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  • Back Sports Page Question of The Day 11/27


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    Back Sports Page Question of The Day 11/27

    How Can the NHL make themselves more relevant in the sports landscape?

    Every Week Back Sports Page asks Five Questions to staff and experts. The questions and answers are posted throughout this week on Backsportspage.com.

    Check Out today's Question and let your voice be head by by leaving your opinion below!!

  • A Mayor and his Coliseum


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    A Mayor and his Coliseum

    Special to BackSportsPage by Sean K. Palmer

    There’s less than 40 days until the puck drops on the 2015-2016 NHL hockey season.  As it approaches, there is a strange feeling upon me; something or someone is missing.   

    See, I've been an Islander fan since the day that I was born. From the moment my grandfather took me to my first game, sometime in the late 1970's.  There I saw Bossy, Trottier, Potvin, and of course, the legendary coach, Al Arbour.  

  • Mark Howe Speaks With Back Sports Page


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    Mark Howe Speaks With Back Sports Page

    Howe Opens Up About His Book and Much More!!

    Author Rob Benvin

    I’m a Pittsburgh native. I’ve grown up there, in the city of “champ-yinz” for the majority of my life. When I had the opportunity to interview the great Mark Howe, I was elated. Yet, while I carried around his book with the image of him in a Flyers uniform, the glares I received from Pittsburghers, also known as “yinzers,” were comparable to those that one would get when only driving the speed limit.

    Mark Howe, Gordie Howe’s son, as he continues to identify himself, exposed much of his personal life in this autobiography. Traditionally, an autobiography recounts the achievements and challenges that one individual has encountered. But, this book is more of a “family-ography” written from the perspective of just one person.

  • An Angel Amongst Devils


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    An Angel Amongst Devils

    Author Nick Singleton

    If there’s one thing David Clarkson knows, it’s toughness. The 28-year-old New Jersey Devils winger fought his way into the NHL by being a gritty, hard-nosed player who gained a reputation as a physical checker, vicious fighter, and ideal teammate in the locker room. In his first full regular season on the Devils, Clarkson had 21 fighting majors. More often than not, he is fighting on the ice to stand up for a teammate who might not be able to stand up for himself.

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Raising the Draft Age

on Tuesday, 18 October 2011. Posted in Hockey

Is Bob Nicholson Trying to Kill Two Birds With One Stone?

Title

Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson has submitted a nine-page proposal to the NHL and its Players Association which would see the official age for draft eligibility raised to 19 years. Under the current system, players become draft eligible at the age of 18.

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 Canada to return to the form that saw them take home five straight championships from ’05-’09. As one of the highest-rated sporting events in Canada each year, the WJHC is a major focal point for the hockey world.

And when there is pressure on Hockey Canada, there is pressure on Bob Nicholson.

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 US has a much higher percentage of its home-grown talent from which to choose when it comes time to select a World Junior roster. Similarly, many European nations also offer domestic development leagues which help keep their young talent close to home.

In stark contrast, Canada has ten players age 19 or under playing in the NHL this season, all of whom would presumably be available to Team Canada’s selection committee were they not under contract. So who, other than a small handful of borderline 18-year-old players, would benefit the most from this proposed change? You guessed it: Mr. Bob Nicholson.

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...

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