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New NCAA Rule Could Help Canadiens Retain Rights To Prospect



Montreal Canadiens

With the August 15 deadline to sign NCAA prospects now upon us, many believed the Montreal Canadiens would lose the rights to 2018 7th round pick, Brett Stapley, but a new rule in the NCAA may give them an extra year to make up their minds.

Due to the impact of Covid-19 on the 2020-2021 season for many student-athletes in the NCAA, the NCAA Division I Council decided to offer an additional season of competition and an additional year in which to complete it. This means that NCAA players who hadn’t yet signed with their clubs could return to the NCAA for a fifth and final season as an exception due to the strange circumstances of the 2020-2021 season. This means that Stapley, who has already completed four years at Denver University, but played during the 2020-2021 season, would be eligible to return to the NCAA for a fifth season. If he were to decide to go back to Denver, the Canadiens would have an extra year to decide whether or not to let his rights expire.


What If Stapley Doesn’t Return To NCAA?

The Montreal Canadiens have drafted 38 prospects between 2018 and 2021, and unfortunately, they won’t be able to sign them all. If Stapley doesn’t go back to Denver and decides he would like to turn pro, the Montreal Canadiens will likely be letting the youngster’s right expire, allowing him to become a free agent in the process. The reasoning for such a move has much to do with the management side of the hockey business, as each NHL club can only have a maximum of 50 players under contract, including their usual 23-man NHL roster. This means they have to be selective with whom they decide to sign and who they let go. It would be easy for a team to sign every prospect they draft, but the contract limitations make it so that they need to be convinced of the youngsters’ NHL potential.

Stapley has had an up-and-down trajectory playing for the University of Denver over the last four years. His freshman and sophomore seasons looked promising, but he ultimately only saw his offensive numbers increase after being surrounded by top offensive talent. Despite putting up good numbers in his final year in the NCAA, the Montreal Canadiens will be getting quite the influx of young talent over the next two years. With Stapley already at 23 years old, his chances of becoming a regular NHL player at the next level remain slim and he could see his rights expire in consequence.


Understand NHL Player Rights

When an NHL club drafts a prospect, they acquire the exclusive rights to that player for a certain amount of time, which varies according to which region or league they’re coming from. For example, the rights of a player drafted out of Canadian Major Junior (CHL) belong to an NHL club for a maximum of two years. If, after two years, the team decides against signing the player, the player can go back into the draft for another team to sign him. However, in Europe or in the NCAA, once your rights expire after four years, you become a free agent capable of signing with any team in the league, rather than going back into the draft like CHL players. Below is the limit for each region when it comes to signing prospects.

  • Canadian Major Junior: 2 years
  • NCAA: After completion of senior year in college, usually 4 years.
  • Europe: 4 years
  • Russia: Indefinitely

This is why Stapley is now set to become a free agent, as he completed his four years of college hockey without having signed an NHL contract with the team that selected him. The “NCAA Loophole” is often used as a threat by prospects to pressure their respective clubs into signing them or trading them to their preferred destination and remains one of the more controversial rules in the NHL’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement.


The Montreal Canadiens released the rights to Brett Stapley as of August 15th, as the former Denver University forward will be looking to turn pro this upcoming season and will not seek a fifth year in the NCAA. The Canadiens were however able to retain the rights to fellow 2018 draft pick Jack Gorniak, who will be returning to the University of Wisconsin for a fifth and final season in the NCAA.


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