One thing has become clear through the vigorous debate surrounding Hall and Paajarvi this season, and that is the need for revision to the ELC system. Setting aside the question of whether there is a need for an ELC system at all in a capped league, what can be done to improve the current system?
Currently, situations can arise where the team would ideally like a player to be in the NHL, but decides to keep them out for contractual reasons. I’m assuming that the player would also rather be in the NHL at 18 or 19, instead of sent back to junior because of the current ELC system. By changing the ELC system for 18 and 19 year old players, both the player and the team can be helped. Eliminating the “slide rule”, and altering the ELC system such that an 18 year old player receives a 5 year ELC, and a 19 year old player receives a 4 year ELC would remove the incentive teams have to send an “NHL ready” player back to junior to massage the contract situation.
In negotiations, it is often important to consider the transaction from the perspective of the opposing party. It’s easy to see why the owners might like to control top rookies for a little bit longer, but the reason this could be a slam dunk is that it is (arguably) in the interests of the majority of players as well. When you want something, and realize the other party is either largely indifferent to, or mildly in favour of, that point of negotiation, often you can find a way to get the issue resolved at a lower cost to yourself than you might have initially thought. It is true that this change would be a further restriction on the earning potential of top end players early in their careers, but I believe the NHLPA would probably accept such a restriction; they’ve had no problem sacrificing the earning power of young players in the past. In fact, they’ve thrown rookies under the bus twice in the past 20 years: by allowing a rookie cap to be implemented, and allowing for further rookie restrictions in the most recent CBA. I would be surprised if many union members were particularly concerned with helping the few 18 and 19 year old players reach RFA status one or two years earlier than they would by sticking with the current system, if it were something the owners requested. After all, every dollar the rookies are denied is a dollar for everyone else, due to linkage.
For that matter, I don’t think the owners would have much of a problem convincing the players to remove the “7 years service” requirement for UFA status, which would change the UFA requirements to be a flat age 27 for all players. For a large majority of union members, the 7 year clause has no relevance so there’s no reason for them to get too concerned about keeping it for the small number of players that benefit from the “7 years service” rule.
So, if I'm the owners heading into the next CBA negotiation, I don't think I would have overly strong opposition if I were to ask for those changes to the ELC system, and that minor change to UFA qualifications.