NHL will no longer pay transfer fees to European teams

ZURICH, Switzerland -- The National Hockey League will no longer pay transfer fees for European free agents.

The new policy comes after the player transfer agreement between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation expired Sunday after more than a decade of guiding the movement of players between Europe and the NHL.

Without an agreement with non-North American affiliates of the IIHF, the NHL will no longer pay a $200,000 transfer fee to sign players who were not under contract.

The change could save NHL teams a combined total of about $11 million a year to sign between 50 and 60 young players from six European leagues affiliated to the IIHF.

"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," he said.

The NHL and six major European members of the IIHF each exercised their right to end the deal in December, one year into a new four-year contract. Russia had pulled out of system three years ago.

The Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland were hoping to receive bigger fees for out-of-contract transfers because the American dollar has lost 32 percent of its value since 2002.

"The IIHF tried to convince the European leagues and their clubs that an agreement is better than a situation where basically nothing is regulated," IIHF president Rene Fasel said in an e-mail statement. "U.S. $200,000 is more than zero dollars. And this is what the clubs are getting now for players who sign NHL contracts."

The clubs also worried that the quality of domestic 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.

Of the 59 European players who signed NHL contracts before the 2007-08 season, only six were good enough to play there. Seven returned to European clubs, while 46 were sent to North American minor leagues.

The old agreement also obliged NHL teams to return certain players to their European club if they did not occupy a regular roster spot and entitled European clubs to compensation when former players later joined the NHL having left to sign for a Canadian junior club.

"All those things are gone now," Fasel said.

He said cooperation was still "excellent" between the governing body in Zurich and NHL head offices in New York City and that teams would not chase players who have a valid contract with a European club.

Any team trying to negotiate individual deals for European players would break the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NHL Players' Association and likely have to forfeit future draft picks as punishment.