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Free Agency Explainer

Group II restricted free agents

Players who have been tendered a qualifying offer before June 30 by their respective clubs are subject to draft choice compensation and right to match by their previous club. If a qualifying offer is not provided by that date, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. Another team may make an offer to a restricted free agent by signing the player to an offer sheet. Since the player is restricted, the original team has a right to match the offer. If the original teams opts not to match the offer, it receives draft choice compensation based on a sliding scale.

RFA Compensation
Offer  Compensation 
$667,433 or below  None 
$667,433-$917,720  Third-round choice 
$917,720-$1,084,579  Second-round choice 
$1,084,579-$1,334,867  First-round choice 
$1,334,867-$1,668,582  First-and third-round choices 
$1,668,582-$2,002,298  First-and second-round choices 
$2,002,298-$2,336,015  Two first-round choices 
$2,336,015-$2,836,589  Two first-round and one second-round choice 
$2,836,589  Three first-round choices 
Each additional $1,668,582  One additional first-rounder up to a maximum of five 

Group IV restricted free agents

Players who have never signed a contract, are considered "defected" and whose club retains the right to match due to the club making a qualifying offer.

IPE restricted free agents

Players with insufficient professional experience to qualify for free agency but have received qualifying offers from their clubs, who retain their exclusive rights.

Group II unrestricted free agents

Group II restricted free agents who were not tendered qualifying offers by their club (a 10 percent increase in salary for players making below the league average salary; or the same salary as the previous season for players making above the league average salary)

Group III unrestricted free agents

Players age 31 or older with at least four years of NHL experience. These qualifications for unrestricted free agency will remain at that level for the duration of the CBA, which expires on September 15, 2004. The former team has no right to compensation or matching an offer.

Group IV unrestricted free agents

Players who have never signed a contract, are considered "defected" but have become free agents due to the club failing to make a qualifying offer.

Group V unrestricted free agents

Players who (1) have completed 10 pro seasons or more (NHL or minors, excluding junior hockey), (2) earned less than the League average salary in the 2001-02 season and (3) received a timely qualifying offer from their clubs have the right to elect once in their careers to become Group V unrestricted free agents. Should a player not elect to become an unrestricted free agent, since his prior club has tendered him a qualifying offer he shall remain subject to draft choice compensation and right to match as applies to a Group II free agents. Players have until July 15, 2002 to elect Group V status.

Group VI unrestricted free agents

Players, whose contracts have expired, are age 25 or older, have completed three or more professional seasons, and (1) in the case of a player other than a goaltender have played fewer than 80 NHL games (regular-season and playoff), or (2) in the case of a goaltender have played fewer than 28 NHL games (regular-season and playoff).


Entry Draft consists of nine rounds for players 19 years old and older. Eighteen-year olds may opt to enter the draft. All rookies will have two-way contracts. A rookie will receive at least half of his salary if sent to the minors.

Rookie Salary Cap
Year  Cap 
1996  $875,000 
1997  $925,000 
1998  $975,000 
1999  $1,025,000 
2000  $1,075,000 
2001  $1,130,000 
2002  $1,185,000 
2003  $1,240,000 
2004  $1,295,000 

Nonperformance bonuses (signing, reporting) cannot exceed 50 percent of salary and will count under the cap. Legitimate performance bonuses (scoring, winning award) will not be included under the cap.

Other Rules

  • NHL Minimum Salary is $185,000.

  • Active rosters will be limited to 20 players including goaltenders. The size of the total roster was lowered to 23 for the 1998-99 season due to expansion of the league.

  • A player is eligible for salary arbitration after five years in the league or after the player turns 25. Teams are allowed to walk away from arbitration awards with some restrictions. A player may elect to become a free agent within seven days of a walkaway.

    Related information
    2002 NHL Eastern Conference Free Agents
    2002 NHL Western Conference Free Agents
    2002 NHL Eastern Conference Movement Chart
    2002 NHL Western Conference Movement Chart
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