I am trying to understand free agency rules in NHL, how the last two lockouts changed them, and how players may decide to behave with respect to them.

My understanding is that after the 2004-5 lockout, unrestricted free agents became those players how are either older than 27 or have at least 7 seasons of tenure in NHL. The shift to the new rules was gradual: before season 2004-5, it was 31 years of age without tenure requirements (is this correct?); then--after the lockout, in 2005-6 it became 29 years of age or with 7 seasons tenure; finally, in 2006-7 it became 27 or with 7 seasons of tenure.

After the 2004-5 lockout, younger players with less than 7 seasons of tenure remained restricted free agents at the end of the contract, if the current team offered them a qualifying contract (i.e. a contract of at least 1 season, with a salary that is equivalent to at least 100-110% of the last salary). Differently, without the offer of a qualifying contract from the current team, these players become unrestricted free agents.

The 2012-2013 lockout did not lead to any change in this free agency rules.

My question is based on the assumption that the above illustration is correct (if it is wrong, please, tell me what detail is wrong) and is grounded on a story telling that differs from the usual one--see below.

Many hockey fan claim that long contracts impact players performance. After a player signs a multi-year contract, in the first season he "shrinks" (i.e. he does not play at his best), then he plays a bit better in the following seasons, and finally (in the last season of the contract) he plays as well as he could to convince the team owner (or the owner of another team) that he deserves a new contract.

I think that this story is incomplete because it does not differentiate between players who qualify as restricted free agents and those who qualify as unrestricted free agents. Let's consider a young good and nontenured player, in the last season of his contract. Since he is good, he expects the team owner to offer him a contract renewal that would be considered as a qualifying offer; therefore, he does not expect to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the contract. However, during the last season (or even a bit earlier), a different team owner comes forth and holds private talks with this player; this new team is better than his current team and wants to offer to him a better contract (much more money).

The question is: how likely is that this player intentionally plays bad during his last season in order to convince his current team owner to not give him a qualifying offer? Without qualifying offer, he becomes unrestricted free agent and can freely join the better team which offers him more money. What do you think? Is it likely to happen? Are there some rumors about this behavior?

  • "Many hockey fan claim that long contracts impact players performance." Is there actual data that supports this claim, or is it just something that people say?
    – Philip Kendall
    Sep 5, 2018 at 15:26
  • exactly, for what I know, there is no convincing evidence of "shirking behavior" that in either hockey or other sports. And I think this is due to a number of reasons (e.g. wrong statistics and techniques of analysis are being used), among which the one I am thinking of (i.e. neglecting differences between unrestricted and restricted agents)
    – Fuca26
    Sep 5, 2018 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


The Qualifying Offer required to retain a RFA's rights is pretty low, a modest raise over last year's salary. To tank your season, that affects your bargaining power. Now your team thinks they can put the squeeze on you because of your poor season. Other teams would wonder if you lost it and will now question whether to sign you (including your tampering team).

It should also be noted that teams often put the squeeze anyways on RFAs to accept less (often called bridge contracts) to save money for stars and unrestricted free agents. Because everyone uses other contracts of similar players (comparables would be the industry lingo), you won't see an outlier contract very often.

  • thanks! my question is though on a slightly different topic:in case you have an offer ready from another team, can you play bad in the last season to convince your current team to let you go (or not to make a qualifying offer) at the end of the contract
    – Fuca26
    Sep 6, 2018 at 7:35
  • Besides the obvious tampering problem, even your tampering team is going to have second thoughts about signing a guy who is willing to throw a season. And like I said, you're simply not going to get a good enough offer from another team to make throwing a season worth it. Teams simply don't release players with any chance at becoming a star.
    – pboss3010
    Sep 6, 2018 at 11:18
  • Thanks for the comment. As you point out, I am not questioning whether that behavior amount to tampering, but whether someone may actually behave like I suggest. I think we do not understand each other on yet another point that I discuss more below.
    – Fuca26
    Sep 6, 2018 at 12:26
  • In my question, I write: "during the last season (or even a bit earlier), a different team owner comes forth and holds private talks with this player; this new team is better than his current team and wants to offer to him a better contract."
    – Fuca26
    Sep 6, 2018 at 12:28
  • Picture this scene. I am a player that qualifies for restricted free agency, I know that my current team owner wants to offer me a contract and to "put the squeeze", and I already have secured a contract for the next seasons (not yet deposited though) with a different team that would pay me more money (not much more than what I suspect my current team would offer, may be a few hundred thousands dollars?) and that is a better team (it regularly qualifies for the playoffs, while mine does not).
    – Fuca26
    Sep 6, 2018 at 12:31

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