Can a NHL player refuse a trade? 

Trades are a fun part of following the NHL and your favourite team. However, what is often not discussed are trades from a players perspective – who likes having to be told to move your family to another city without notice? 

Can an NHL player refuse a trade? An NHL player cannot refuse a trade. If they choose not to go where they are traded they will be suspended and lose their salary. However, players can negotiate No Trade Clauses, which prevent them from being traded to certain teams, into their contracts before signing. 

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There are a lot of nuances and complexities around trades in the NHL so let’s look a little more closely at the rights of the NHL players when it comes to trades. 

A player cannot refuse a trade in the NHL

A player cannot refuse a trade to another NHL team unless it is specifically stated in his signed contract.

After their first seven years of service time or the age of 25 a player can negotiate terms into their contract which limits the number of teams they can be traded too – we will explain this in further detail down below.

Otherwise, if a player does not have those terms in his contract and is traded to another team they really only have two options: go to that team or be suspended

A player can refuse to go, but they will, simply, be suspended without pay by the team that acquired them.

This basically never happens.

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When a player gets traded they will always go to the team that has acquired them. They may not like it, but it goes with the territory of playing in the NHL.

Before looking at the clauses the player’s can put in their contract to restrict their movement, let’s take a quick look how the NHL is setup to facilitates player movement.

Structure of the NHL that facilitates player movement

The NHL is a group of 32 owners who have come together to create a league. They have structured the league around a collectively bargained agreement with the players. 

No player is forced to sign up with this league, but if they choose to play in the NHL they need to abide by the rules under that collectively bargained agreement. 

The sharing of power between owners and players has got more even over the years, but, overall, it is still weighted towards the owners. 

One area that is heavily weighted towards the owners are the rights over player movement. The owners get to keep players rights that they have drafted for at least 7 years upon drafting them, and players will find it very difficult to move to a team of their choice until that 7 years (likely longer) are over. 

The ownership of these rights also include the ability for the teams to trade players at their whim without any say from the players. 

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However, within the collective bargaining agreement there is one mechanism that has been put in that gives the players leverage – No trade clauses and No movement clauses. 

No Trade Clauses

After a player has either played 7 seasons in the NHL or turned 27 years old they are allowed to negotiate, if they can, No Trade Clauses (“NTC”) into their contract. 

A NTC gives the rights to players to allow them not to be traded to particular teams of their choice and comes in two forms: A limited NTC or a full NTC.

A limited NTC gives the player the veto a certain number of teams that they cannot be traded to. For instance, a player may have a 10-team no trade list where they submit ten teams at the beginning of a season where they cannot be traded to.

A full NTC requires consent of the player to be traded to any of the other team.  

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In summary, a NTC:

  • Requires the players consent to be traded to any of the teams on the No Trade list
  • A team can still put the player on waivers to be sent to the minors or buyout their contract

Do players with NTC clauses still get traded to teams on their no trade list?

The short answer is yes.

The most common scenario for this happening is around the NHL Trade Deadline.

For instance, a player may have a no trade clause and it is becoming clear that the team they are on will not make the playoffs. So management will approach them and ask them if they would want to waive their no trade clause to get traded to a team that will make the playoffs.

This will result in some negotiation between the player and team, and list of acceptable teams to be traded to will emerge.

The NTC is still having some of the desired effect in that the player gets to have some say in where they play hockey and is not traded on a whim.

There are also a few other scenarios where a team will approach a player to waive their NTC because the dynamics of the team and player have changed dramatically since the contract was signed.

No Movement Clause

After a player has either played 7 seasons in the NHL or turned 27 years old they are allowed to negotiate, if they can, a No Movement Clause (NMC) into their contract. 

A No Movement Clause (NMC) is similar to a no trade clause, but in addition to needing a player’s consent to be traded to any of the other 31 teams, a team cannot put the player on waivers to be sent to the minors. 

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A NMC is the best clause a player can negotiate into their contract. It gives them full rights as to where they can and cannot play. 

The only leverage the team has over the player at this point is they can buy out their contract in the offseason. This means that the player will still receive two thirds of the money owed to them on the contract. 

How does a player negotiate NTC or NMCs into their contract?

If you have played in the NHL for 7 years or past the age of 27 you are well above average in the amount of time playing the highest level of hockey.

The player’s who make it this far in their career have done so because of one reason: they are extremely good.

With being the best players in the game this gives them a lot of leverage in contract negotiations.

Yes, they will command a lot of money, but they also want to, for once, call their own shots as to where they play.

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So when players who are a certain high caliber negotiate contracts where they can put NTCs or NMCs into the contract, of course they do. Who wouldn’t want to call their own shot about where they want to play?

Player’s who are average or on the last years of their career loss all of the leverage they have in this area and most are simply happy to sign a contract to continue to play in the NHL.

In other words, NTCs and NMCs are only for the top players in the game.

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