It seems a lot was made of the college graduates this summer. Recent grads such as Thomas DiPauli (Notre Dame), and more notably Jimmy Vesey (Harvard) managed to generate significant summer buzz in the dead of August, by deciding to become a free agent and test the open market. Any collegian can become an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) four years out from when they are drafted.
Jimmy Vesey, drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round (66th overall) of the 2012 entry draft, won the Hobey Baker award in 2016, yet Nashville traded his rights to Buffalo earlier this year. Vesey had previously informed the Predators he was not interested in signing with the team, and wanted to test the free agent market. Vesey’s “interviewing” of potential teams generated a ton of hoopla, which ultimately culminated in his selection of the New York Rangers earlier this week.
Center Thomas DiPauli, drafted by the Capitals in fourth round (100th overall) of the 2012 entry draft, also chose to become a UFA at the end of his four years at Notre Dame, ultimately deciding to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The problem is obvious in hindsight, but was probably overlooked during the negotiations for the last Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Teams spend a draft pick on these players, as well as commit to four years of time developing, coaching and guiding these guys through the initial part of their professional careers.
Is it a bad rule for the kids entering the league. Heck no. I would want the same option. However, from a team perspective it’s a gaffe. A wasted draft pick, with additional expenses incurred (development camps, training, coaching, etc.), all for the benefit of another team, and in this case, the Pittsburgh Penguins. This gap in the CBA also opens the door to potential nefarious activities, such as tampering. Teams could be enticed to conduct indirect marketing efforts, in attempts to sway an upcoming graduate to turn UFA, and that’s where the real recruiting begins.
The Positive Spin
One could take an entirely different tack on this. Maybe the rule allowing players to turn UFA after four years of college was intentional, to provide encouragement for kids to stay in college and get their degrees. I doubt it. Also, the Capitals could have tried to sign DiPauli earlier while he was still playing for Notre Dame. That’s a little more difficult, as players take time to develop, and although DiPauli showed promise, he was never a “must-sign” caliber of player.
I expect to see changes to this rule in the next CBA. Quite frankly, the lawyers missed this one, and that happens. Expect to see at minimum some type of compensatory draft pick for teams that lose out in this situation. Unfortunately, no changes can occur until September 15, 2022, when both the NHL and the NHLPA have the right to terminate the existing Agreement.
By Jon Sorensen