Sweeping changes for Canadian hockey
Bob McKenzie, TSN.ca
Changes are coming to Canadian minor and junior hockey, of that there is no doubt.
And those changes, many of them significant and some would say even radical, could be put in place as early as the end of the Victoria Day long weekend, at the conclusion of Hockey Canada's Annual General Meeting, May 20-24, in Saint John, N.B.
While a variety of issues will be discussed and voted on by the Hockey Canada membership, representing the various hockey constituencies across the country, none is likely to have the impact of what's known as the Canadian Development Model (CDM).
This CDM committee has been working for more than a year to come up with a comprehensive plan that would regulate where and at what level 15, 16 and 17 year olds Canadians are eligible to play hockey and it even tackles the thorny issue of how many non-Canadians should be pemitted to play Canadian junior hockey.
The Canadian Development Model Committee (CDMC) is headed up by Saskatchewan's Marcel Redekop, Hockey Canada's Vice Chair at Large. He and his committee have been operating on the premise that "player development is a marathon, not a sprint" and come up with a series of recommendations that espouse that philosophy.
Now, while the Hockey Canada membership will be able to debate, amend and ultimately vote on Redekop's report, enough groundwork has been done ahead of time with minor and junior associations across Canada that it's highly likely the vast majority, if not all, of Redekop's report will be adopted.
And that means the changes the CDMC has proposed are virtually certain to be in effect next season, although the full weight of the report will take three seasons to phase in and there are still some issues to be finalized and negotiated over the course of the next two years.
As noted, amendments could conceivably be made to this report before it's adopted, but going into the annual general meeting, here's what is being proposed, and quite likely to be put in place.
Let's start with the impact it will have on major junior (or the Canadian Hockey League, which is comprised of the Western, Ontario and Quebec Leagues).
Under existing major junior rules, the number of 16 year olds permitted on each team varies from league to league. The new development model, with its three-year phase in, would cap the number of 16 year olds at four per CHL team next season. That number would drop to three per CHL team in 2006-07 and only two per team in 2007-08. It would remain at two per team in all ensuing years, or a limit of 40 16 year olds per league, or a cap of no more than 120 16 year olds playing junior hockey all across Canada.
The rest would be expected to play minor hockey, preferably midget AAA, which is really the prime goal of the CDMC. That is, to strengthen and raise the calibre of midget hockey across the country while allowing 16 year olds to stay at home and play against their peers.
But as we recently saw with the John Tavares case in the OHL, there is an "exceptional player" provision in this new development model, which would allow a truly exceptional 15 year old to play in the CHL, after passing through a rigorous screening process, but the expectation is that this would be a rarity.
The CDMC has basically adopted the same "exceptional player" process the OHL created to deal with Tavares.
The development model also deals with new limits on foreign-born players playing major junior in Canada. While the CHL now has a non-North American import quota of two per CHL tea, that number would drop to one per team in the 07-08 season, effectively cutting in half the number of Europeans playing in the CHL.
For the next two seasons, though, import levels in the CHL would remain unchanged.
And while there are currently no limits on how many Americans plays on CHL teams, there will be a reduction or cap on the number of Americans playing on Canadian-based CHL teams. These restrictions on Americans will be in place by the 07-08 season, but it's worth noting two things here. One, those precise numbers have yet to be determined and will be the subject of negotiations between Hockey Canada and the CHL. Two, any U.S.-based team in the CHL will be exempt from the restriction or capping of Americans on the roster.
The real impetus, though, for the CDM is how many 15 and 16 year olds were skipping midget hockey and going directly to junior hockey, especially at the Junior A, B, C and D levels.
Hockey Canada wants to restore some lustre to midget hockey across the country and wants more 15 and 16 year olds staying at home and competing against kids their own age.
So here are the recommendations for Junior A leagues and below:
No 15 year old will be permitted to play Junior A, B, C or D. The exceptional player status, apparently, can only be conferred on players whose aim is to play in the CHL. If, however, there were any 14 year olds who played Junior A, B, C or D last season, they will be grandfathered into the same league for the coming season as a 15 year old.
As for 16 year olds, Junior A and B leagues will go from having had no restrictions on them in the past season to having only two 16 year olds per team next season and the season after that. In 2007-08, which concludes the phase-in period for the CDM, Junior A and B teams will not be permitted to have any 16 year olds in their lineup.
The only exception would be if a major junior team re-assigned one of its two 16 year olds to a Junior A or B team, but that player would count against the national cap of 120 for 16 year olds playing junior.
In Junior C and D leagues, the restrictions on 16 year olds are even tighter.
Beginning next season, teams at those levels would be allowed only one 16 year old, but that 16 year old would have to be a local product playing in his home centre and would not have access to a midget AAA program in his home centre.
The CDM is also proposing no movement or transfers of players aged 15 and under between Canada and the United States. Whether this type of legislation would have prevented elite young Canadians such as Sidney Crosby or Angelo Esposito, both of whom went to Shattuck St. Mary's Prep School in Minnesota as 15 year olds, remains to be seen, but it is clear Hockey Canada wants to do something to curb the drain of top talent to the U.S. at such a young age.
Another element of the CDM is to restrict the number of Americans who come north to play Junior A, B, C and D level hockey, but no specific numbers have yet to be proposed. That apparently will be worked on in time for the 07-08 season.
It should be noted that all of the above information of the proposals within the CDM is but a brief summary of an incredibly detailed document. In addition to the many age and nationality restrictions put in place, there are corresponding changes to rules on affiliated players and branch-to-branch transfers, as well as a recognition that in many parts of the country, there will be a significant responsibility on the part of minor hockey associations to upgrade midget AAA programs.
This entire issue of development is sure to garner much of the attention at the Hockey Canada annual meeting, which starts Friday in Saint John, N.B. By the time the confab wraps up on the following Tuesday, there is every reason to believe the vast majority of the CDMC's recommendations will be approved and put in place immediately as junior teams begin to prepare for next season.