Can an NHL Player Refuse a Trade?

by Robert Stanley | Updated On: September 28th, 2022

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Trades in the NHL are a difficult process that involves multiple terms and groups of people coming together to make a deal work for players, their families, coaches, and organizations. Add in that certain players are allowed to refuse a trade or give specific approval makes the process even more difficult to manage for both sides.

An NHL player has the right to refuse trade if unwilling to relocate to a different team they do not desire. There are many elements including contracts, general managers, player agents, and the player itself to organize trade, but the rights of NHL players have allowed them to make their own decisions.

Photo by Kaz Andrew at licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Once a player is drafted or acquired by an NHL team, they are under the ownership and share the same values as the team but are allowed to decide what actions the team takes with them. Many hockey fans argue that players deserve the power to refute what their team does while other fans believe it is in the organization’s best interest to make the moves that they desire.

There is no right answer to the debate, but nonetheless, it is great to see the NHL actively backing its players in allowing them to make their own decisions in trades. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if players are granted more control over their present and future destinations.

What are Player Contracts?

contract signing

Contracts are legal documents that hockey players, and athletes in any other sport, sign to determine payment, the status of the player on the team, along with trading details. Contracts determine players’ rights and league status and are more important the higher level of hockey a player is participating in such as the NHL.

Embedded in certain contracts are no-trade clauses which will be explained later, but essentially allow an NHL player to make their own decisions in the trading process.

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The positives of a no-trade clause are that it expands the rights of the league’s players, but it also restricts the freedom of general managers and NHL organizations trying to improve their teams.

How Often Do Trades Happen?

Photo by ImageTek licensed under CC BY 2.0

Trades in the NHL happen often around the trade deadline which is in the middle of the season and in the offseason. Trades are performed as both teams believe they are benefitting in the short or long term by acquiring assets (players and picks) that they value higher than what they are giving away.

Oftentimes trades can spark more success for a team because previously the team structure was not assembled properly and now is improved. If a team believes their short-term outlook is grim then they are likely to trade their best players for future assets which is called a rebuild.

Another time when trades happen is the day of the NHL draft. All of the NHL general managers and team staff are gathered in the same venue, which typically occurs in an NHL arena, to pick new players and discuss trading opportunities.

Draft picks are included in trades as a future asset and are especially appealing to teams that are looking to build for the future rather than seek shorter-term benefits. Additionally, the start of free agency in mid-July is also a time for teams to communicate with each other on signing players and negotiating in trade discussions.

What Rights Do Players Have in a Trade?


Depending on a player’s contract, it will determine the rights a player has to refuse a trade or if they must be sent elsewhere no matter what. These negotiations happen between the individual player, his agent, and the general manager of the team to determine what rights the player values over others and wants the most.

Both parties are made aware of the details of payment including the number of years and guaranteed money as well as trading rights for both the organization and the player.

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How Do Player Contracts Work?

A team will negotiate with a player and their agent, someone that financially represents the player, on the details of the player’s payment, their rights to the team which includes trading, and the duration of how long the player wants to stay with the team.

There are rights embedded within contracts that give players certain rights in trade negotiations that determine where and where not players will land. These are called clauses and there are two different types that we will discuss next.

Contracts are signed after a player is drafted or when they are a free agent. It creates legal documentation of the terms and transactions between a player and the NHL organization. In minor leagues as well, contracts are essential for ensuring security for both the organization and the player.

What Is A No-trade Clause?

This is a part of the contract between the team and players in the NHL where a team cannot trade a player without the player giving his approval of the said trade. The next step in the process is the player giving the team a list of teams that are acceptable and unacceptable for a trade which makes life difficult for a general manager.

That is called a modified no-trade clause which is an agreement between the general manager and player rather than in the contract. This happens nearly every offseason in the NHL and is a growing movement towards players gaining more individual rights over their teams in certain situations.

Typically, a player that refuses a trade or multiple trades will be bought out, meaning the team pays the player’s full salary, without having the player on the active roster to get him off the team. Buying out a player is certainly a sunk cost, but it is the most effective way to get headaches out of the organization.

What Is A No-movement Clause?

The difference between a no-movement and no-trade clause is that a no-movement clause means that a player must agree to anything that could remove him from a team’s roster. Players are eligible for both clauses if they are over 27 years old and if the player has had seven seasons in the NHL.

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When Players Should and Shouldn’t Refuse a Trade?

stack of sticks
Photo by Minda Haas Kuhlmann licensed under CC BY 2.0

If a player is allowed to make a decision on whether refusing a trade is possible, there are different scenarios when that action is appropriate. If the relationship between the player and the organization is strong, then the player wants to stay put and can argue for not being traded.

On the other side, if a player is being traded to a team that is worse and has bad management, then they should have the right to refuse to be traded. Ultimately, it is up to the contract, coach, and general manager of the team what ends up happening with their players but trades can often solve the situation.

It is never a good outcome when a player from a good team is traded to a non-playoff team because it can hurt their morale. Ultimately, it is up to the NHL organization, team, and player to determine what each party wants in trade talks but typically it results in positivity for everyone.

The Importance of Trading to the NHL

NHL Player
Photo by Amanda licensed under CC BY 2.0

Trading players in the NHL is difficult to organize due to players’ feelings, desires, contracts, agents, and more, but provides the league and organizations with opportunities to improve their outlooks for the short and long term. In addition, trades make the NHL more entertaining for fans as it is exciting to see new players and picks reach new teams.

NHL players have been given more flexibility over the past few decades which is a great sign towards increasing their happiness moving forward. In a player-driven league, it is essential that individuals can make their own decisions on accepting or denying a trade to align with their goals.

Generating more attention and sales for the NHL trades is a great method of public exposure as well as fans buying jerseys of the newly traded player.

Simon, the founder of Brave Stick Hockey, started playing hockey in 2003. He launched this website in 2018 to help new hockey players and fans learn more about the game and have more fun while learning.

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