Here we are, near the end of July, almost every United States Hockey League, Canadian Junior Hockey League and North American Hockey League team has a loaded depth chart of returnees and rookies. Now all the unattached free agents are all looking for the best deal and trying to get a free-to-play training camp invite. Welcome to the season of deception.
Player: Coach, you have two pair of defenders from last year, three pairs that you drafted or tendered, so please explain why you invited me and seven other defenders to training camp.
What is a coach to say? Is he honest and tell the player it is all a numbers game and as a free agent, the player has a cold chance in hell of making the roster? Or does the coach blow smoke up the player's backside by telling the kid that he has a real shot of unseating one of the returnees and signed rookies?
This time of year can be extremely unsettling for both the players and parents. Little Johnny feels great about being invited to the USHL main camp, passes on a number of NAHL opportunities, and may end up costing his parents $15,000 (tuition, travel, billeting, equipment, and spending cash) for a season of Tier III or Junior B.
Meanwhile Hockey Canada and USA Hockey are up in junior hockey's business about everything from billeting to the amount of toilet paper a player can use in a season, when they should revamp the player selection process.
Roster management is a numbers game. Unfortunately, many owners have turned it into a money grab. I'd like to see a system where teams have to be more selective during the player procurement process.
The first step would be to eliminate upper level teams from drafting from the lower tiers. If a USHL team wants a player from the NAHL or CJHL, there should be a trade or a purchase of rights to the player. Same goes for the CJHL or NAHL for players from all of Junior B and Tier III. This change would put much more emphasis on the selection and development of prospects.
Many leagues have a number of players in high school or taking college classes. These players should not be moved during the semester. If a team wanted one of these guys bad enough, then they should be committed to that player for the entire semester.
How different would the game be if teams were forced into committing to every carded, protected, tendered, and drafted player for the entire season? Or even just for the entire semester?
The big money free agent camps would continue, and parents will still line up Little Johnny for the opportunity to secure one of maybe only four available spots on the roster, but everybody would go into these camps fully informed of that team's roster situation.
Commitment to the development of the players a team selects. What a great concept.