For those American hockey fans not familiar, CHL stands for the Canadian Hockey League. It is the worlds premiere junior hockey league. The CHL is an umbrella organization that consists of the WHL (Western Hockey League), OHL (Ontario Hockey League), and QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). More than half of the players in the NHL have played in one of the CHL leagues.
The purpose of these junior hockey leagues is to develop a young player to move on to the next level. For the CHL the next level is professional hockey, like the NHL, since CHL players are not eligible for NCAA collegiate hockey.
Once a player is drafted by an NHL team that player usually reports to the drafting teams rookie training camp where they can also earn an invite to the full NHL team training camp. If that player does not make their NHL team, and his rights belong to his current CHL team, then he has to report back to the junior team for further development. But what if that drafted player who isn’t quite ready for the NHL has outgrown the CHL? Well, players drafted by CHL teams are ineligible to play in the “minor” leagues of hockey that we all know, like the AHL (American Hockey League) and ECHL (East Coast Hockey League) until they are 20 years old by December 31st of that year, or have played 4 years of junior hockey. Regardless of how good they are, if the player doesn’t meet the age requirements they have to go back to junior hockey. There is no in-between.
If they do make the actual NHL team coming out of training camp they can stay. But the NHL does have a rule that if the junior hockey eligible player plays 10 NHL games he cannot go back to junior hockey, but he also can’t be sent down to the AHL either. These rules are what is wrong with NHL/CHL agreement.
I think that rule contradicts what junior hockey is really supposed to be about, which is player development. In the “About” section of the OHL’s official website it says “the CHL is the largest development league”. In my opinion, the CHL is just flat out greedy. It does not want to lose their top marketable and future NHL players that are the cash cows of their league to the AHL or ECHL leagues where the player would actually get the next level development they’re ready for.
This does not make any sense to me. If the player is ready for a greater challenge he should be able to move on. I feel if a player signs a contract with an NHL team he should be eligible to go to the minor system of that team to get acclimated to the pro game. It doesn’t help the players development to stay in the CHL that is not challenging them enough just because the player is not quite good enough for the NHL yet.
There are a lot of examples of this issue. As a Bruins fan I look at Tyler Seguin as an example. When he came to the Bruins at 18 he was not ready for the NHL. I know he had some success in the playoffs, and showed flashes of his talent, but he struggled at times during the regular season. He ended up with 11 goals and 11 assists, but was a healthy scratch at times. The season before (2009-2010) he scored 48 goals and had 58 assist for 106 points in 63 games at the junior level. If he did not make the Bruins in the 2010-2011 season he would have had to go back to his junior team where he had no business being there after a 106 point season. But he could not go to the AHL instead because of the agreement.
Dougie Hamilton is another example. The Bruins drafted him in the 1st round of the 2011 NHL draft. The next season he had 72 points (17 goals and 55 assists) in 50 junior hockey games. This is a defenseman scoring those kind of points. The next season which Dougie did play in the NHL was the lockout shortened year. During the lockout he played 32 games in the OHL and scored 41 points. I feel he should have been playing and developing in the AHL with Providence rather than killing time back in OHL where the owners are focused on the profit of having Hamilton back on their team.
Maybe if a young player is able to go to the AHL, live with a host family, and ride a bus it will make the player check their ego a little bit as well. Maybe if Seguin would have spent some time in “beautiful” Providence, RI he might not have been a mess off the ice and he would still be in a Bruins uniform. Maybe Dougie meets some other younger players in the organization in Providence and has a better experience and wants to stay with his buddies in Boston.
These are just two examples, but there are examples every year of this issue. Besides rare players like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel (who is not a CHL player, but most likely to be drafted 2nd overall) many others might not make their NHL club and will have to report back to their junior team to rack up tons of points against players they’ve out developed in a league they’ve outgrown.
However regarding the NCAA in the United States, a player who plays NCAA college hockey can turn pro whenever they want, but once they do they are ineligible to play college hockey again. CHL players are ineligible to play NCAA college hockey, not because they get a living stipend, but because they play with players that could have signed a pro contract.
But once a college player signs a pro contract they can go to the NHL or the minor leagues. That’s not the case with the CHL. A CHL player can sign a pro contract just like Jakub Zboril of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League did when he signed with the Bruins yesterday, yet not make the Bruins during camp, and have to go back to his junior team.
If there was no NHL/CHL agreement and once a CHL player signed an NHL contract and they no longer play in the CHL the players who do not go pro could go to the NCAA but that is not an option now. But that could open up other doors for a player to achieve his dream of playing in the NHL and even develop against older players if they wish. CHL players are eligible to play for Canadian Universities but not many players get to the NHL taking that avenue. With more Division 1 NCAA teams being added there will be a need for more players and I think the CHL could be an excellent option to recruit players from if the agreement was not in place, or at least altered to create more options for the player.
Simply put, the NHL/CHL agreement does not make sense to me and it does not benefit the player to be stuck in the CHL if they’re ready for the next level. It was purely put in place for the sake of money and trying to keep highly drafted kids in Canada locked into the CHL as long as possible. It just seems like the CHL is more concerned about selling tickets when it comes to players that are ready to move on rather than “developing” those players.