Qualifying offers to restricted free agents are one of many things that will change in the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement, and fewer players will be able to follow Timo Meier's path.
The Sharks winger signed a four-year, $24 million contract last summer, setting himself up with some hefty insurance in case he and San Jose don't agree to a long-term deal when this one expires. Since Meier will make $10 million in base salary during the last year of his deal, the Sharks must sign him to a qualifying offer equal to that amount in order to retain his rights. Thus, $10 million will be the baseline for potential salary arbitration and Meier can just play on said qualifying offer if he wants to get to unrestricted free agency sooner and/or San Jose is unable to sign him to a long-term extension.
Meier was able to do so under the previous CBA, which ensured a qualifying offer to a restricted free agent automatically equaled their salary in the final year of their previous contract. That won't be the case now, as Pro Hockey Rumors' Gavin Lee noted last week.
"Instead, it will be the lower of the salary in the final year or 120 percent of the [annual average value] of the contract," Lee wrote last week. " ...
This change only applies to contracts signed from here on out, meaning Meier [and others] will still receive qualifying offers equal to their final contracted year."
[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]
Were the new rules to apply to Meier's current contract, the Sharks' qualifying offer to the Swiss forward would be $7.2 million. That's still a hefty chunk of change, but $2.8 million fewer than what Meier's qualifying offer will be. That $2.8 million could make a big difference in San Jose's future cap calculations, since the NHL's salary cap will only rise if the league hits certain revenue targets. The coronavirus pandemic and its to-be-determined effects have made that anything but certain.
The Sharks already have $55.5 million in salary commitments lined up for the summer of 2023, but that number could drop depending upon what happens in the expansion draft. As it stands right now, San Jose has $65.5 million committed to eight players ahead of the 2023-24 season if Meier plays on his qualifying offer. That's without including Tomas Hertl, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
Neither Meier nor Sharks general manager Doug Wilson could've foreseen a pandemic affecting league revenues (and thus the salary cap's rise) when the contract was signed a year ago, yet Meier looks especially shrewd now for having the security of a $10 million qualifying offer to fall back upon in 2023. San Jose, on the other hand, won't be able to bank on a rising salary cap in the same way, and that $10 million figure should factor into Wilson's decision-making moving forward.
It's a wrinkle that only players signed before the new CBA will have to contend with, but it's a very important one for Meier and the Sharks.