Don't Expect Much From New CBA
College Hockey Hoping NHL, NHLPA Will Make Positive Changes
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
While the NHL and its players association battle over how to split a few billion dollars, college hockey people are wondering if there's anything in it for them.
The answer is — don't count on it.
When the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed in 2005, it was thought to be favorable towards college hockey. A rookie salary cap was implemented that limited free agent signings to no more than three years, at approximately $900,000 per year. This, it was so thought, would prevent players from leaving college because it wasn't that lucrative to do so.
Instead, the effect was the opposite. It was now so cheap for NHL teams to take flyers left and right on college players, that it aggressively pursued them more than ever. And the lure of playing pro hockey right away was more important to college players than "only" getting $900,000. And more players were free agents because the draft was lowered from nine rounds to seven.
Since then, the amount of players leaving school early has skyrocketed. In addition, the major junior leagues have more aggressively pursued one-time NCAA commits, and poached them away, either after a player has been in the NCAA or just before. And there's been absolutely nothing the NCAA can do about it.
Consequently, college coaches and officials have kicked around ideas on what they wanted. First problem is agreeing on what those things are. Second problem is getting anyone to listen.
Realistically, there is little college hockey can do. But two things, amid all the hullaballoo, seem at least feasible:
1) that the NHL can force the CHL to respect the NCAA's Letter of Intent ... In other words, a player that signs a LOI cannot be poached by a major junior team
2) the the NHL will not allow college players to be signed away in midseason, or after a certain date in the summer, such as June 15th, the current deadline for European players under an agreement with them
Neither of these are likely to be changed, but they are at least feasible.
Fact is, the NHL is the only entity with a hammer over the CHL. It gives the CHL approximately $9 million/year for development help. The NHL gives similar funds to USA Hockey, but only $600,000 of that filters to college hockey itself — via College Hockey Inc. The NHL/NHLPA also have an agreement with the CHL now where players under 20 cannot play in the AHL — they either must play in the NHL or sent back to their junior teams.
Problem two, however, is getting anyone to listen.
There is this theory that the firing of Paul Kelly somehow messed up the possibility of college hockey getting in the ear of the NHL. Let's set this somewhat straight.
Taking nothing away from Paul Kelly's efforts, he's not the only one who has met with or contacted NHL or NHLPA people, and he's not the only one who can. For years prior to the creation of College Hockey Inc., commissioners such as Tom Anastos and Joe Bertagna met a few times with the NHL, to get their issues heard. Since he left in February, the commissioners have similarly had communications with NHL officials. They are also using surrogates close to the NHLPA to get their issues heard.
But here's the thing — no matter these efforts, how important does anyone think that college hockey's problems are to the NHL and NHLPA? Given the mess that they're currently trying to negotiate, college hockey's issues are assuredly pretty far down the priority list. Somehow, I doubt LOIs came up in the recent meetings between Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, and neither Paul Kelly or Gordie Howe was going to make it so.
All hope is not lost, however. There are more former college hockey players in the NHL than ever before — 30 percent now. There are many former college hockey players among NHL executives. The respect factor for college hockey is higher than ever, albeit still with hurdles.
This increased clout and visibility can only help, and college hockey coaches are trying to stay confident that these issues they've raised will be given consideration.
But at this point, one can only sit back and hope.