What Is A Protected List In Hockey? [Updated!]

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When it comes to hockey players, many of us automatically think about their physical skills and the gear they wear. However, there is so much more to a hockey player than just their physical capabilities and how well they perform under pressure. There is also an element of strategy involved, which is why we should all know what a protected list is in hockey and why it is vital that every hockey parent keeps this information close at hand.

What Is A Protected List In Hockey?

Simply put, a protected list is a group of players that the NHL (National Hockey League) protects from being picked up by other teams through trade or free agency. The basic idea behind having a protected list is to prevent the other teams from having an easy opportunity to take your best players away from you. This way, you are more likely to get a good return on your investment, which is what the NHL wants out of this situation.

For example, say that you are the Chicago Blackhawks and you have a superstar in your organization named Patrick Kane. You might look at the Minnesota Wild and see that they have had a lot of success in the past few seasons and think to yourself “I can get easy access to their best players if I want, so it’s worth protecting them on my behalf. Then, during the off-season, you can negotiate a good deal with the Wild to bring back one of their biggest stars, in this case, Kane.

Similarly, let’s say that the Edmonton Oilers have a star defenseman named Justin Schultz. The Calgary Flames are also extremely interested in him, as he’d be a great fit in their system. The problem is that the Oilers’ management doesn’t want to trade Schultz because they think he has significant trade value and will help them win more games in the near future. So naturally, they put him on their protected list.

Now, the Flames will have to work harder to get Schultz because they know that the Oilers are protecting him. This system creates an environment where the most valuable commodity is thought of as a “sport” and not just a “player.” If we want to have a better understanding of the NHL and its rules, it’s vital that we learn about the history of the protectorate system.

The Genesis Of The System

In order to understand the current state of affairs in the NHL, we need to go back about 30 years. Prior to the 2005 NHL lockout, which was the first work stoppage in over a century, players could be traded between seasons without restrictions. In fact, a loophole in the system allowed teams to protect 30% of their roster (12 players) from being touched by other teams through trades or free agency.

However, since the start of the 2005-06 season, teams are only allowed to protect 50% of their roster (20 players), which is a huge reduction. As a result, teams are much more careful about the players they expose to the free agency market, knowing that another team might be able to swoop in and snatch them up. The logic here is that if a team has a better offer, they will have to let the player go, despite the fact that they signed him to a professional contract.

This is why you should always try to have your best players locked up for the entire season. It’s not just about what is best for the team, but what is best for the individual player. In many cases, these players can end up being much more valuable to your team long-term, as they will be around for years to come and can continue developing their game. Plus, there is always the chance that they will eventually become a free agent and will end up back on the market, where they can help your team win championships.

How Has The Protected List Changed Over Time

The first and most obvious change that we need to discuss is that the salary cap has increased. Back in 2006, when the cap was around $40 million, teams could afford to protect a larger number of players. However, since the salary cap has increased to about $70 million, teams can only afford to protect a smaller number of players.

This has forced teams to become more savvy about who they protect and for how long. Prior to the 2014-15 season, teams could only protect players for up to one season, and now they can protect them for up to two seasons. This, in turn, has made it much more difficult for teams to have a good rookie season and shed some of their more experienced players, as they will undoubtedly want to do in order to make the playoff cut each year.

The Impact Of The System On High-Profile Players

Even if you don’t want to play for the Chicago Blackhawks and want to end up in a situation where you have to play for the Edmonton Oilers, it still doesn’t matter that much, as you’d be playing for one of the top 5 hockey organizations in the world. However, if you are a talented young hockey player and happen to be on an even smaller team, the protections can certainly feel like a stumbling block to achieving your dreams of playing in the NHL.

Take, for instance, Nathan MacKinnon, who was the 5th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He is a phenomenal talent and is ready to make the leap to the NHL right now. However, he is playing for the Halifax Highlanders and isn’t exactly sure what to make of all of this. He might, in fact, decide to forgo his senior season in Halifax and enter the NHL draft. This is a big decision and will undoubtedly weigh heavily on his mind, as he will have to decide whether or not to sacrifice the security of the protected list in order to achieve his dreams of playing in the NHL.

On the other hand, let’s say that you are a young hockey player and you’ve been dreaming about playing in the NHL for as long as you can remember. Suddenly, your dream of playing in the NHL comes to fruition and you end up on a brand-new team with a bunch of young stars. What would you do?

You could, of course, decide to play the game the right way and join the team under protest, as there is no rule that says you have to play for the same team your entire NHL career. However, it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to play for a new team every year, so you might be stuck with the ones you were born into, which can be somewhat disheartening. What you need to do is find a way to get around the protection and sign with a new team as soon as possible. Naturally, this will require some ingenuity and a good amount of sleuthing, but it is possible.

These examples show that even though the system was put in place to protect players, it can certainly work against them. Teams sometimes make the mistake of protecting their best players just because they are worth the most to them. So, if you are a high-profile player and believe that you can help your team win, you might be better off taking a pass on the protection and attempting to jump over it yourself. You have to think about what is best for you, not what is best for the team.

Now that you’re probably beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s important to mention that the system can work in your favor. Let’s say, for example, that you are a star defenseman in the WHL (Western Hockey League) and the Calgary Flames decide to take a chance on you. The problem is that they have a lot of excellent defensemen and don’t need another one. So, they will have to make sure that you understand that you will be playing with a lot of the best players in the world, which will undoubtedly be a challenge.

On the other hand, if you are a small forward in the WHL and the Edmonton Oilers decide to take a chance on you, you will be able to join a group of talented players and improve your game. Alternatively, you could opt out of your senior season and enter the NHL draft. If you’re talented enough, you will almost certainly be able to land yourself a spot on an NHL roster because there will be a lot of coaches and general managers anxious to acquire your services.

So, while the system might not seem fair at first glance, it can certainly work in your favor. Just be sure to weigh the pros and cons of playing with the big dogs versus starting your career with a smaller team and trying to make the jump up the ranks.

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