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CHLPA contends signed NHL draft picks should be barred from major junior

Is 18-year-old Brendan Gaunce better off in the AHL or OHL? (OHL Images)

According to the proposed Canadian Hockey League Players' Association, the Niagara IceDogs should just say no to Dougie.

So to speak.

After two months of sound and fury signifying mostly nothing, the group might have a point about the legal possibility of major junior players retaining their eligibility for the NCAA, as executive director Georges Laraque alluded to at some point in his rambling late last week. Just saying that needs to be copiously footnoted. It sounds extremely farfetched, for one thing. The NCAA would have to make that change and its wheels grind very slowly. Also, there's a potential unintended consequence, as Dean Millard noted last weekend, that achieving NCAA eligibility might leave many CHL players high and dry: if some players could get full rides south of the border, why would there have be education packages available for the rest of the 98 per cent who don't have a significantly long professional tenure?

Guy Flaming of Team 1260's The Pipeline Show in Edmonton has done some phenomenal legwork giving a fair portrayal of what the group wants. Its contention is that because Hockey Canada bylaws designate the Canadian Hockey League as amateur, it simply should have the moral fibre to turn away signed NHL draft picks. That might make sense to a lawyer, but it's enough to make others wonder about the group's grasp on how hockey works.

Apparently we're to believe, to use (sorry, eh) a few easy Ontario-centric examples, 18-year-old Vancouver Canucks pick Brendan Gaunce would be better off as an 18-year-old living in Chicago, playing against men with the AHL Wolves, rather than be in Belleville, a hour away from his family. Or that the aforementioned Dougie Hamilton should have gone directly to AHL Providence when the Boston Bruins signed him instead of playing for the IceDogs, not far from his family's Niagara Falls, Ont., home. To say nothing of less emotionally and/or physically mature players chosen later in the NHL draft; maybe they could go to the ECHL. Being blind to this is why the CHLPA undermines its own bid for credibility.

From Flaming:

"I think it's up to the CHL to accept them," Clarke countered, "The CHL doesn't have to accept them and if it's an amateur league then they wouldn't accept those players."

Wouldn't and even couldn't if indeed Clarke's position on amateur status for the CHL is correct. But he said 'wouldn't' and we proceeded from there. I wondered why he felt the CHL wouldn't have an interest in having signed players back considering how much better they make the league.

"We would hope that [the CHL] wouldn't accept them because having a handful of players... and what are we talking about here realistically in the course of one year?" [Clarke] asked. "How many players go up and down? Is it 5 at the most? How many guys do you know last year that were on two-way contracts who went up, played 5 games and came back down?"

And that's where I got confused. Was he talking about all the players who have signed entry level contracts or just the guys who began the year in the NHL, played up to 9 games and were returned to their junior teams? Obviously, guys in the former category far outnumber the latter and it's a huge difference.

I wanted clarification: are we talking about all the players who have signed entry level contacts but are back in the CHL?

"Well yeah. The guys that sign the entry level contracts get a signing bonus and usually end up playing right?"

"OK but there's a lot more than 5 guys in the CHL who have signed their first NHL deal," I countered, "I mean half the guys drafted in the first round this past June have already signed."

That seemed to catch him off guard a bit but only for a minute.

"Yeah they're signed but those guys are going to end up playing in the NHL or have a signing bonus," he replied, "The other guys that have signed their signing bonus should go to the American Hockey League or to the IHL where they could develop with professional players."

I sat in silence for a minute. That answer made zero sense to me; you don't "sign a signing bonus," you receive a bonus for signing the contract. [Clarke] seemed to believe that it was a foregone conclusion that every player chosen in the 1st round of the 2012 draft, and signed since June, was going to play in the NHL this year had there not been a lockout. (Coming Down The Pipe!, Oct. 30)

If you're emotionally invested in the issue, please give Flaming's entire five-part series (1, 2, 3 and 4) a thorough read. Block-quoting the choicer excerpts does not do his work justice.

The CHLPA has enough smart people working for it to take it somewhat seriously, but all this does is attest to how it needs to streamline down a simple mandate, shorn of buffoonish elements such as Laraque and spokesman Derek Clarke. There is not a single person who follows major junior hockey who does not want the 16- to 20-year-old players' needs and welfare looked after well.

Stuff such as this displays a baffling ignorance of how the sport works at the developmental level. The NHL teams typically do not have enough room in their farm systems for all the players they wish to have under contract. Do hockey parents, who not incidentally are not the driving force behind the CHLPA, really want their teenagers playing in the ECHL and living on their own?

The CHL-NHL agreement could stand to be amended to allow a handful of prospects play in the American League. Going from one extreme (no draft pick from the CHL can play in the AHL until age 20) to the other (no signed draft picks can play in the CHL, period) is a bizarre notion.

All that being said, there's no reason anyone's eyes should have bugged out upon reading "the CHLPA would set up a charitable arm" to fund players education packages which would mean "the owners would actually be saving money." That should be taken on faith since the outside group handling the teams' contributions are all, as we've been assured, working for free. Not that anyone would wonder what tangible benefit a group would get if a Windsor Spitfires player can now play for Michigan State.

Anything and everything major junior teams do to look after their players should be continually evaluated. Tweak their weekly stipend, increase movement to the AHL or NCAA. But all this needs to be work in within the framework of the hockey world's reality.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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