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Daily Dish: NHL-CHL Agreement is Major BS - Junior Hockey News

Published: Monday, 13 Aug 2012
By: Stephen Heisler  |  Web site: JuniorHockey.com

An 18 year-old is an adult that should have the right to make adult decisions.One of those decisions should include the right to step outside of the developmental process and go to work. The now adult could be training to become an heavy equipment operator, a baker, or even join the military. The National Hockey League, in conjunction with the Canadian Hockey League (WHL, OHL, QMJHL), have purposely blocked such adults from being able to play professional hockey at the minor league level. That agreement, dubbed the NHL-CHL Transfer Agreement, expired in July and changes are expected. I believe that the policy should be simply tossed out with the trash.

Before 1979, players had to be 20 years-old to enter the National Hockey League Draft or to play in the league. The old World Hockey Association signed a number of junior players, one was then 17 year-old Wayne Gretzky. When the WHA merged with the NHL in 1979, the league changed its policy and began drafting 18 and 19 year-olds. Under the terms of the agreement, if a drafted player under 20 year-old does not win a roster spot on an NHL team, he must be returned to the junior team. Going to the American Hockey League, the ECHL or other to one of the other pro leagues that honor the practice is not an option. 

The 33 year-old agreement should have been legally challenged long ago regardless of the benefits to the NHL and CHL. Why is the game so hell-bent on the elimination of player options?  Why are CHL players the only ones suffering? College players that turn professional before their 20th birthday can play right away. How does the agreement make any legal sense?

Many NHL general managers and owners are calling for the league to make changes to any new agreement that allow drafted players to join the AHL, but even that proposal requires that the player must have spent three years in the CHL before being eligible for an AHL assignment.

The CHL is in a very interesting position. Should they try to hold onto what they have and fight change or does an open system make a lot more sense? 

How could such a system work?

First of all, the game needs to change the point at which a prospect has to choose a developmental route. It is not fair to push the family of a 15 year-old into a decision that forces him into one path or the other. The CHL needs to make adjustments to ensure full compliance with NCAA requirements to give prospects better additional options. Doing this would provide major junior hockey with a serious shot in the arm when it comes to talent, while lowering the cost of operation. The most talented prospects would be in the CHL, the next step down would be the CJHL and USHL and so on. Such an adjustment would bring the entire system into balance. 

The NCAA would also do themselves a favor by forcing players into four year commitments with a financial penalty for early departure. That commitment also has to go both ways. If a college player wants to leave early for professional hockey, he is going to get a bill to cover the educational and developmental costs accumulated to that point. At the same time, once a player enters into such an agreement with a school, his educational expenses should be guaranteed regardless of an injury, coaching change, or if his athletic talent was over estimated. College should be about getting an education and developing into a productive adult, not preparing for professional hockey.

Who are the biggest losers in such a system? The 30 year-old career minor-league player. We would see the ECHL, Central Hockey League, and even the Southern Pro Hockey League get a lot younger. College hockey would get a bit older and I have to believe that we would also see a lot less junior programs at the pay-to-play level. Balancing the entire system simply makes sense for the game, now let us see if the NHL is willing to force the CHL into change or if some bright attorney is going to have to do it for them.

The Daily Dish is brought to you by GoPenasco.com. Relax, unwind...enjoy! Visit http://GoPenasco.com 
Stephen Heisler resides in Puerto Penasco with his wife, Maria, and their two children, Sonia and Tomas. Friend him on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/stephen.heisler for more information and pictures from Mexico. 


posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 6:29am
James Highley says:
"The NCAA would also do themselves a favor by forcing players into four year commitments with a financial penalty for early departure. That commitment also has to go both ways. If a college player wants to leave early for professional hockey, he is going to get a bill to cover the educational and developmental costs accumulated to that point." I assume then that a student on academic scholarship who leaves college to go to work for IBM or Microsoft (as Bill Gates did by the way) will also receive a bill from the college for "educational and development costs accumulated to that point"? And I assume the student athlete who has been part of generating millions of dollars for a D1 athletic program for the school will likewise be able to bill the school when he graduates for the difference of what he received and what he generated?

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 6:49am
Randy Russon says:
Very well stated, James.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 7:37am
Stephen Heisler says:
D1 athletic departments are certainly big business and 98%+ of the athletes are never going to see a penny generated from their sport. But is it fair to real student-athletes to have to compete for roster spots with guys that will never see the third or even second year of school? Why are we using up scholarship dollars on these kind of athletes.

Hockey's developmental system needs to clearly define the paths to professional OR college hockey. The college route should not simply be a short cut to avoid the NHL-CHL agreement.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 10:27am
Janet Smith says:
These reforms may ensure that prospects with professional hockey talent actually do go and play professional hockey! They wouldnt hang around at college! Then the scholarships would be avaialble to the players who will stay in colllege for four years. SOme people may not like these changes....if you remove the star names from the college game!To the extent a pro prospect attends college for some years I am not sure that you can ask for a refund if he doesnt stay for four. For every year a player commits to college and plays he is fufilling his obligation and his education package is the exchange! How would you really legally require him to return those monies.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 10:49am
Stephen Heisler says:
If a player goes into college knowing the repercussions of early withdrawal, and makes the adult decision to commit to the agreement, why would we not want him to maintain his end of the bargain?

The commitment has to go both ways...if the school discovers that the prospect is not nearly as talented as projected, the student does not suffer if he he not selected for the team.

If the NHL suddenly develops a keen interest in the prospect, they won't mind covering the exit expense and even if they don't, I am not going to feel sorry for a player that leaves school to sign a $5M contract and is legally responsible to repay the school $100K. Boo hoo.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 11:14am
Janet Smith says:
I just dont know how you legally make that work. Do you treat the player the same who leaves collge because he decides the academics are not for him and he signs in the ECHL for 30 K...or leaves school because a parent dies and he is going to work to financially support his younger siblings. I dont think this works....legally.... just saying because you can't distinguish! People bail on "contracts" all the time and there may be some punitive consequences per agreement in commercial contracts ...but not you must repay all your salary earned already! ANd this is not commerical this is for education? The education was provided - the student took part? What if he is academically failing? Are you going to punish him them and make him repay the costs? I'm not saying I dont like your idea. I do! I think it would negate the majority of these situations in the first place! But repaying fees is probably not going to work!

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 12:21pm
Stephen Heisler says:
Colleges could easily make exceptions...but the idea is to keep players from using college hockey as a short cut to a pro career.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 2:20pm
Nick says:
Nick from Atlanta....come back when you get a real name.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 2:44pm
wayne wickline says:
Hi Stephen

Do you think opening that can of worms would expose many more and much younger players to more of the shenanigans of the liars and cheaters out there than happens now?

I think the rules as they are now protect many MANY more players than it may possibly hinder.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 3:00pm
Stephen Heisler says:
Trying to navigate the ocean of BS that is out there now is all but impossible.

What kind of insanity does it take for the parent(s) of a 15-16 year-old to roll the dice on the future of their son? If a bantam is all that now, there is a really good chance of being able to go to college for free later on, especially if he has decent grades.

It is even more insane for society to accept the practice as business as usual.

If the major juniors could figure out how to keep their collective noses clean, NCAA compliance would take the insanity out of the equation.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 3:18pm
Jeff Steinman says:
worst article ever.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 3:58pm
Stephen Heisler says:
So you feel it ok to keep adults from being able to work, allow players to use college hockey to get around the NHL-CHL agreement, and think that the parents of 15-16 year-olds should continue the practice of trying to win the lottery on the backs of their children? Nice.

This is one area where baseball is kicking hockey's a%&.

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 9:47pm
Jeff Kuntz says:
This again?

Stephen we understand that the point of your site is to make arguments that maximize options for junior players.. and in the case of tier 2 and 3 players, you do a great job.. in fact in the case of 99% of junior players you do an important service..

But the CHL's raison d'etre is developing hockey players for the National Hockey League.. not for the NCAA.. and the CHL sets the standard in North American sports for profitability, franchise stability (below the major league level) and talent development..

You do a great job talking about the junior hockey world, with the exception of major junior hockey.

I'm sorry to say this, but when it comes to the OHL, the WHL and the Q .. you just don't get it.

That said, for the rest of junior hockey I'm glad you do what you do and please keep it up..

posted Aug. 13th, 2012 - 11:27pm
Stephen Heisler says:
I agree with the role of the CHL... the issue I have is the lack of options for the can't miss prospect that simply missed.

What percentage of CHL players play more than ten games in the NHL? Your 99% number was nearly dead-on. Unfortunately, there are a lot of former major junior players back on the farms and in the mills. The option to get a free education certainly would have been nice when the reality of the NHL Draft killed the fantasy.

So, with that in mind, was the little bit of cash worth the loss NCAA eligibility? Do you really want to ask that question?

Bringing the CHL into full compliance would not be that much of a stretch. Players could receive an equal stipend if the CHL wants to pay the kids so much.

But what you are really concerned about is the loss of the 19s and 20s to the minor leagues. What you have to think about is the influx of talent that would fill in that loss once the CHL was in compliance would more than offset that loss. All of the top players on the continent would be in the CHL.

In reality, the CHL becomes a much stronger entity while reducing costs. Trust me Jeff, that is an interesting proposition for every team at the major junior level.

The death of the NHL-CHL agreement would force the CHL in such a direction and the result would be a balanced system of development.

posted Aug. 14th, 2012 - 8:48am
Jeff Kuntz says:
People are happy with the CHL just as it is.

Most of all, Canadian consumers and Canadian hockey players.

There is no system or industry that protects all of life's bad decisions or - more to the point: failures. Most athletes fail to make it to the big leagues and that's just part of life.

No kid in Canada grows up wanting to play in the NCAA.. they grow up wanting to play in the NHL and they all recognize that the CHL is part of the path there.. at some point, smart Canadian parents who know their kid is really good, but not NHL good, talks to their kid about the NCAA and that decision is made in the teenage years.. and that's awesome..

But if the kid is NHL good, parents go the CHL route because that's where their son stands the best chance of being developed in to an NHL player.

Nearly every kid who plays for a CHL team could play in the NCAA from a talent standpoint. They choose not to. Some times you have to live with your decision and if that means foregoing NCAA eligibility then so be it! You and your parents made that decision..

Ultimately getting more Canadian kids to play amateur hockey in the United States is a tough sell to begin with.. because history has shown, over time, that Hockey Canada does the best job in the world at developing talent..

But you're right that I'm concerned about the CHL losing 19 year olds to the AHL or the AA leagues.. But the reason I'm concerned is because of the old addage "don't fix it if it aint broken"... for 30 years, the system has worked just fine hasn't it? The system in place simply isn't broken..

It's part of the culture in cities all across Canada to go CHL games.. when we traveled to Kingston (or wherever) as kids to play in a hockey tournament, we went to see the OHL team play and we were out of our minds with excitement to go to that game..

It's hard to explain, but the CHL is a big part of growing up as a young hockey-lover in Canada..

Waiving a "HEY LOOK AT THE NCAA!" banner would only be interesting to 15 to 18 year old players who can't make it in major junior but still want to get something out of hockey. Everyone younger, everyone older, and most people in that very age group don't care. At all.

So asking the CHL to change ANYTHING to aid kids in transitioning to the NCAA is a total non-starter back in Canada.

posted Aug. 14th, 2012 - 9:08am
Jeff Steinman says:
you are arguing two distinct points, should 18 year olds be able to choose where they work and if 15 is too young to make the decision on where their starting point is.

the NHL agreement was put into place to keep the best non NHL junior aged talent in the CHL. there is no point of an 18 year old playing AHL hockey against men if they weren't good enough to make the NHL. They are better suited to play another year of CHL and develop there. a bigger fish in a small pond. You don't hear players complaining and in the majority of cases, are better for it.

merely complaining that 18 year olds don't get the choice of what league they play is short sighted an naive. you have similar rules for the NFL, NBA and possibly MLB. the reason is clear. very few players are prepared enough both physically and mentally to play professional sports at 18. Are you on the same crusade that an 18 year old can't legally drink?

no one is stopping anyone from working in fact the current setup produces the best talent overall, a player better prepared for life in pro hockey. the NCAA have different rules because there is a different starting point age wise so players have to weigh their options.

as for deciding when someone is 15 what path to take. it's not the CHL's fault the NCAA recognizes it as a professional league in fact, that's a big part of the draw. every player has the ability to decide if they aren't going to make the AHL to use their education package anywhere they want. decided against the NCAA the first time and went the CHL route? when your days are done you can go back to Notre Dame on your CHL team's dime. can't play hockey but you could at a CIS school. many players have done this. one is currently having his CHL team pay for him to attend Michigan. you see that as a bad thing? nice.

also rationalizing that giving prospects better options would somehow "provide major junior hockey with a serious shot in the arm when it comes to talent". how is the CHL hurting for talent now? most of the high end talent goes CHL. you have a small percentage go NCAA but if you look at who the best players in the NHL right are the majority of them are CHL grads. the last five rookie of the year winners are CHL grads with four of them being from the OHL, and the last three from the same CHL team. those that don't make it have their education plan available for them.

Where is this extra talent going to come from? the NCAA? it already does.

The CHL has no obligation to ensure they are NCAA compliant. that makes no sense. the NCAA is a competing league with enough rules to choke a horse, why would the CHL voluntarily adopt those rules? To bring the CHL into NCAA compliance means eliminating players who have signed professional contracts from playing on CHL teams (Jerry D'Amigo for example). It's not the token stipend players in the CHL make. That practice will never change.there is no good reason for that to happen. it only serves to hinder the talent overall in the CHL, and ironically, options.

The dumbest part of your article is bring up the ECHL, Central Hockey Leauge, and Southern Pro hockey league. these are not destination leagues by any stretch of the imagination. nor are they realistic stepping stones to even the AHL. sure some players from those leagues have made it to the AHL and probably the NHL, but there have also been people who have lived after their parachutes didn't open. just because it's happened doesn't mean its a realistic option. taking junior eligible players out of the CHL and puts them in the dregs of professional hockey is more limiting then leaving them where they are. do you know how many 18 and 19 year old CHL players are attending high school and post secondary school while playing CHL? that option would be closed if they were able to go ECHL.

I don't know what else you write about but if you are going to write about major junior at least educate yourself. you start with a faulty premise and continue from there. Garbage in Garbage out.

posted Aug. 14th, 2012 - 11:32am
Harry Urschel says:
The one thing missing from your analysis, I believe, is the maturity of the players. There is a tendency across all of hockey to draft or promote younger and younger players.
This is wrong for 99% of players.

I agree with the four year college scholarship proposal.

I don't agree about the CHL.

Canadien players have choices, major junior or Tier II.

I don't agree that younger kids should be playing pro. The thirty year old career minor league player needs a place to play. He earned it. Let the 17-18 year olds earn it.

posted Aug. 14th, 2012 - 11:50am
Stephen Heisler says:
If the NHL-CHL agreement is changed, there will not be anymore signed players at the major junior level... and the CHL will have to look at other options.

A lot about life has changed in the past 30 years... and this agreement should be one of them. In reality, it will not hold up in court if it is challenged.

posted Aug. 14th, 2012 - 12:05pm
Jeff Steinman says:
basically you just took an article off of hockeybuzz.com.

posted Aug. 14th, 2012 - 12:33pm
Stephen Heisler says:
I react to news everyday... that is the beauty of what I do.

The topic was in reaction to the hockeybuzz article...and I did verify the facts by researching it myself.

My opinion in regards to the topic are very evident, and why we are able to generate the traffic we do.

posted Aug. 15th, 2012 - 10:15am
Janet Smith says:
Harry....I disagree with you. Everyone has a right to earn their living. If you are young and good enough to play pro albeit at a minor level there should be no artificial barrier to you being able to work. I think Stephen is right here. I also can't believe there has not been a legal challenge made to the agreement.

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