Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

The notion Ryan Ellis needs another Ontario Hockey League season is dubious at best, but that's what he's getting.

In the short run, the upside of the two-time world junior defenceman returning to the Windsor Spitfires is he'll be The Man in Windsor — captain of the retooling Spitfires, easily — and on Team Canada's defence at the world junior championship in Buffalo come late December. It would be a question of motivation, especially after you read between the lines of the 19-year-old's quote.

" 'It would be nice to maybe play in the AHL right now,' he said. 'I've done a lot in junior, but whether it is AHL, junior, NHL or whatever, it is hockey. I’m just excited to get the season underway finally knowing where I am playing.' " (Examiner.com)

That segues into the broader question about whether that 19-year-old's no-man's land mandated by the agreement between the NHL and Canadian Hockey League really works for a player of Ellis' experience. Given that the Spitfires have played 54 post-season games over the past three seasons, he's essentially already played four years in the OHL.

No doubt some of you saw Tyler Dellow's post at mc79hockey on Monday arguing that the Edmonton Oilers should not Ellis' Spitfires teammate, No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall, on their roster for this season, and also send fellow 1991-birthdate on-the-cusper Magnus Pääjärvi to the AHL. The part about Hall was all anyone is talking about. The crux of it, though, might have been Dellow reiterating an argument that NHL teams should be able to buy out a player's junior eligibility. They could always assign him back later in the season, as the Toronto Maple Leafs did last season when Dale Mitchell was returned to the Spitfires at mid-season (and as they could yet do with 19-year-old Team USA standout Jerry D'Amigo, despite claims to the contrary).

"I've suggested in the past that teams like the Oilers could use the threat of a non-return of Taylor Hall to junior as leverage to have his junior team renounce his rights in exchange for a fee. Even if they didn’t want to get that brass knuckled, they could surely negotiate all sorts of access to him by their development coach and training personnel. I would guess that a junior team would be willing to go a great distance to make the Oilers happy in terms of doing what they want for Hall's development." (mc79hockey)

It's a question worth contemplating. To borrow a punchline to an old joke, we'd just be haggling about the price.

The argument for keeping players in major junior is that attendance would drop if teams lost their marquee players a year earlier. That's a good cocktail party answer that probably needs more rigorous analysis, especially since hockey fans tend to go to see good teams and competitive games more than particular stars. (The Spitfires, for what it is worth, announced a crowd of 5,896, just more than 10 per cent shy of capacity, on Sunday.)

Meantime, with such a rule, not that there's ever a chance in the wild blue yonder the CHL would consider something so capitulative, anyone following the sport would have a more concrete idea of who's returning to junior. It's not a great thing that junior teams are left dangling in suspense for the first week or two of the regular season.

That's an argument for another day. Meantime, Ellis has an opportunity for a unique victory lap, as the above-linked Examiner piece noted.

"Predators head coach Barry Trotz said the decision was tough, but he gave the young blueliner some advice in their meeting.

" 'This is his last year of playing amateur hockey for the most part,' Trotz said. 'He's a pro next year, and I asked him to go down there and be a pro, to be the best defenseman in all of Canada, to win another gold medal with Team Canada, to win another Memorial Cup, do those things that very few people have done. When you leave the CHL, Ryan Ellis may be talked about one of the greats that ever played.' "

Great junior, sure, but that's not the goal.

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

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