One of the highlights of the Junior Hockey off-season is the CHL Import Draft.
It is usually held the first Tuesday after the NHL Draft which means we are only weeks away from a very important day for all CHL teams. The draft order is determined by the reverse order of the standings from the past year as so to help the lower teams to get the best possible player and help then rebuild quicker. Bringing in some of the best talent from outside North America creates better competition for the players and hopefully creates more fan interest.
But the feeling is that although the system may not be totally broken it does have some damage.
How do we make it a level playing field for all teams?
How do we stop players/parents/agents from dictating where they want to play?
Step 1 – Opt-In
By June 1st all players that want to be selected have to opt-in to the CHL Import Draft. This will give all 60 CHL teams time to research and talk with scouts to decide who the best players are and can fit their team needs. To this day we still hear General Managers say things like “we don’t know a lot about this player, haven’t seen him in person, our contacts say he could be a good player, we’ll see what they look like at training camp”. Hopefully with 3 weeks to look over the opt-in list, teams can come up with a ranking system and be more comfortable on Draft Day. Another comment we hear too many times is “we are not sure they will come to our team”. WHAT? Now to step 2.
Step 2 – Must Report
By signing an agreement to opt-in to the CHL Import Draft you are agreeing to report to the CHL team who drafts you. This should not be a “guessing game” for the teams. This should not be a “who you know” system. This should not be a “my player won’t report unless he goes to this team” game. While the opt-In aspect will stop players/parents/agents from telling some teams they have no interest in the CHL and telling other teams they do want to play in the CHL, the must report clause will take the guessing game out of the process. Do you remember that Kootenay (1st overall) and Vancouver (4th overall) had their selected players not play for them this year?
Step 3 – Compensation
All these rule changes do not guarantee that the selected player will report to the CHL team. Now what? Well, for starters the team will get the same selection in the following CHL Import Draft. For example, Kootenay and Vancouver would get the 1st and 4th picks in the 2018 Import Draft. To help the teams in the current season they should also be able to make another selection in the current draft. This is tricky because the team will not know instantly that the player will not report so the compensatory pick will have to come after the draft is complete. On average 70-80 players are selected every year. Whenever a team is informed that their selection has changed their mind about playing in the CHL team, for whatever reason, the team is able to return to the opt-in list and make another selection. This is not a perfect resolution because a team may have had the 20th overall pick and now will get someone ranked 80th, but it does give them something for the current year and will get the 20th pick the following Draft. There is only compensation for non-reporting players. If the player comes to training camp and is cut there is no compensation.
Step 4 – Penalty
If a player does not report to the team that selected them in the draft they are ruled ineligible from the CHL. These players will not be allowed to opt-in to future Import Drafts. The CHL already has a rule that an Import player cannot be traded in their first year in the League. This helped solve the problem that players would not report unless they were traded to their desired team. This rule takes it one step further.
The main focus on any changes to the Import Draft are to make it a level playing field for all teams and to take the guessing out of which players will or will not come to the CHL. If 200 players opt-in to the draft it is up to each team to do their homework to get the best player. Right now it is like the Wild Wild West with too many unknown elements. Teams should be rewarded if their scouts do better work than other teams. I understand that players’ agents want what’s best for their clients and want to put them in what they think is the best situation. But is it fair if the 10 best players always go to the same 10 teams? How was Leon Draisaitl’s development in Prince Albert? Did playing in a very small market prevent him from being the 3rd overall pick in the NHL Draft? Having Import players in the CHL are great, how they get here and where they play needs to be better.