College hockey's recruiting battle with the CHL

collegehockey.jpgFans of the NHL alone may not be aware, but in the youth ranks there’s a bit of a border war going on between NCAA college hockey and the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) where major-junior hockey is played. The two sides compete for the same players of around the same age. For the longest time, Canadian juniors seemed like the one and only way for young players to make their mark to get noticed by the NHL and live their dreams of playing professional hockey. As always, times are changing and more and more talented kids from both the United States and Canada are finding their way into college hockey.

This, of course, does not sit well with the CHL to have to compete for players, especially some Canadian players. With a renewed sense of success and a better ability to gain support and media recognition in the United States, college hockey is taking things more serious, even hiring former head of the NHLPA Paul Kelly to be the top man in College Hockey Inc., a group meant to drum up support and the growing popularity of college hockey.

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy had a must-read piece today discussing how the efforts of Paul Kelly and College Hockey Inc. might be going all for naught thanks to legislation the NCAA is trying to pass to rein in recruiting in other sports.

The NCAA is currently considering a rule to ban scholarship offers to student-athletes until the summer after their junior year of high school (a.k.a. Grade 11). The rule is aimed at the powerhouse college sports such as basketball and football, but would apply uniformly to all disciplines, hockey included.

And while there is no rival for NCAA football or basketball, college hockey must compete against Canadian major junior. The new rule would make an already uphill battle almost insurmountable in some cases.

“The truly elite player, these guys are being identified when they are 14 or 15 years old,” said Paul Kelly of College Hockey Inc., a pro-NCAA group. “The rule would mean schools couldn’t talk to kids until after July 1 of their junior year. Most kids at that point are probably 16, maybe 17 or even 18.

“There would be a period of time of two years where they would be drafted by CHL teams and would be listening to them, with NCAA schools having no chance to talk to them.”

With those kinds of restrictions, college hockey would be facing an even tougher uphill battle to try and convince elite-level hockey players from either side of the border and Paul Kelly knows it. There’s just nothing he can do about it should the NCAA decide to make a ruling like that. Also coming into play here is that once a player plays in the CHL, they aren’t allowed to play college hockey. The same cannot be said going the other way as players can leave college or break college commitments to play in juniors.

As for the CHL, they’d be more than happy to have that ace-in-the-hole to have against the NCAA. With the number of great players that have been coming across from Canada to play in the US to give them a less-rigorous schedule and chance to get a serious education from a top American university, the lure of playing hockey as a career might be far too tempting for many players, especially when players can start out in lower level juniors and decide from there. It’s much easier to sell a player on their league if it’s right there in front of them, something that college hockey’s lack of media presence in America hinders.

While the NCAAs rules and restrictions on just about everything hurts them in this battle, other sports don’t have such issues and this potential new rule doesn’t pose a problem for football and basketball problems in any way. After all, NCAA football and basketball teams are only competing with one another for players and not leagues from Canada.

With the NCAA being such a overriding, rule-happy organization, harming one sport that doesn’t generate a ton of money while protecting two sports that do should be a big deal for them, but hockey presents such a unique situation for them that it may not even come up on their radar. Paul Kelly is going to have a bit of work ahead of him to help straighten things out if the NCAA wants to stay viable with the CHL.

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    End of an era: Coyotes part ways with Tippett days after Doan departure

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    The Arizona Coyotes will look different in 2017-18, and not just because longtime captain Shane Doan won’t be back. The team confirmed that they’re parting ways with head coach Dave Tippett late on Thursday.

    Tippett spent eight seasons as head coach of the Coyotes, peaking with a run to a Western Conference Final. Early on, he distinguished himself as being able to coach a sound enough defense to help the team correct for a low-budget roster.

    In recent years, he hasn’t been able to conjure that same magic.

    Along with Doan and Tippett, Mike Smith is also out of town, and the ownership situation has come into focus. It’s a true changing of the guard out in the desert.

    More on the changes

    Coyotes receive criticism for the way they handled Doan’s departure.

    Mike Smith traded to Calgary, “no consolation prize” for Flames.

    Oilers reportedly might spend Eberle savings on signing Russell

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    Optimistic Edmonton Oilers fans who didn’t like the Jordan Eberle trade could at least rationalize the savings, as Ryan Strome comes at a $3.5 million salary-cap discount. Surely that money will be focused squarely on locking up the future – aka sorting things out with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid – right?

    After all, that was the spin from GM Peter Chiarelli: moving Eberle for Strome was all about “long-term thinking.”

    Well, about that …

    TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Oilers are nearing a deal with defenseman Kris Russell that could carry approximately a $4 million cap hit over a four-year term. The dollar amount can change, but that would put the shot-blocking defenseman’s cost at around $16 million overall. (There are rumblings that it might be $18M with a no-movement clause.)

    Now, before we criticize (er, discuss) the move, do note that McKenzie reports that it isn’t a done deal. If it happens, it might not be announced until Friday, anyway.

    If it does go through, the move inspires comparisons to last summer. To refresh your memory, the Oilers made a polarizing (but money-saving) move by sending Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson. Shortly after that trade, the Oilers essentially used those savings to sign Milan Lucic.

    Results were … mixed, and Lucic’s contract seemingly stands as a barrier to accrue other assets.

    Could the same thing happen here? Russell has his proponents, yet his possession stats indicate that his stature has been inflated, at times, around the NHL. One thing that’s undeniable is Russell’s age: he’s 30.

    Will a 30-year-old defenseman fall apart during a four-year deal? Not necessarily, although his shot-blocking tendencies inspire some concern; just look at how Dan Girardi aged in New York.

    Either way, it’s difficult to defend giving Russell about $4 million a year when you’re trying to sign Leon Draisaitl (RFA this summer) and Connor McDavid (RFA next summer, but eligible for an extension as early as July).

    Recent rumblings don’t inspire a ton of confidence, either. For one thing, Chiarelli made a strange semi-challenge regarding Draisaitl and offer sheets.

    There are also rumors about McDavid’s potential contract demands.

    Again, the parameters of a Russell deal could change; the Oilers might not even bring him back at all. TSN’s Darren Dreger also notes that McDavid wouldn’t necessarily receive that big payday he’d possibly ask for.

    Still, Oilers fans have experienced the worst-case scenario far more often than not in recent years, and these developments could inspire some doom and gloom … even if all three players are kept in the fold.

    Report: Vegas isn’t interested in trading defensemen Theodore, Schmidt

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    The Vegas Golden Knights enjoyed another busy day on Thursday, moving the likes of David Schlemko and Trevor van Riemsdyk. That doesn’t mean that all their defensemen are necessarily for sale, even with some pressure to trade away a few more.

    Now, it’s plausible that someone merely hasn’t found the right price to entice Golden Knights GM George McPhee, but TSN’s Pierre LeBrun indicates that he’s shooting down offers for especially enticing young defensemen.

    Specifically, McPhee gave a hard “No” to at least three teams regarding Shea Theodore and also stonewalled offers for Nate Schmidt, according to LeBrun.

    It’s probably not fair to say that McPhee hasn’t been willing to move younger players altogether. After all, Trevor van Riemsdyk is 25, much like Schmidt.

    Even so, one could infer that McPhee would be quicker to trade away a veteran whose value may not ever be higher, such as Marc Methot or Alexei Emelin.

    For what it’s worth, let’s break down the Golden Knights’ current defensemen in two camps (30-and-under, 30-and-older) along with their contract situations, with help from Cap Friendly.

    Under 30

    Luca Sbisa, 27, $3.6 million cap hit through 2017-18
    Brayden McNabb, 26, $1.7M through 2017-18
    Jon Merrill, 25, $1.138M through 2017-18
    Colin Miller, 24, $1M through 2017-18
    Theodore, 21, $863K through 2017-18
    Griffin Reinhart, 23, RFA
    Schmidt, 25, RFA

    30 and older

    Methot, $4.9M through 2018-19
    Jason Garrison, $4.6M through 2017-18
    Emelin, $4.1M through 2017-18
    Clayton Stoner, 32, $3.25M through 2017-18
    Deryk Engelland, 35, $1M through 2017-18

    Considering the options at hand, it’s still feasible that someone might convince McPhee to ship Schmidt and/or Theodore over, anyway. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been connected to Schmidt and Colin Miller in rumors, though it’s unclear how likely such moves might be. Vegas isn’t tied to many players beyond this coming season, so they have plenty of flexibility to change their minds.

    The Golden Knights may also view the trade deadline as a more fruitful time to move a veteran such as Methot.

    Even so, it sure sounds like McPhee would at least prefer to build around his youngsters, and Theodore might be the clearest keeper of them all.

    NHL may punish failed offside reviews with penalties next season

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    It wasn’t a good look for the league, and it wasn’t captivating television, particularly for casual hockey fans intrigued by a fresh Stanley Cup Final matchup.

    P.K. Subban seemed to score the first goal of the Penguins – Predators series, only for the 1-0 tally to be overturned after a lengthy offside review. Plenty of people in Nashville were never convinced that the league made the right call, and even if it was correct, Filip Forsberg would have been offside by a tiny margin. The fact that it came mere hours after Gary Bettman praised the process only exacerbated the issue.

    (You can watch that agonizingly minute discussion in the video above. Predators fans might not want to re-live it.)

    Colin Campbell presented an interesting question for next season on Thursday: would a team like Pittsburgh make such a marginal challenge if a failed review would result in a minor penalty?

    It’s something the executive will bring to the competition committee and then the Board of Governors; Campbell believes such a tweak has a strong chance of being instituted in 2017-18.

    Previously, a coach would lose his timeout if an offside goal review failed. If this change is implemented, a team would keep that timeout but suffer a minor penalty.

    Campbell notes that this tweak would apply to offside challenges, not goalie interference reviews.

    Ultimately, for Campbell, it comes down to the spirit of the offside rule. (TSN has video of his full comments.)

    Amusingly, the Predators also suffered from an infamous offside goal that would have benefited from an obvious review, as this Matt Duchene goal from 2013 inspired the NHL to admit that a mistake was made.

    The logic is pretty simple. If a goal was glaringly offside, then a team will view a challenge as worth the risk of possibly being penalized. If it’s a matter of inches or some other marginal question, a penalty would – ideally – deter a team from making a flimsier challenge. Specifically, Campbell pointed to offside reviews in which goals came long after the infraction had a significant impact on play.

    Now, sure, you could make some wise cracks about the idea, especially considering how the NHL’s suffered from a painful roll-out of a change here and there. And perhaps some coaches will still believe that it’s worth the risk to flip that coin.

    Still, the league’s heart is in the right place, and it could very well succeed in two goals: getting things right and not boring everyone to tears.

    Related

    NHL might crack down on slashes, too