Losing an 18-year-old star to the pros, normally, is just the price of success in major junior hockey.
The timing and the means by which the Swift Current Broncos officially lost Julius Honka to the Dallas Stars organization goes beyond the typical breaks of the major junior game, though. Since Honka was ruled to be on loan while he played with the Western Hockey League team last season, that exempts him from the NHL-Canadian Hockey League agreement that forbids a draft pick from a Canadian junior team from playing in the minors full-time before his 20-year-old season.
Shorter version: by NHL and IIHF rule, Honka was a European player last season while gracing rinks between Brandon, Man., and Portland. The loophole has apparently existed with other players who came over for their draft season. The difference is the Stars are using it by placing Honka with the AHL's Texas Stars. Honka's agent, as Finnish newspaer Sanomat reported, also believes that the entire development fee NHL teams pay a draft pick's club would go to JYP, not the Broncos.
From Mike Heika:
... typically [Honka would] have to return [to Swift Current] under the agreement between the NHL and Major Junior hockey. However, he was on loan from Finland to the WHL, so he’s not allowed to go back to junior this year. That meant the choices for the Stars were to send him back to Finland or send him to the AHL. The Stars have decided to place the 18-year-old with the Texas Stars and leave him there for the season.
“It was a decision that we talked about, and he wanted to play in the AHL, so we feel good about this,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said. “In seeing him in Traverse City and in training camp, he’s a very mature player who is more than ready for this. If we didn’t think he could handle it, we would have made a different decision, but he proved himself.” (Dallas Morning News)
The repercussions are fairly obvious.
One crux of the matter is that it took until Sept. 30 for Swift Current supporters to be informed that Honka was, indeed, a one-and-done player. It's entirely possible the No. 14 overall pick would have still been with Dallas, of course, but there still would have been hope. No one would have begrudged him not returning. The point is that people who support the team in the WHL's smallest market probably opted in believing in the possibility of having Honka on a very strong defence corps, eventually.
That seems like a raw deal. Following a junior team means early-season player availability is affected by the vagaries of pro teams' personnel decisions, but not knowing that a player could not come back could make someone feel like he/she is being strung along.
It all gets right to the heart of a core selling point of major junior, which is that it's the best development league in the world.
I'm curious to see if the WHL addresses this Honka issue at all. You have to think the ruling concerns them.
— Shawn Mullin (@shawnmullin) October 1, 2014
This does not affect the status of all draft picks who are on the NHL-or-junior bubble, so-called. As Juha Hiitelä points out, it strictly pertains to import players. No one did anything wrong. The way it played out, though, should be a signal to have more clarity when similar circumstances occur in the future. Fans could probably abide knowing that the European player enriching their team is actually a short-term loaner. They're flexible that way. .
Lots of talk about Honka’s situation and all other 1st round Euros from CHL. I bet CHL never thought this could happen.
— Juha Hiitelä (@jhiitela) September 30, 2014
I know for sure that there has been similar loans before, but nobody has used it before like this. And I’m sure CHL will block this loophole
— Juha Hiitelä (@jhiitela) September 30, 2014
The CHL is just one cog in the machinery of the hockey industry. Honka didn't become a first-rounder solely due to playing in Swift Current. It was a symbiotic relationship from Day One and both the player and team profited. (One would hope the Broncos, contrary to reports, get some financial consideration.)
Swift Current, meantime, is 2-3-0-0 out of the gate after losing 5-3 to the Prince George Cougars on Tuesday night. The Broncos still have a fine big three on the back line, with Columbus Blue Jackets second-rounder Dillon Heatherington, Montreal Canadiens third Brett Lernout and Buffalo Sabres third Brycen Martin having trickled back from NHL camps. At the same time, they suddenly have a big hole.
The Honka news also means the Broncos have an open import spot. Can't imagine they let that spot go to waste w good imports on the market.
— Cody Nickolet (@DubFromAbove) September 30, 2014
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.