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How the Ottawa Senators are Strategically Using No-Trade Clauses

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What may appear to be a slight disadvantage may in fact be doing the opposite

Chicago Blackhawks v Toronto Maple Leafs
Johnny Oduya was given a 10 team no-trade list on his contract with the Sens
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

The no-trade clause is a funny thing. It provides zero direct value to the team, yet very often we see them handed out as if giving the player a contract doesn’t ‘lock them up’ enough.

They’re also funny in that there’s a whole bundle of variations. There’s the ‘No-Movement Clause’ that everyone has become familiar with from the expansion draft, the ‘No-Trade Clause’ which prevents the player from being traded anywhere, and finally the ‘Limited No-Trade Clause’ which prevents the player from being traded to a designated amount of teams, with the player submitting a list of where they will/will not go.

To confuse things even more, some of the clauses can be combined together, with Dion Phaneuf being a prime example of a ‘No-Movement Clause’ being combined with a ‘Limited No-Trade Clause’. I won’t go any deeper about all the differences, but CapFriendly has a full explainer in their FAQ if you would like to learn more.

Note: ‘No-Trade Clause’ will be used as an overarching term for all three, or NTC for short

A couple weeks ago I decided to look at which teams were being affected the most by these contract clauses, first by exploring the sum amount of teams that players can not be traded to. Each bar represents one player, with the length determining how many teams that player can not be traded to.

Although the eyes tend to look towards the extremes (Ken Holland dishing them out at a fireable rate, Colorado actually doing something good), the Senators find themselves in the middle with a pattern unlike the rest of the league. They’re tied for the most no-trade clauses with the Detroit Red Wings, although unlike the Wings who give out mostly no-movement and full no-trade clauses (longer bars), all ten of Ottawa’s are limited to fewer teams, causing a much lower total impact.

The same effect is shown when combining individual player cap hit with NTC impact (shown above), to get Obstructed Cap Space (OCS).

Obstructed Cap Space (OCS) heading into the 2017-18 season

Once again Ottawa appears in the middle of the list, but with more no-trade clauses than nearly every other team in the league. Only Dion Phaneuf’s clause poses significant obstructive value, with Bobby Ryan in second.

A full list of Ottawa’s no-trade clauses for the upcoming season can be found below:

Note: Clause details are not always made fully public, so an unexpected detail could arise at any moment’s notice. This has happened recently with both Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf.

The Good

So why would a general manager negotiate a no-trade clause into a contract in the first place, and why would a player even want one? The answer to the second question is almost always so the player can gain stability, and ensure they won’t be receiving the dreaded phone call for a trade. After all, if they want to be traded somewhere else, they can always opt to waive their clause.

As for the first question, the answer usually falls into two categories: reward and attraction. An example for a rewarded NTC would be to Steven Stamkos on Tampa Bay or Toews and Kane on Chicago. The franchise is so confident that they want their superstar to stay, that the NTC is there to give the star knowledge that they won’t be packing their bags anytime soon, for whatever reason. You could also argue that players such as Justin Abdelkader and Andy Greene fit into this category, just on weaker merits.

The second category, attraction, is where Ottawa falls in. Let’s face it, if you’re an NHL player who’s an unrestricted free agent and has multiple options on the table, Ottawa would most likely not be your top destination. Not only are the winters cold, but Ontario taxes are one of the highest when comparing around the league. The Senators need to give an extra reason why the player should sign with their team, and the wanted stability of the NTC is that extra reason.

The best part, as shown in the bar graphs, is that it’s a balance between the team and the player. A ten team NTC still gives Ottawa the power to trade the player, although it slightly limits the team’s flexibility. Recent examples of this are Nate Thompson and Johnny Oduya, although the same came be applied to Ryan, MacArthur, Smith and Burrows considering they were all either a pending UFA or already on the market.

The Bad

The downside to handing out all the NTCs is that flexibility is lost. This was shown recently when Pierre Dorion was making an effort to move Dion Phaneuf, although was turned down by Phaneuf’s 12-team whitelist (list of teams he’d be willing to be traded to).

Additionally, taking a glance at next year’s salary cap situation, a trade may end up being inevitable if the team wants to stay underneath the salary cap, let alone the budget. What may end up being the perfect trade could be nixed by a no-trade clause, causing Pierre Dorion nothing but headaches. The fact that this applies to nearly half of our roster doesn’t help either.

The Verdict

It’s tough to make a final call on the effectiveness on Dorion’s NTC negotiating tactic, as information is unknown unto how much it played a part in the signings, or if the players would’ve ditched sans clause. From what we know, however, it is a feasible ploy that has likely helped the Senators in forming their current roster.

NTCs can be an inconvenience, there’s no doubt about that. However, a balanced maneuver appears to be the right tactic for Ottawa.