NHL Free Agency Primer: New Rules, New Dates For 2013 Thanks To Lockout, New CBA

With some changes in the new CBA directly affecting the way NHL free agency works this year, this post will get you up to speed for the madness starting this Fri - wait, you mean free agency's already started?!

The NHL's silly season opens in a few days, as free agency begins at noon on Friday, July 5. However, before we dive in to what the Sabres might be doing, let's review some free agency changes that came about thanks to the new CBA in order to get you ready to speculate your heart away.

The most important, or time-sensitive change, is that although free agency doesn't open until Friday, teams can actually start talking with players beginning today - actually, this interview window was open as of 12:01am this morning. If a player and a team agree on a new contract, they are free to announce it at any time, though they can't actually sign anything until noon on Friday.

This is similar to the window that the NBA has had for years, and was put in to place as a response to the fact that the biggest free agents would now often take their time and listen to offers, rather than sign right away on July 1. Now that process can begin early, hopefully leading to a more exciting first day of free agency. Expect to hear a ton of rumors, and a few announced agreements, over the next few days.

Another change includes contract lengths that cannot exceed 7 years, or 8 in the case of a team re-signing its own free agent. This means no more Ryan Suter/Zach Parise 13-year deals, and players may be more likely to sign with their former teams.

Finally, the last big new twist in contract negotiations is and no more than 35% variance in the actual dollars year-to-year, and no more than 50% difference between the lowest and highest salaried year. No more front-loading contracts, and no more Ilya Kovalchuk or Tyler Myers massive contracts that go from $12 million in year one to $6 million in year two to $1.50 by the end.

Aside from the obvious shorter contracts, this could see the average total value of many top deals go up overall. Free agency is always a time for overpayment, and now that you can't get a magical cap hit by front-loading a deal, guys will be getting more money overall since there won't be those three years at $1 million tacked on to the end of their contract.

Those are the big changes to watch out for in free agency under the new CBA. We'll be taking a mroe in-depth looko at the Sabres needs tomorrow, but for now, keep your eyes and ears peeled for news of free agent player meetings and contracts over the next few days, and happy speculating.