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Though the news of a pair of New York Islander prospects dropping out of college a year early and becoming UFA's barely caused a ripple in the hockey world, it has exposed a little known clause in the CBA that potentially could impact several key prospects throughout the NHL, including some from the Montreal Canadiens.
Generally, it's assumed that when a player going the US collegiate route gets drafted, that team holds his rights until the end of his senior (fourth) season in the NCAA. More often than not, that's a correct assessment as most draftees intending to play college hockey go right after being drafted. There are some though who hang around and play a season in the USHL before attending college. This small difference is what can lead to a player becoming unrestricted a year earlier than anticipated and is one Hab fans should pay attention to.
Here are the two relevant sections from the CBA, pay careful attention as there are only a few small differences:
Article 8, Section 6, Subsection c (i):
If a Player drafted at age 18 or 19 is a bona fide college student at the time of his selection in the Entry Draft, or becomes a bona fide college student prior to the first June 1 following his selection in the Entry Draft, and remains a bona fide college student through the graduation of his college class, his drafting Club shall retain the exclusive right of negotiations for his services through and including the August 15 following the graduation of his college class.
In English? A team holds the rights of a college player for the duration of his time in college (4 years) as long as he goes there right after being drafted.
Article 8, Section 6, Subsection c (iv):
If a Player drafted at age 18 or 19 who had received a Bona Fide Offer ... becomes a bona fide college student prior to the second June 1 following his selection in the Entry Draft and does not remain a bona fide college student through the graduation of his college class, his drafting Club shall retain exclusive rights for the negotiation of his services until the fourth June 1 following his selection in the Entry Draft.
In English? A player who doesn't go to college right after being drafted (the common example is playing in the USHL the next season) that drops out (after his third, or junior, season) will have his rights held by the drafting team for 4 years.
So, as I'm sure you're all tired of reading CBA legalese by now, let's get to how this could affect the Habs. Over the past few years, the Canadiens have drafted a lot of college-bound prospects. Some, like Joe Stejskal and Dustin Walsh, go to school right away; those players apply to the first CBA excerpt above, there's nothing to worry about with them. There are, however, several who have gone or will go the USHL route for a year first. They are:
There's one name that should stand out to most from that list, Danny Kristo. Drafted in 2008, he played in the USHL in 2008-09 before going to college the next year. He has completed two seasons at North Dakota and has said he will play again there this year which is his junior year. 2012 is also the fourth year since his selection which means Subsection c (iv) could apply to him. If he so desired, he could drop out of college and become unrestricted as early as next offseason.
You'll note the usage of the hypotheticals in the last couple of sentences. As there is no guarantee Kristo won't sign before then nor is there one that says he won't stay for his senior year, this doesn't mean for sure that he will become a UFA next season. In both of these instances, the Habs would retain his rights either by him signing or him staying at North Dakota (Subsection c (iii) applies here for those interested but I'll spare you reading through that in detail).
So there you have it, a scenario exists where Kristo could sign elsewhere as early as next July. That doesn't mean that this route will be taken, but it is there. A lot of people were caught by surprise when Jason Gregoire and Blake Kessel (the now former Islander prospects referenced at the beginning) dropped out of college a year early and were able to declare themselves as unrestricted. Many feel the Islanders were unaware of this and were caught flatfooted when it happened. Will Kristo do the same to the Habs? It's too early to tell but if I'm Pierre Gauthier, I'm wanting to gauge Kristo's intentions well before next June so that what happened on Long Island this past week doesn't happen in Montreal next July.