One of the Predators’ goalie prospects is in almost a unique contract situation.
Earlier this week, while I was conducting some due diligence on prospects in the Nashville Predators’ system, a source told me that the University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies hockey program is preparing in case goalie Tomáš Vomáčka turns pro this offseason, having no guarantee whether he’ll return for a fourth year or sign an entry-level contract.
It didn’t come as a surprise to me; I had long figured Vomáčka could leave after three seasons with a heavy workload, especially with Nashville’s shortage of goalies in the system. I was, however, surprised to read from Mike McMahon of College Hockey Insider that the Czech goalie’s exclusive negotiating rights with Nashville expire this August.
My understanding of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)—which I’ll expand on later—is that Nashville holds Vomáčka’s exclusive negotiating rights until August 15, 2022 (save for one caveat).
To uncover a straight answer, I did some digging and realized that Vomáčka is a bit of a rarity when it comes to his draft history. Taken 154th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft from the NAHL’s Corpus Christi Ice Rays, Vomáčka then played one season in the USHL with Lincoln before enrolling at UConn.
Among active NHL and AHL players, I’ve found just 12 skaters and two goalies, selected in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft or since, who were drafted out of high school, the NAHL, or the USHL, played their draft year + 1 (DY+1) season in the USHL, and then went on to play multiple seasons of NCAA hockey—like Vomáčka.
Of this group, nine played just three seasons of college hockey, so we’ll focus on them. Six of these players signed their entry-level contracts shortly after their third season of college hockey ended (and before free agency) with the NHL team that held their exclusive negotiating rights: Poolman (WPG), Letunov (SJS), Gersich (WSH), Angello (PIT), Daccord (OTT), and Pearson (DET).
This is applicable to Vomáčka in that he is eligible to sign an entry-level contract with only Nashville until June 1, 2021.
John Marino did not sign his entry-level contract until August 8, but his rights were not traded from Edmonton to Pittsburgh until late July.
One player—Teemu Kivihalme—left Colorado College after his third year, opting for free agency when Nashville chose not to sign him. This can be done via a clause in the CBA [8.6 (c) (ii)] that allows college players drafted at 18 or 19 to give notice of withdrawal from school, “Prior to January 1 of their 4th year of NCAA eligibility, or prior to January 1 of their 4th year of college on the year they were scheduled to graduate.”
In this case, the player becomes an NHL free agent after the later of, “The fourth June 1 at 5pm ET following the player’s entry draft or 30 days after NHL Central Registry receives official notice he is no longer a student.”
Kivihalme submitted his official notice of withdrawal on May 17, 2017, so the latter scenario applied to his free agency.
The last remaining example may be the most applicable.
Goalie Cal Petersen was drafted from the USHL by the Buffalo Sabres at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. After playing his DY+1 season in the USHL also, he matriculated at the University of Notre Dame, playing for three seasons before signing an entry-level contract with Los Angeles on July 1, 2017.
Similar to Kivihalme, Petersen chose to withdraw from school and become a free agent on the fourth June 1 from his draft year: June 1, 2017. Here’s a breakdown of what that means for Vomáčka:
- He is free to sign an entry-level contract with Nashville at any time;
- If he were to submit a notice of withdrawal to the NHL this offseason, he would become an NHL free agent on the later of June 1, 2021, or 30 days after the notice; and
- If he returns to UConn for a fourth year, Nashville maintains exclusive negotiating rights until August 15, 2022.
Similar to the players noted above, Vomáčka was not technically drafted out of college, but the NHL’s CBA considers players who “enroll into college prior to June 1 of the year following their selection” as “college drafted players.”
While these rules may not seem so different from rules applicable to those who play their DY+1 season in the NCAA, there is a bit of nuance in the CBA for the small group of players listed above.
On The Forecheck also reached out to the Nashville Predators, who confirmed that they hold Vomáčka’s exclusive negotiating rights until August 2022, excluding his formal withdrawal from school.