Every summer we hear about the meat market recruiting from the junior level of play. 2021 is not any different, and it may be worse than ever.
The biggest joke of the off season is the number of promised free-to-play opportunities with certain non-sanctioned programs. It is the equivalent of trying to stuff a 100-pound watermelon into an empty 16-ounce Coca-Cola bottle. Seriously, how is it possible to get 80 players onto a 25-man roster?
In the battle of supremacy between the non-sanctioned and sanctioned leagues, USA Hockey has the rare opportunity to dictate standards for both sides of the battle.
Let's take a serious look at making to following changes.
Tier I junior teams should be able to protect up to 45 players. Limit active rosters to 20 players and allow the remaining 25 players to be assigned to tier II junior and AAA level youth teams.
Tier II junior teams should be able to also protect up to 45 players, but that number includes the Tier I players rostered on assignment. Like the Tier I rule, active rosters should be limited to 20 players and allow the remaining 25 players to be assigned to tier III junior and AAA level youth teams.
Tier III junior teams should be able to also protect up to 45 players, that number includes the Tier II players rostered on assignment. Like the Tier I & II rule, active rosters should be limited to 20 players and allow the remaining 25 players to be assigned only to AA level youth teams. Players paying to play must do so and that means a minimum of 15% of the available ice-time. Failure to meet that requirement over a ten-game period gives the player the option to a full pro-rated refund and release from player agreement.
Teams can add, drop, and trade players openly as usual until the trade deadline. Teams can also utilize any protected player for up to ten games before having to add that player to the active roster. This gives clubs up to 250 extra game slots to cover for active roster injuries, suspensions, and higher-level call-ups.
We all know that certain tiers I and II coaches will not be able to stop themselves from trying to game the system. So, let us force in-season free-agent signings to play ten games at lower levels before being eligible to join active roster.
These adjustments give sanctioned junior hockey a tremendous advantage over the other guys. This especially rings true if USA Hockey takes a hardline regarding zero tolerance issues. Let the non-sanctioned group have all the bullies, drinkers, vapers, and recreational drug users. Players (and team staff) that violate standards get to take the rest of the current and all next season off from sanctioned hockey.
There is a change of leadership at the top of USA Hockey and it is the perfect time to give sanctioned players a more defined system of development. The good kids deserve it, let the others go elsewhere.