ZURICH, Switzerland - The NHL's transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation expired Monday, ushering in a new era for the movement of players between Europe and North America.
For over a decade, the transfer deal set a framework for how NHL teams could bring players across the Atlantic, with deadlines for transfers, limits on how many players could leave each season, rules for players returning to their IIHF clubs, and a transfer fee for each player.
NHL clubs spent around US$11 million annually to sign between 50 and 60 young players from IIHF-affiliated European leagues in the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland.
But the system began to crumble when Russia refused to sign a re-worked deal three years ago and fell apart last month when the Czech Republic also balked. They felt the $200,000 transfer fee per player wasn't enough compensation.
Now it will be open season, with European teams receiving no compensation when a player heads to the NHL.
''We're obviously going a different direction than we have in the past,'' NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press via e-mail. ''But our clubs have been prepared for this eventuality for some time.
''There are still some question marks we have to work out with the Players' Association on where we go from here. But to this point, it appears as if we and the Players' Association are on the same page vis-a-vis how we need to be dealing with the IIHF and the individual member federations.''
IIHF president Rene Fasel said the NHL plans to honour European contracts and the league expects European teams do the same with NHL deals.
NHL teams also won't pursue players under contract to a European club and there will be no negotiating a release fee with individual teams for contracted players, as it would violate the league's collective bargaining agreement with the players' union.
Free agents, however, will be fair game.
''The IIHF tried to convince the European leagues and their clubs that an agreement is better than a situation where basically nothing is regulated, $200,000 is more than zero dollars,'' Fasel said on the IIHF website. ''And this is what the clubs are getting now for players who sign NHL contracts. But this is the choice they have made.
''The IIHF can not negotiate an agreement if our stakeholders don't want one.''
European clubs wanted higher compensation fees because the American dollar has lost 32 per cent of its value since 2002, Fasel said.
The clubs also worried that the quality of their leagues has been hurt by NHL teams luring away too many young players, who were then sent to the minor leagues to develop their game.