Is Bob Nicholson Trying to Kill Two Birds With One Stone?
According to Nicholson, this leaves many players in a sort of career limbo, caught somewhere between the professional and amateur ranks at a key point in their development process. Many players find themselves drafted at a young age, but end up parked in an NHL press box rather than garnering valuable on-ice experience.
In theory, the added year of development would mean more players are NHL-ready immediately upon being drafted. The average rookie would be bigger, stronger, and more seasoned upon their arrival in the league.
Teams currently have up to nine games to decide if a rookie player will remain with the club for the season’s duration or be sent back to their junior squad. These can be spread out as the team sees fit. While an elite few make the transition to the professional game with relative ease, Nicholson is hoping to avoid cases like that of Brayden Schenn, who played for five teams in four months last season, splitting time between the Los Angeles Kings, their AHL affiliate in Manchester, Team Canada’s World Junior squad, and both Brandon and Saskatoon of the CHL.
Under Nicholson’s new system, exceptional 18-year-olds would be eligible for an exemption, meaning a player like last season’s Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner would still be able to make a direct jump to the big show if they are deemed ready. He insists that the proposal is not meant to serve as a barrier to those who are ready to play, but rather as a safety net for those who are not.
While Nicholson’s logic seems sound, the proposal smacks of home-cooking.
Following back-to-back disappointments at the World Junior Hockey Championships, the pressure is on Hockey
And when there is pressure on Hockey
You see, many American-born players choose a free education in the NCAA over the more direct route to the NHL through the major junior system; which is the most popular path among Canadian players. Because college players are usually drafted later in their career, the
In stark contrast,
In his report, Nicholson cites the 2003 draft class as a perfect example of the potential impact of an added year of development. While the league was locked out, many young players were forced to continue along with a junior career which may have otherwise been abandoned. While the results are difficult to argue, given the strength of that particular draft class, one has only to look at the 2005 Canadian World Junior roster as proof of the “incidental” benefit to the Canadian program such a proposal would bring about. (Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber...)
The proposed exceptional player clause seems to address the issue of elite young players such as Steven Stamkos or Jeff Skinner, who were clearly ready for the jump before their 19th birthday.
However, the fact of the matter is that, with very few exceptions, only the most talented players are asked to make that jump anyway. This season, only six 2011 draft picks remain with the big club and of those, two or three are almost certain to be sent back before playing their full nine games.
If the National Hockey League truly wants to maximize the development of its young talent, there are more than a few good ideas being floated. The league could minimize the amount of playing time lost by forcing teams to decide whether to keep a rookie within the team’s first ten games, regardless of how many the player has appeared in. They could ease the transition process with educational programs that teach young players how to adjust to the pro lifestyle, or make changes to the AHL affiliate system to allow young players an opportunity to spend more time on the ice as opposed to sitting in the press box or stapled to an NHL bench.
Mr. Nicholson’s proposal may indeed protect the players’ development process and lead to a stronger NHL, but any decision that allows one nation a decided advantage in international competition should be weighed very carefully. There is a lot of merit to the idea of raising the draft age, but until that push comes from a source that does not immediately stand to benefit from the decision, the league must tread softly.
Given what Bob Nicholson stands to gain personally, the league has little choice but to be wary of his proposition.
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...