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Overage rule stays the same ahead of NHL lockout; reasoning behind it is sound

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Western League commissioner Ron Robison (OHL Images)

There has been more than enough time to brace for the coming NHL lockout, since everyone has known this was coming for, what, at least the last 12 months.

It is always important not to be reactionary in these types of situations. So it is refreshing, in some sense, that the Western Hockey League didn't swing into overreaction at the prospect of having 20-year-old should-be pros pushed back into junior hockey. While a lockout is going to cost people roster spots, it would seem especially unfair to have that trickle down all the way to younger juniors who could get squeezed out of ice time if teams were allowed to dress a fourth or fifth overage instead of just three.

From Greg Harder:

"It's obviously tempting any time you have a surplus in an age group like the 20-year-olds, but I don't believe it's in our best interests to change our model," said Robison. "It's really designed to develop players at the junior age to get to the next level (instead of eliminating spots for younger talent in favour of 20-year-olds). That's reflected in our agreements with the NHL. We believe that formula should remain for the time being. It's always open for discussion but we don't believe it would be the appropriate thing to do to make an adjustment just because we're in a labour dispute."

Robison pointed out that the WHL wants to keep its player ratios consistent with the rest of the CHL — working in conjunction with the OHL and QMJHL — especially when it comes to the Memorial Cup.

Robison also noted that the idea of making changes has been raised in the past and, in fact, "those discussions take place on an ongoing basis." That said, "every time we have that discussion we come back to the fact that we're pretty comfortable with the ratios the way they are." (Regina Leader-Post)

The Canadian Hockey League's claim to be the best developmental league in the world is in peril if its 16- and 17-year-old players end up grasping for ice time taken up by older players. It's part of the push/pull between of being a league which has meaningful regular seasons and playoffs (unlike, say, minor-league baseball), but advertises itself as a place to train for a pro hockey career. No one denies the entertainment product would be enhanced if more teams could dress more veterans, but it would hurt the greater good.

From Gregg Drinnan:

What this means is that the WHL continues to see its role as a developmental league first and an entertainment vehicle second. (Taking Note)

One always feels for every 20-year-old who does not make the cut and finds out his route to playing professionally just became that much tougher.

There could be too much concern about unintended consequences to ever implement a 'flex rule' that would permit teams to ice a combination of five overage and import players. It's not something that should be dismissed out of hand, but it would probably have to be done at the CHL level and building consensus among 60 teams is rather daunting, to put it mildly.

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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