The Edmonton Oilers thought they had a deal with 18-year-old, undrafted Russian-born forward Vladimir Tkachev. It appeared to be a steal for the team considering that Tkachev was eligible to be selected by any of the 30 teams (including the Oilers) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Signing him would have almost been like getting an extra draft pick.
All seemed normal after the Oilers announced Tkachev was signed. He seemed to be a similar case to fellow undrafted player Joe Hicketts, who recently signed with the Detroit Red Wings despite going unselected in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Later Tuesday, however, the Oilers were informed that Tkachev's standard player contract had been ruled ineligible.
The 5-foot-9, 141-pound forward passed through the draft in his first year of eligibility without being selected despite 39 points in 26 games between the regular season and playoffs with the Moncton Wildcats.
Invited to the Oilers rookie camp as a virtual free agent, Tkachev impressed enough to earn a spot at the Oilers’ NHL training camp as well. By Tuesday, he signed a contract thanks to a quirk in the CBA that allows players to be signed after their first year of draft eligibility, or at least that's what the Oilers thought.
Basically, the Oilers offered a contract to a player who did not meet the criteria to receive one per the collective bargaining agreement.
As is outlined in the CBA, in order to sign an undrafted player, that player had to meet the following criteria as outlined accurately by Capitals blogger Fedor Fedin for Russian Machine Never Breaks last year (emphasis added):
8.9 Eligibility for Play in the League. No Player shall be eligible for play in the League unless he:
(b) had been eligible for claim in the last Entry Draft, but was unclaimed, and:
(ii) had played hockey in North America the prior season and was under age 20 at the time of the last Entry Draft, and signed an SPC which was signed and registered with the League between the conclusion of the Entry Draft and commencement of the Major Juniors season (except that if such Player had signed an NHL try-out form, which was signed and registered with the League during the aforesaid time period, then the deadline for signing and registering with the League an SPC with such try-out Club shall be the commencement of the NHL Season).
(iv) The words “eligible for claim in the last Entry Draft” in subparagraph (b) above mean “eligible for claim in all rounds of the last Entry Draft.” The words “the prior season” in subparagraph (i), (ii) and (iii) above mean “a full season prior to the last Entry Draft.”
Tkachev spent only part of last season in North America with the Wildcats, which is where the Oilers got confused. Prior to joining Moncton last January, Tkachev played in 18 games in Russia including two with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. He was eventually granted his release and headed to Moncton to finish out the season in hopes his being in North America would boost his draft stock.
However, even though he went unselected, since he did not play a "full season" within North America, he was not eligible to be signed to a standard player contract, which is clearly defined in the last paragraph in the CBA excerpt above.
Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish addressed the somewhat embarrassing gaffe later Tuesday night. More from EdmontonOilers.com:
"There's a subsection in the CBA that defines prior season. When we looked at it, it looked like Vlad fulfilled all the criteria to sign a Standard Player's Contract," MacTavish began. "He went through the draft -- 30 teams had a chance to draft him -- and he played the prior season in North America, which he did in Moncton.
"But when you go down two paragraphs further, in another subsection of article 8, it defines 'prior season' as a complete season. Vlad had played some games in the KHL and that went unnoticed."
The Oilers front-office staff committed a rather sizable error because they didn’t read far enough in the subsection that directly relates to the kind of player they were trying to sign. This may be a somewhat obscure subsection, but there are precedents for this kind of situation which is why you'd expect an NHL team with employees whose job is to understand the CBA forwards and backwards to get this right.
The Washington Capitals ran into a similar situation last season with Australian Nathan Walker, who went through the NHL draft twice without being selected. In that second draft-eligible season, he spent part of the year in the Czech pro ranks before coming to North America to play in the United States Hockey League. Though he passed through the draft again, the Caps invited him to their training camp as a free agent. He impressed enough that they were able to sign him to an AHL contract with the Hershey Bears since they could not get him under an NHL contract due to the CBA.
Walker had to reenter the draft a third time and the Capitals ended up selecting him in the third round, making him the first Australian ever drafted into the NHL this summer.
This Tkachev situation is also reminiscent of when the Philadelphia Flyers tried to sign Czech prospect Tomas Hyka, but were informed they could not do so. As a result, he had to reenter the draft and Hyka ended up being selected by the Los Angeles Kings the following year in the sixth round.
In the instance of Joe Hicketts, and Carolina Hurricanes prospect Sergei Tolchinski, who were both signed in the manner the Oilers attempted to sign Tkachev, both played a full season in North America in their draft years. Hicketts, a Canadian, played for the WHL's Victoria Royals and Tolchinski, a player awfully similar to Tkachev in skill level, size and nationality, played for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL.
The Oilers clearly made a mistake here, but the person most affected unfortunately is an 18-year-old kid who had to really fight for a contract after not getting drafted. To have it signed and then essentially yanked out from under him hours later is just brutal.
The club planned to send Tkachev back to Moncton anyway, but they would have retained his rights while doing so if his contract was eligible. Now they can't keep his rights and Tkachev will be forced to reenter the draft, where he will almost assuredly be selected this time around, possibly not by the Oilers unless they take him earlier than they’d probably like to.
Of course, if there was a team that wanted Tkachev, an incredibly skilled player whose size becomes less of an issue thanks to his shifty puck-handling and hockey sense, they should have taken him in the draft. Being small and Russian has been a bad combo when it comes to trying to get drafted, even when the production suggests there’s quite a bit of potential and the player has come to North America before he ever makes it to the NHL.
Odds are, one of the 30 teams that passed on him last time (including the Oilers) won’t be ready to make the same mistake twice when they get the chance next June. If nothing else, the Oilers just gave scouts in the QMJHL region a player to watch extra closely next year.