free agency after seven years service, or at the age of 25.

But a year of service in the NHL is not 10 games, it is 40 games. And it's not 40 games actually played by a player, it is 40 games on the roster of an NHL team.

So for any underage junior, the NHL team must decide after the team's 39th game whether to keep the player in the NHL and credit him with a year's service towards the necessary seven for unrestricted free agent status.

So, in review, the critical junctures for decisions on underage players are as follows: After the player's ninth game and after the team's 39th game, with the respective stakes being which season the first year of the contract is assigned to and whether this season counts as a year's service for the purposes of determining eligibility on unrestricted free agency.

Congratulations to loyal reader Puckinugly57, who was sharp enough to find the Intentional Mistake of the Day in yesterday's blog on rules and regulations regarding underage juniors.

Puckinugly57 - quite a handle, isn't it? - correctly pointed out there are slightly different rules for underage goalies versus underage skaters, a fact which I not only neglected to mention, but actually suggested otherwise.

Of course I meant to do that. Just wanted to see who was paying attention.
Well, maybe notů
Regardless, here's the scoop on that.

Where an underage skater only has to appear on the game sheet for it to count towards the 10-game threshold for a contract year being burned, the underage goalie must actually play in the game for it to count. In other words, if Sam Gagner dresses for the Edmonton Oilers tonight and never plays a shift, he's counted as playing one NHL game. But netminder Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings only gets credit for a game played if he actually plays in it. So Bernier's weekend in London - started the first game; backed up in the second - only counts as one game for him.

Puckinugly57 did, however, incorrectly suggest the same theory of different rules for goalies applies to the 40-game threshold, which determines if the season counts as a full year's service towards unrestricted free agency after seven years.

Another loyal reader, Gumby, not to be confused with Pokey, set Puckinugly57 straight on that, but alas, I must now correct Gumby.

Gumby suggested that while underage goalies and underage skaters get a full year's service (counting towards free agency) for 40 games of just being on the roster of an NHL team, it's actually slightly different for goalies.

Yes, if a skater is on the NHL team's roster for 40 games, it counts an accrued year. But for a goalie, the number is 30 games on the roster.

Or so I'm told.
Thanks to Puckinugly57 and Gumby for keeping me honest.

Complicated stuff, which is why I felt the need to try to explain it. Would have been nice to get it right, but if I had a dollar for every time I've read media reports incorrectly reporting the whole 10-game and 40-game threshold concept, I wouldn't be having to blog away here.

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