Unrestricted and Restricted Free Agents

After a clean sweep of awards for the Vegas Golden Knights franchise, we put the NHL Awards behind us and focus on the NHL Entry Draft that begins tonight.  After the draft, teams will begin to work on securing their current NHL players by issuing Qualifying Offers to Restricted Free Agents before June 25th.  Then on July 1st, it gets very interesting.  July 1st is when teams can begin to sign Free Agents.  Literally on July 1st your sports channel will be filled with news flashes on who has signed and where.  Here is a bit of background of what’s going on.

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)

Unrestricted Free Agents are defined as any player who is at least 27 years old or has at least seven years of service as an NHL player, and whose contract has expired. These players are able to negotiate with any team to get the best deal, based on what is important to them.  

There are several things that are important to players, though they vary with each individual. Here is a list of things they will be considering or asking themselves:

  • How much money will they make?
  • How long is the contract?- As players are aging, they prefer long term contracts to protect them through the rest of their careers.  Some younger players may prefer short term contracts, as they expect to improve and be more valuable in 2-3 years.  
  • Does the team have potential?- Most players want to play for a team that has the potential to make the playoffs and make a run for the Cup. 
  • Do they like the management? – Does the owner support them? Is the General Manager savvy to what is needed?
  • Is the coach someone they want to play for?
  • Do they want to play with the members of that team?
  • Do they like the location?-  Is it a city good for their family? Is the community supportive? Are the arena and practice facility high quality?  
  • Sometimes new beginnings, or the opportunity to be a leader in the club are important.

In Las Vegas we have two added advantages that most places don’t have – no state income tax and really nice weather.   Each player has to know what he wants, and work to get the best opportunity for himself.  You can see why Las Vegas will be considered a premier place for UFA’s.

Negotiations and Signings:

UFA’s can begin to sign contracts prior to the end of the season if they are staying on the same team or starting on July 1st each year.  They are able to negotiate up to that time, but there are no signings prior to that date.  General Manager George McPhee made it his policy to not negotiate contracts after the trade deadline back in February.  His goal was to focus on the season and playoffs and not let there be any distractions while that was happening.  

UFA’s on the Vegas Golden Knights:

Currently Las Vegas has several UFA.  They include James Neal, David Perron, Luca Sbisa, and Ryan Reaves on our current active team.  There are several that haven’t been playing with us in Las Vegas who are also at the end of their contracts.  Included here is a link to a few great sites to see the status of each of our players, and more information on the team status for cap and draft.



During the year, several of our UFA’s were already signed: McNabb, Engelland, Merrill and Marchessault all signed contracts that cover at least 2018-19.

Restricted Free Agents (RFA)

Restricted Free Agents are defined as a player who is no longer considered to be entry-level, but does not qualify as an UFA.  They automatically become a restricted free agent when their contract expires. 

RFA’s have a few interesting things to go through when their contracts expire.  To keep it simple, a team needs to provide the player a Qualifying Offer (based on his current salary) if they want to keep them on the team.  Usually RFA’s have contracts that are lower salary, so it is good for the team to keep them at a lower level, to keep within their Salary Cap.  A player can then decide if they are happy with the Qualifying Offer and accept it, or they can choose to see what other teams may want to offer.  If a player likes another team’s offer better, their current team has the opportunity to match it.  If they match, the player stays on the current team and is signed to a contract based on that offer.  If the offer is not matched, the player can sign with the new team, and the new team will provide draft picks back to the former team.  

If a team does not extend a qualifying offer, the player becomes an UFA.  

Teams will often take the opportunity to sign their RFA to long term contracts before becoming UFA.  This allows them to keep the player within their control, and not worry about losing a player that is important to them.


An interesting fact about RFA’s is based on negotiations of the salary.  If a player has over four years in the NHL, they are able to use arbitration to settle the amount they should be paid.  Both the team and the player put up their suggested amounts for salary.  If there is a difference that seems too big to resolve, either side can request arbitration.  In that case, the Arbitrator hears both sides, and decides on the items they haven’t been able to resolve.  Sometimes it is salary, sometimes it is length of contract, or even both.  Once the Arbitrator states the decision, it is binding and the contract is signed.  The players have until July 5th to file for arbitration.  Even if they file, the two sides can continue to negotiate prior to the arbitration date, which is usually in late July / early August.  Most of the time, the two parties reach resolution. Very rarely do the cases go to arbitration.  

RFA’s on the Vegas Golden Knights:

The Knights have a few key RFA’s this year, including William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, Colin Miller, Tomas Nosek and William Carrier.  See the suggested links above to see more players statuses.

The Coming Weeks

So now that all of this information is out there, the negotiations begin.  The team has to keep all of their contracts within the Salary Cap.  The players are striving for their best deals.  Tough decisions have to be made.  

For the Knights, because they have so much room in their Salary Cap, they have more freedom to decide what they want to do.  But if they sign too many large contracts for long term, they will quickly get to the Salary Cap for this coming year, and the following years, and will not be able to make strategic moves in future.  Also, when other contracts start expiring (for instance Fluery and Schmidt in 2019) they will need to continue to be able to offer them fair contracts, or they risk losing these valuable players.

For some of our key players, staying with the Knights may make sense, as most teams don’t have a lot of room in their caps. Or if they do, they may be in rebuilding years, and not a good candidate for the Playoffs.  Some may even consider home team discounts; in other words, taking a bit less money than they want in order to sign with their team.  And for some high level players on other teams, coming to Las Vegas may be a great opportunity. 

All of this and more, we will find out in the weeks to come.  

See, there is still plenty of hockey to follow while we wait to cheer our Knights on this fall!

~By Ann Olson

**Our next article will be an argument for why the Knights should sign James Neal!

4 thoughts on “Unrestricted and Restricted Free Agents

  1. Thank you very much for this information, I found it very easy to follow and now I have a better understanding of what is going on.

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