October 18, 2011
It's one thing to have popular support and it's quite another to be able to bend the ear of the power brokers. Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson's push for the National Hockey League and NHL Players' Association to consider raising the entry draft age seems to have captured some people's fancy. However, whether the powers-that-be take to it is where the rubber will meet the road.
On Tuesday, Nicholson told Toronto radio station The FAN 590 that he's spoken to many NHL executives about the notion of pushing the draft back a year for all but a handful of top 18-year-old players. It seemed vague whether there's been a good reception for it.
Bob McCown: "Is there any traction for this, Nick? Have you talked to people in positions of influence who have said, 'you know, a 19-year-old draft really is a good idea?' "
Bob Nicholson: "You know what? I have. I've talked to a number of general managers. I've had this discussion a number of times with [NHL deputy commissioner] Bill Daly at the NHL. We've given the document to the NHL players' association. We haven't any direct feedback from them. I think the one key thing is there has to be an exceptional rule for 18-year-olds, so the first round you could draft 18-year-olds. That would take care of all the good players.
"I've been asked, 'are you doing this for the world juniors?' No, you're not. There are 10 [teenaged] players playing in the NHL, including three 18-year-olds ... if they can play in the NHL, we want them to play in the NHL. We just think there's too many young players, not just in the NHL draft but through the whole system, playing up and we'd like that to be the exception. (Prime Time Sports)
The idea's validity doesn't rest in whether the NHL and NHLPA are willing to give it the time of day. It's not even clear if Nicholson's plan would be that life-altering for more than 95 per cent of teenaged players, who are going to play out junior or in the NCAA until age 20 regardless of when they join a NHL organization.
Only two second-round picks have played NHL games immediately after being drafted in the post-lockout era — the Colorado Avalanche's Ryan O'Reilly in 2009-10 and Brandon Saad just recently with the Chicago Blackhawks before returning to the Ontario Hockey League's Saginaw Spirit. Saad also has a late 1992 birthdate, so conceivably, he might have still been eligible in 2011 if you apply Nicholson's proposal retroactively.
Really, it's a question of legality — and whether it's judicious to pass a rule that might not pass the court's muster when it might not effect great change. That being said, it certainly seems to have merit, as Stephen Brunt pointed out following the interview.
"I'd like to hear what the lawyers have to say. That would be the issue. If you could get away with what he's talking about, which is 18-year-olds can be in the first round ... that makes perfect sense. Now that takes care of your exceptional player." (Prime Time Sports)
Hockey Night in Canada's Glenn Healy, the guest on after Nicholson, dismissed all this as "pie in the sky. Makes for great press. Makes for great debate fodder for us ... it's going to be a tough sell for Bob to get the stakeholders to agree it."
Perhaps this will go nowhere. It is worth noting that (a) this does seem to be exclusive of the world junior team, so consider that skepticism satisfied; and (b) Nicholson does speak of this having a trickle-down effect throughout developmental hockey, speaking of a "trend" of adolescents playing in older age groups for its own sake. That is something to address — hey, later tonight I'm posting a piece on an NHL draft prospect who benefited from not playing major junior at age 16 — but there's always a question of how best to go about it.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).