Understanding Restricted Free Agency

It's that time of the year again, and year after year I never fully understand the complete concept of restricted free agency. I am sure that I'm not alone in this. So let's start with the basics of it, and I am going to copy and paste what Beantown Canuck (huge thanks, by the way) posted in the comments section in a previous post, as you almost have to be a lawyer to understand some of this stuff.

1. Teams must offer all pending RFAs a qualifying offer- which is their previous salary +10% (or more), or else those players become UFAs.
2. If a player signs the qualifying offer, well then that’s their contract.
3. Once ‘qualified’, a player is now an RFA if they don’t sign that offer (although I believe the offer remains open, and if the team withdraws it, the player becomes a UFA).
4. The qualifying offer is really just a placeholder while negotiations go on if the player is a good player (if the player is overpriced at their old contract, they usually won’t get qualified).
5. However, while an RFA, any team can now offer that player any contract they want.
6. If the RFA accepts a contract from another team, his original team then has the option to match.
7. If the original team does not match, then the player now belongs to the team that signed him, but in return the original team receives compensation in the form of draft picks the next year. The amount and quality of draft picks is determined by how large the salary cap hit for the player will be. See here for the compensation scale.
8. Complicating this further is that many RFAs have arbitration rights, meaning that if they don’t sign the qualifying offer, they can then request that a neutral arbitrator set their salary, for which a hearing will be held, and the team and the player will state their case for what they think the salary should be and why. The arbitration decision is final. If the team does not accept, then the player becomes a UFA. The player must accept if he wants to play in the NHL.

OK, so the next question is: which players are eligible for salary arbitration? This is where I find it gets quite confusing. From NHL.com's version of the Collective Bargaining Agreement:

As a general matter, players will be eligible for salary arbitration after four years in the League instead of three. For the first time, Clubs also will have the right to elect salary arbitration with respect to two categories of players. For players who are earning more than $1.5 million in their prior year, Clubs will have the right to elect salary arbitration in lieu of making a Qualifying Offer. Clubs also will have the right to elect salary arbitration with respect to other Group 2 players who chose not to take the Club to arbitration.

Sort of vague, and too "general" for my liking. This does not explain why all 4 Canucks players who received qualifying offers today have arbitration rights.

What does Proicehockey.com have to say about it?

Most players must have four years of NHL experience before they are eligible for salary arbitration (the term is reduced for those who signed their first NHL contract after the age of 20*). The process is used by restricted free agents, because it is one of the few bargaining options available to them.

The deadline for players to request salary arbitration is July 5, with cases heard in late July and early August. A player and team can continue to negotiate up until the date of the hearing, in hopes of agreeing on a contract and avoiding the arbitration process.

Teams can also ask for salary arbitration. But a player can be taken to arbitration only once in his career, and can never receive less than 85 per-cent of his previous year's salary. There are no such restrictions on the number of times a player can ask for arbitration, or the size of the salary awarded.

A decision must be made within 48 hours of the hearing. When the decision is announced, the team has the right to decline, or "walk away" from the award. If the team exercises this right, the player can declare himself an unrestricted free agent.

Well this makes more sense. Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Tanner Glass and Shane O'Brien all either signed NHL contracts *after they turned 20 (Raymond, Hansen, Glass) or have 4 or more years of NHL experience (O'Brien).

Alright, case closed. I get it. I'm sure I missed a few points, but hopefully you find this helpful.

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