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February 5, 2012, 01:08 AM ET

CHL-NHL Agreement on the Table?

by Corey Pronman

As some regular readers are well aware of, I am not fan of the current CHL-NHL arrangement for keeping players drafted from the CHL from advancing to the AHL until they are 20. I’ve written about my opposition to the agreement here and my three part (One, two and three) recommendation to change the current system.

So it should go without saying then that I was intrigued by this Vancouver Sun piece where Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was asked on the topic,

Yzerman believes players with three seasons of junior experience should be allowed to play in the American Hockey League. As it stands, junior-aged players can play only in the Canadian Hockey League or in the NHL.

“We talk about it all the time,” Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times. “We would like to have, particularly guys who have played three years in junior that when we feel it’s time to go to another level, we’d rather see them in the American League.”

Now the three year thing is a bit peculiar because it fits right into Yzerman’s current issue with Brett Connolly likely needing AHL time. In my opinion if you’re going to open up that door half-way, may as well go the distance and make it universal for post-draft CHL prospects.
Otherwise you’re just drawing an arbitrary line that does not benefit players in every case. I could see a partial argument of trying to preserve CHL talent level, but the second this topic hits the discussion floor it’s clear where a team’s priorities really are.

However what was more interesting is what was said about this on CBC’s Hotstove:

Francis: The agreement between the CHL and the NHL ends in July. I’ve talked to some people in the CHL, they are furious at the mere mention of this because they really think it would hurt the biggest developmental league the NHL has.

My take: The fact it ends in July is a HUGE detail for this issue. The CHL-NHL agreement has been a huge secret and so hard to get any actual information on, so such a crucial aspect being revealed is significant. Next is the CHL’s complaint about the league suffering, here was what I said on that last year:

Not the fact that the CHL losing a fair proportion of their top players will hurt their finances, but that said claim is of such significant leverage for the CHL that the NHL agreed to the current system. The average CHL team is worth around $7M in value (stick tap to Neate Sager for that), players get paid under two grand per month give or take, leagues’ average attendance numbers hover around three to four thousand per game, and they get TV coverage on several regional stations and at times even national ones. Given all that, even with expenses like the rinks and paying employees, I find it hard to believe that the CHL losing some of its best 18 and 19 year olds would cause the league to go under, because from the NHL’s standpoint that should be the line where it starts to matter. The NCAA regularly takes some of the USHL’s best young players, yet they survive in a much less popular league.

Now this isn’t a perfectly transferable issue to the USHL, but even still I find it very, very hard to believe the CHL would go under. What would happen is the talent level would go down, and that’s something everyone would have to live with. The CHL doesn’t have much leverage in this topic aside from things like pulling the Top Prospects game.

Then for some reason, Glenn Healy said this on the topic,

Healy: College hockey want to have a later draft, so for both plans, good luck getting that past the PA.

My take: Healy who is a former PA exec, I’m not exactly sure what he’s negotiating for here. This agreement ending is good for the players. Their ELC’s don’t start in Junior, they would start in the AHL and could approach Restricted Free Agency much quicker. Francis says above this will be a huge CBA issue. I fail to see how it would be so contentious unless the Entry-Level system doesn’t change in the new CBA which is highly doubtful.

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Hopefully this talk leads to the changes that need to happen and ending the current agreement come this summer. A name like Yzerman talking about it is a good start.

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