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Want to Move a No-Trade Contract? This Could Help



Erik Karlsson

It’s been clear for quite a while that the Pittsburgh Penguins have a strong interest in acquiring Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson from San Jose.

From all indications, Karlsson is open to the idea of continuing his career in western Pennsylvania, too.

Good thing, because if he wasn’t, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ chances of trading for him would fall somewhere between negligible and nil. And lean heavily toward the latter.

That’s because Karlsson’s contract includes not only an $11.5 million salary-cap hit, but a no-movement clause. That means he can’t be waived — not that Sharks GM Mike Grier seems inclined to send one of hockey’s premier offensive defensemen to the American Hockey League — or traded to any team unless he approves the deal.

That actually could work in the Penguins’ favor, assuming the reports about Karlsson’s pro-Pittsburgh feelings are correct, but underscores the challenges a general manager faces when trying to deal a player who has that kind of protection in his contract.

While it’s a given that San Jose can expect to receive some quality assets if Karlsson is moved, Grier could, in theory, receive the most appealing proposal from a club that Karlsson simply refuses to join. Which means that deal isn’t going to happen.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with no-trade and no-movement clauses. Players routinely accept less money in return for gaining a measure of control over where they’ll be working while that contract is in effect.

Of course, having a no-movement or no-trade clause often doesn’t prevent a player from turning up in trade talks. (Exhibit A: Erik Karlsson.)

When that happens, the player is asked to waive whatever stipulation he had negotiated into his deal.

At that point, he can either agree to switch teams, in which case the clause will have been rendered meaningless, or stick with an organization that clearly is prepared to move on without him. And might even prefer to do so.

The downside to remaining with a team where he might not be wanted — or, at the very least, where he has been deemed to be expendable — is obvious, while accepting a trade means that whatever the player sacrificed in exchange for that protection was wasted.

Now, situations change, and teams have to adjust their priorities. Officials of a club that saw itself as a championship contender when it signed the player in question to a long-term contract — and viewed him as a significant piece of its personnel puzzle — might conclude after a few seasons that it actually would be prudent to initiate a rebuild, and that parting with high-profile veterans would be a good way to accelerate the process.

There obviously is nothing in it for the player(s) in question, but perhaps waiving the clause that was intended to provide some off-ice stability would be a bit more palatable if there was some tangible reward for doing so.

Here’s how to accomplish that (although it would have to be negotiated into the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement).

Give players who agree to drop their no-trade or no-movement clause a set percentage of the average annual value of their contract as a bonus for doing so; the league and NHL Players Association can work out the details of the numbers, perhaps including a sliding scale based on how many years of protection the player is relinquishing.

Which of the teams involved actually pays the player that money can be part of the trade negotiations between them, but the amount that goes to the player would count against the salary-cap total of the club trading him. Think of it as “punishment” for reneging on the commitment it made by giving the player the clause he agreed to drop.

Adopt a plan like this, and teams might be a bit more restrained about promising players that they’ll spend the balance of their contract with the club that gave it to them. And some big-name talents might be more willing to change sweaters when their teams decide that circumstances call for it.