The panic button has been pushed among Blues fans, and this time, the concern is over Colton Parayko.
Tyler Dellow published an article on The Athletic this evening (behind a paywall) wherein he argues that the Toronto Maple Leafs should make a push for Parayko, as he’s currently slated to be a restricted free agent this summer. Toronto is a team badly in need of defensemen, and Parayko is a highly skilled player who would have many suiters if he were to be on the market.
But that’s a big if. He’s not on the market. Or, not really. Strap in - we’re diving in to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Colton Parayko was born on May 12, 1993. He signed his first NHL entry level contract on March 10, 2015, making him 21 years old at time of signing. He would then go on to play 17 regular season and five playoff games with the Chicago Wolves that year before spending all of 2015-16 and 2016-17 in St. Louis.
Since Parayko was 20 years old or older at the time he signed his ELC, 10 games played in any professional league constitutes a year of experience. Had he been 18 or 19, those 10 games would have to have been played at the NHL level. By definition, then, Colton Parayko has three years of professional experience. (As an aside, he is exempt from this summer’s Expansion Draft. Players with three or fewer years inclusive are not eligible to be selected by the Vegas Golden Knights.)
Those three years become important when you consider the NHL’s salary arbitration process for restricted free agents. Our compatriots at Winging It In Motown have done the legwork here, sifting through the CBA to assemble a handy chart.
Because Parayko was exactly 21 when he signed his deal, he must acquire three years of experience before arbitration rights attach. That is exactly the situation that both the player and the team find themselves in this summer.
The Blues, through GM Doug Armstrong, have made it clear that they intend to pursue a long term extension with Parayko. If that extension is not complete by July 1st, he will technically become a restricted free agent, providing that he’s given a qualifying offer (this is a mere technicality; Parayko will be qualified without question).
However, the Blues have the option to file for team-elected arbitration exactly once in the years when a player is a restricted free agent. Blues fans likely remember the last time the team made such a filing, as it was the contract awarded to Vladimir Sobotka that he finally fulfilled in playing out the end of this season.
In the scenario where the Blues are unable to come to an agreement with Parayko before the opening of free agency, their rights to club-elected salary arbitration should prevent him from receiving offer sheets. You can read the collective bargaining agreement here, but the relevant section is 10.2.a.i.B:
Notwithstanding the foregoing, if a Group 2 Player requests salary arbitration, or a Club requests salary arbitration, pursuant to Article 12, such Player will not be eligible to negotiate with any Club other than his Prior Club or sign an Offer Sheet pursuant to this Article 10, except as provided in Sections 12.3(a) and 12.10.
Section 12.3.a.iv of the agreement is the section from which much of the consternation arises:
A Player subject to a Club-elected salary arbitration pursuant to this Section 12.3(a) shall remain eligible to negotiate and sign an Offer Sheet with any other Club pursuant to Section 10.3 of this Agreement by no later than 5:00 p.m. New York time on July 5 immediately following the Club's election of salary arbitration. For further clarity, if a Club has elected salary arbitration on a Player pursuant to this Section 12.3(a), and such Player signs an Offer Sheet by no later than 5:00 p.m. New York time on July 5 immediately following the Club's election of salary arbitration, the Club's rights under this Section 12.3 shall be void ab initio and the Club's rights shall instead be governed by Section 10.3 of this Agreement.
By letter of the law, yes, indeed, the Toronto Maple Leafs (and all other NHL teams) would be eligible to sign Colton Parayko to an offer sheet between July 1st and July 5th. However, as a practical matter, this is all but an impossibility.
Examining this year’s offer sheet scale seems to indicate that only the highest three levels of salary would pose any sort of challenge or concern for the Blues when considering matching an offer. While the Maple Leafs may have sufficient cap room to approach those numbers, they’re unlikely to make such a huge commitment to any player with Connor Brown and Zach Hyman due for raises this offseason, William Nylander next offseason, and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner both due for massive contracts after 2018-19.
Perhaps more to the point, exhaustive research revealed not one single case of a team signing a restricted free agent to an offer sheet after that player’s original team indicated a desire to elect for salary arbitration. Zero players in the history of this collective bargaining agreement. None. Not one.
NHL owners respect team-elected arbitration as an important tool for keeping player salaries under control. Violating that agreement would pose a serious breach of the collegial agreements among teams, and would create open season for more nefarious roster planning. Colton Parayko is a special player, but I doubt very much that the Maple Leafs are looking to upend the system on his behalf.
It’s natural for Blues fans to be nervous about any situation involving restricted free agents and Lou Lamoriello. It’s logical to wish the team would simply wrap up Parayko’s contract situation and remove all of the farfetched what ifs from the plate. It’s clear, however, that there’s no practical risk of losing the player.
Hands off, Lou.