Recently, SB Nation Hockey and Samsung partnered to create a series of sponsored posts entitled "Enhance Your Experience". Last week, I focused on improving the fan experience through friendly wagering. This week, I am going to delve into how the NHL's "under-20 agreement" with the Canadian Hockey League is stifling the development of young talent, creating an inferior minor league product, and potentially hurting the junior leagues that it was designed to protect.
Basically, the agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League (OHL, QMJHL, and WHL) states that any player drafted out of one of the CHL leagues who is under the age of 20 is ineligible to play professionally for a minor league team. This means that teams are forced to make the difficult decision to send a player back to their junior team or rush them to the NHL.
For a lot of players, the extra year or two in juniors is benefitial because they are not ready for the jump to the pro game. There are also players like Tyler Seguin, whose game was already NHL-ready. Then there is the large number of players that need to learn the ins and outs of the pro game, but are not ready for "The Show". Ideally, these players should be placed in the AHL or ECHL to gain professional experience. However, just because these players came out of one of the premier junior leagues in Canada, they are deprived of that experience.
I understand that the rule is in place so that the CHL teams can keep their marque players longer and improve ticket sales, but at the end of the day isn't junior hockey supposed to be about the player's development and not the all mighty Loonie? Is a player really developing as a player and a person by playing with and against teenagers? I would argue that learning the team's systems and culture and playing against seasoned professionals is far more beneficial to the prospect. Staying at the junior level against lesser talent can reinforce bad habits on the ice that a player might not be able to get away with at the next-level.
Much like the CHL teams, minor league teams would like to see these prospects on their rosters to help fill seats and put a better product on the ice. Fans in minor league cities enjoy seeing prospects work their way through the system and get to the NHL. Often times, an organization's top prospects will spend little to no time in the AHL. This damages the AHL's on-ice product both from a fan's perspective and developmental standpoint. The NHL's top prospects should be competing against each other in the AHL and developing their games to get ready for the next level.
The other issue that has not really been discussed much is how this rule could potentially damage the junior leagues it was designed to protect. In recent years, we have seen more and more Canadian-born players chose to play college hockey in the United States as opposed to playing major junior in Canada. While you could argue that the CHL better prepares young players for the pro game, some top prospects are seeing that the road to the pro game is shorter by going to college for a year or two then turning pro. Now, you have students that have no interest in graduating or getting a college education on college campuses simply to play hockey. The issue of players leaving college hockey early is a discussion for another day, but is part of the cause and effect of the under-20 rule. With players that would normally be in juniors now playing college hockey, it creates watered-down leagues for the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL.
That's just my two cents on the under-20 rule. I think it is bad for the NHL, bad for the minor leagues, bad for the junior leagues, bad for college hockey, bad for minor league fans, and most importantly bad for the player's development. The only people that benefit from this rule are CHL owners that want to keep an 18 or 19 year old kid around a year or two longer to put butts in seats.
So, what do you think of the under-20 rule?