On the Topic Of Changing the Draft Rules

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On this week’s Face Off Hockey Show, we debuted our new Patreon Pick segment where contributors of our Patreon who hit the donation tier picked a subject we would go long-form on. This week, one of the selections was the return to Major Juniors to two big names in the start of the season for their teams.

Kailer Yamamoto was sent from the Oilers back to Spokane, while Owen Tippett was moved from the Panthers to Mississauga. These two made enough of an impression to make the team out of camp, but due to their youth, inexperience, and the loopholes of an entry-level contract, they were allowed the ability to go back to Major Junior and grow more there.

This sparked a questions from our own Marc “with a ‘C'” who wondered if there was a way for players to lose their eligibility once they declare for the draft, which would also lead to the building of a new minor league system in that aspect. While I think this is something that could be an interesting test, I don’t know how much it could work in practice.

By in large, the NHL (and hockey in general) is very odd when it comes to the set-up of their draft, in that the rights of the player is held even if he’s not in their organization– like Junior and College players. For Major Junior players, they have two years to get signed or else they go back into the draft, however– if they sign a deal– they can play up to nine games before their first year is burnt up in their contract. For college players, they have all four years to decide if they want to stay or go. Yet we have seen in situations like Will Butcher, Jimmy Vesey, and Corban Knight where the college guys pick their poison once they get out of college and don’t have to sign with the team that drafted them– which is almost a waste of a spot for those teams that did pick them.

In other drafts, players have to declare and then lose their amateur rights when they sign a professional deal. Also, the NBA makes players aren’t eligible until a full year after their last high school year (though that may change), NFL is three years after your last high school year, while MLB is odd in that they draft players— but if the player steps into a college classroom, their rights are immediate withdrawn (see point 5 on that link). However, MLB has such a deep area of minor leagues that it’s not something hockey as a whole could take on unless they wanted to really, really shrink the size of each minor league. My belief is that minor league hockey “heads of state” are too bull-headed into doing something like that because for some reason they feel that a league has to have a 31-31-31 situations rather than what baseball has where the minor leagues are spread out.

Not only that, but it’s not as if hockey has the development situations the other sports have, since high school kids are in Major Juniors at 16 and don’t develop through an actual school team, but by a team within a leagues that is pulling in multi-million dollars a year. Those Major Junior leagues are run like a pro league, without having to pay the pro prices for players– but that’s another story for another time and another writer who has better knowledge on the inner workings of that kind of hockey.

So, what do you do to help the development so that 18-year-olds aren’t rushed in when they are not ready to do so?? The one thing people keep coming back to is raising the draft age to 19 or 20 years old, which is what the NBA did a couple years back.

It only makes sense to raise the age. The maturity of the player will be able to show through more, the player would get even more time in their development, and the teams won’t be playing roulette all that much because you’d be able to see a kid three-years into his playing cycle and maybe get some trends on how he plays. Of course, this is only for Major Juniors.

The college side is a little different. Players can get drafted by NHL teams and still play college because they have “advisors” which, according to the NCAA, aren’t agents and still allows the student-athlete to keep their amateur status and NCAA eligibility. It goes with the weird NHL thing where the kid isn’t property of the team until they sign a pro contract, but their rights are held for “x” amount of time until they decide to sign or wait it out to be a free agent. A great cheat sheet about the CBA and NCAA and Draft Rules is right here.

Personally, I don’t think it’s fair for a kid to have to lose their eligibility to play in college or major junior if they get drafted in the NHL, I also think the system is broken in that the whole “rights” ideal is something that is really antiquated. When you look at it, raising the draft age would fall in line with the age limits that the AHL has, where a player who is drafted out of Major Junior and still has eligibility has to be 20-years-old to play in the league– which would mean that they would be done with their Major Junior eligibility just as they’re ready to go to the next level. That makes sense.

However, if you actually want to put stock into the player and have their lose eligibility if they declare early– the need would be to totally revamp the minor league hockey system as we see it. How do you do that?? I’ll bring about that idea tomorrow.

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