As the Tier III Junior Council Caucus prepares to meet in Chicago on Tuesday and Wednesday, potential rule changes coming from USA Hockeys Junior Council could prove to be catastrophic to Tier III operators.
The proposed changes address player movement throughout the USHL, NAHL and Tier III. While the spirit in which it is intended is certainly in the best interests of the players, the wording and presentation of the proposed changes were clearly not well thought out.
TJHN has advocated for years that all players should be able to move up to higher levels when those teams would like to get a look at them. We have advocated for change that would stop teams from holding players back from these promotions. Well, it looks like USA Hockey may be prepared to do something about it now.
A proposed change in the Player Rights Rules and Responsibilities language would surely allow players to get called up when the higher levels come calling.
As worded, the change would allow any higher level team to call up a player from a lower level at any time and the team having the player called up would have to let the player go. While the intent of this is just what the game needs, the details of the change are noticeably lacking.
While players should be able to freely move between the USHL and NAHL based on similar free to play business models, Tier III teams were not thoroughly considered.
While movement up for players at all levels should be what every team strives to accomplish. Rules that would allow for any higher level team to strip a lower level team of its player assets without guidelines and conditions would create anarchy.
If an NAHL club spends all summer recruiting and building a great roster to have USHL teams come in a pick off their top players one by one can cause an NAHL team to not be able to compete. What about all the time and money that NAHL club spent scouting players to build its roster? Should someone else be able to come in and take what they want because someone else did the work and then not have to send them a player back in return?
Between the free to play leagues, player movement should be a one for one deal. If the player is sent back down a level then the player should have to report to the team he was with previously.
The problem gets more complicated when it comes to Tier III. These teams base their annual budgets on player tuition. While every Tier III team should be looking to move players up to Tier II, they should also not be unreasonably stripped of their best players.
What if a Tier III team does a great job at recruiting, spending thousands of dollars in the process. They assemble a great team and then all of a sudden Tier II teams come in and take six of their top players? Great for the player, but the team that did the work recruiting and spending the money to do it, is now left with a catastrophic budget problem!
Tier II teams can not force players to pay to play by trading them to a Tier III team. So what is the solution?
Tier III teams must be protected in some way, yet the proposed rule change offers no protection. If a Tier II team takes a player, they should be required to keep that player for the rest of the year, or send him back to the team he came from. If the call up is for more than a week, the Tier II team should have to compensate the Tier III team with the very next player going down to Tier III.
Clearly the people who are proposing this rule have not thought things through or organized a structure that works and protects everyone equally.
In the NHL, players move up and down freely from the AHL. This only works when players are on “two-way” contracts with teams that are affiliated among one another. If the USHL and NAHL developed some type of relationship like this, it would be great for the players. This is unlikely for many reasons, one specific reason is that there are more NAHL teams than in the USHL so it could not be balanced.
Just a few years ago, a player could have a “three-way” contract that would allow movement between NHL-AHL and ECHL hockey. This worked for some teams as well and helped create a development pipeline for teams.
If this could be done to effect Tier III hockey that would be great, but again, USA Hockey rules do not allow for any player to be forced into a Tier III organization because it is a pay to play model.
How then can Tier III teams now potentially be forced into a “free to play” player advancement system to their detriment?
This is a tremendous idea, and long over due, but so poorly proposed and organized that it may force USA Hockey Tier III operators to look at other options. Not only could this force some Tier III teams out of business, but could send the entire Tier III market running to AAU in short order.
TJHN will update this story as more information becomes available.
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher