Legal Look: Kesler, St. Louis and absolute no-trade clauses

Eric Macramalla, TSN Legal Analyst

2/27/2014 12:20:48 PM

We are hearing the possibility that Martin St. Louis and Ryan Kesler have demanded to be traded. In the case of St. Louis, not much of an effort has been made to deny reports of a trade request.

Now both players have no-trade clauses in their contracts - and the wisdom of granting a player a no-trade has long been debated. Ultimately, it's a very risky move since the only certainty with athletes is uncertainty. They can go down at any time, see a significant drop in their production or relationships can sour.

As well, player production aside, a team may see an opportunity to improve its team by way of trade, but can't close on the deal because a player has a no-trade.

Some players, however, insist on the provision being included in their contracts on the basis that they don't want to leave. The player and his family are committed to the team and the city. In certain circumstances, teams will agree to it.

With a no-trade clause, the team bears the risk. It's one-sided and may potentially cause long-term damage to a team. This is particularly the case in a salary cap world, where return on investment is critical and a failure to achieve may be fatal to a team's likelihood of success.

The risk is amplified when a player with a no-trade demands a trade. As a result of having a no-trade, the player decides where he goes. Since his contract provides he can't be traded (despite ironically demanding a trade), the player is in complete control.

As a result, the team forfeits significant leverage in seeking a fair return on the player. By way of example, if it's known that St. Louis will only go to the Rangers, then there is no good reason for the Rangers to offer up an equal return.

General managers rely on multiple teams bidding on a player to drive up the return. However, if a player says that of the four teams interested, he won't go to three, the team's hands are tied and its potential return is instantly undermined.

Can that risk be mitigated? Yes.

Give the player the no-trade clause he so deeply desires. However, include a trigger in the contract that provides that in the event the player demands a trade, he agrees to be traded to any team on a previously negotiated list of teams. That could, for example, be a list of 10 teams. That list was negotiated while the deal was being worked out - and is part of the contract.

Let's be clear: the no-trade wouldn't be null and void. Rather, the no-trade would now qualified by the mutually-accepted list of teams.

The sides negotiated the deal and the terms of the contract govern the relationship. If a provision is no longer convenient for either side, that's life. NHL player contracts don't account for irony.

By structuring the contract this way, the player gets the assurance he won't be moved, while the team is able to better manage its risk. Otherwise absolute no-trade clauses tie the hands of teams and make it a real challenge to get a proper return on a player.