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October 20, 2011
From Daigle To Datsyuk
Changing The Development System, Part 3

by Corey Pronman

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In the last section, I introduced a new minor league system that would see three minor leagues be put into effect each with different goals. The purpose of this is not to repeat the current system where the AHL is a real minor development league and the ECHL pretends to be. These leagues will all have 30 complete rosters who accomplish their goals as a league in regards to development. This will be accomplished because of a previously alluded to fact that all players will be required to sign soon after the NHL Entry Draft no matter what part of the world they are from, and then join the minor pro ranks. However, there are many more details that need to be covered aside from just that.

The first thing that would be required is to extend the NHL Entry Draft from seven to unlimited rounds. The draft would continue until all teams say pass in a given round. The purpose of the unlimited rounds would be for teams to be able to fill up their three rosters. There would be no 50 total contract limit because of this, which is something I will elaborate on later. Each player would have up until sometime in early September to sign, and would be allowed to attend development camps without a contract, but not the rookie camps or NHL preseason.

If a player did not sign after being drafted, the team would lose their rights and they would not be able to re-enter the draft until two years after their draft season. This would be for all North American-based entrants (not based on birth, but where a player is located league-wise when applying for the draft). For all European-based players, they would have to wait four years before entering the next draft. The purpose of such a signing system is more geared to the Europeans and Russians to give them much more incentive to come overseas. This is also meant to penalize those who don't sign on both sides of the world, by not allowing them to simply wait a year and try again. If the players out East did not sign initially, they could still stay in their native country but would start their North American pro career pretty late and have their free agency delayed (more on that soon). Also, they would be getting compensated with a minor league salary, albeit a small one, if they came over so that's at least something to put into the equation.

A team may not re-select a player they have drafted once and failed to sign unless the player allows for it.

The next piece of the equation would be a team's contract limit. Under the current system, an NHL team is allowed 50 contracts owned in the pro ranks between the NHL and minor pro. However, under this new system there would obviously be more than that so what would happen is that same 50 contract limit would still apply but only for the NHL and all players in the AHL (AHL is defined in the league portion of my proposal). When a player is not in the AHL or NHL, they would be on a purely minor league contract and would not have their free agency affected. However, should an NHL team want to call a player up to the AHL or NHL from outside those two leagues, they would have to sign that player to an Entry-Level deal and that player's free agency clock and tracking of accrued seasons (defined by the CBA) would start immediately. If a team wanted to send a player down from the AHL or NHL to the ECHL, that would remove them from the "50 man roster" but it would require them to clear waivers.

One change I would make to free agency is to scrap the seven accrued seasons or age 27 to become a UFA and just go by the former. However, that would be seven accrued seasons on the "50 man roster" between the AHL and NHL and not just in the NHL.

These kinds of rules are partly put in place with emphasis on the prospects out East again, to encourage them to come over in the first eligible draft, as those free agency rules likely wouldn't affect many North Americans significantly. With the current Entry-Level system, outside of the prospects with late birthdates if a European is drafted four years after their 17-year-old season, it would still make them 21, and have to serve three years in the Entry Level system. If they don't sign an ELC right out of Europe, they would also still have to serve seven years before their hit UFA. That creates much more incentive to cross the pond early on.

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Something that is important to mention is the impact these proposals would have on the main current development leagues, namely the CHL and the NCAA.

I've merely hinted at some of these ideas on Twitter and have drawn quite…interesting responses from diehard fans, usually those of the CHL. Let it be said (but likely passed over) that I am not an anti-CHL person and do appreciate the quality of the product they put out currently. However, my priority is for the best possible environment for NHL prospects and not the CHL. In time, people wouold learn to like the new U-20 minor league and if they don't… well…too bad.

The CHL will not go under if the NHL more or less takes all their best 18- and 19-year-olds, despite what some detractors may say. With their current business model, I don't see how such a change would crush the league financially especially when much lesser Junior leagues around the world do just fine despite the fact they lose a lot of their 18- and 19-year-old players regularly. They may have to extend their minimum age to 15 to maintain proper roster numbers or just accept lesser talents in their current age group. Another possibility is that the CHL could become the U-20 minor pro league in name, and just create a new entity for teams that house 18- and 19-year-old players from around the globe in a minor pro manner that would be NHL-affiliated. This again goes to what I said at the start of the proposal, in that the details could be moved around a lot as long as the principles stayed intact.

These changes would also impact some of the development factors for players in the CHL. With all the good 18- and 19-year-olds leaving the league, the talent level would decrease. This would be beneficial for most of the 16-year-olds in the CHL, who outside of the elite few, are usually not given heavy, tough minutes and rarely produce at a significant level. However, it would likely make the competitive environment too easy for the first year draft-eligible players, most of whom are 17 years old and it would likely be harder on people like Iain Fyffe when it comes to putting value on player's output and on scouts in evaluating things such as hockey sense at a lower quality of competition. This would likely result is more uncertainty when it comes to evaluating CHL players in the NHL Entry Draft.

This is an obvious fault to this system, however, for the gains that come with it—the multiple very beneficial development environmental factors with the 3-tiered minor pro leagues and the ability to have movement within it, team control over the prospects with coaching staffs hired and overseen by the organization—I feel that they cancel out and heavily leans in favor towards these current proposals.

The NCAA would also be massively affected by this proposal, but since they would be losing most of their top recruits before they go to campus, the quality of competition issue for drafting purposes won't be present as much as it would be in the CHL.

There is also the possibility of a European pitfall in regards to their talent pool. If they start losing all their best players overseas so suddenly, they may stop investing in their youth leagues or may play strict hardball with the NHL in regards to transfer agreements. I am not completely informed in this area, but I fail to see the leverage a country like Sweden or Finland would have over the NHL when it comes to player transfers aside from the fact they continue developing players. They also need to fill up their pro rosters with talent, even if it's not the very best players; they rarely keep their top players very long anyways. There will likely be some pushback from Europe in regards to negotiations or funding cuts, but I don't think they would be extremely severe.

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So I imagine at this point, there are people in London, Ontario and North Dakota who may not be my biggest fans. As aware as I am of how much these ideas would affect the current prospect landscape, I truly believe that this kind of system upheaval is necessary to develop hockey talent at the highest possible level. NHL teams need to be able to control players' usage to maximize how much they're challenged, and have the ability to influence their development on a day-to-day basis. Players also need to be in a pro environment, be able to participate in prospect activities during the offseason, and be able to have new, more challenging avenues available to them when the current challenge is overcome. They need to be able to have all of these elements, not just some, to truly maximize their development.

This is what such a system would provide. While I do not think this is what will happen, this is what I think would be the best course of action for the NHL when it comes to their prospects.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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