For college players, that financial incentive has caused waves of prospects to leave school early; as a result, some of the most storied programs in collegiate hockey have taken a hit as star underclassmen bolt for the minor leagues. It's all part of a time-honored hockey life-cycle: "The NHL robs from the college and the college robs from the juniors and the juniors robs from the high school," Minnesota coach Don Lucia told the Wisconsin State Journal.
It's one thing to say that the NHL has made it sexier for blue-chip draftees to bolt college for the tough road from bush league hockey to the big show. It's another to say that the CBA actually "discourages graduation," which is what South Bend Tribune writer Steve Wozniak spells out in an article this week about University of Notre Dame ice hockey:
Since his arrival in South Bend over two years ago, Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson has done a phenomenal job in recruiting. But now, thanks to the NHL, that job may become even more difficult.It's true that teams hold on to a drafted player's rights for a longer period of time under the new CBA than the previous one -- thanks, Mike Van Ryn. But Wozniak, or Jackson, has his facts wrong when it comes to the time period before a player becomes a free agent, according to the 2005 CBA:
Under the terms of the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement, college players who are drafted by the pro league must sign with that team by the summer after their junior season, or become free agents on the market again. In effect, the rule discourages graduation, and should create a trend where some of the top college prospects will stick around campus for only a year, or at best, three.
If a Player drafted at age 18 or 19 is a bona fide college student at the time of his selection in the Entry Draft, or becomes a bona fide college student prior to the first June 1 following his selection in the Entry Draft, and remains a bona fide college student through the graduation of his college class, his drafting Club shall retain the exclusive right of negotiation for his services through and including the August 15 following the graduation of his college class. The Club need not make a Bona Fide Offer to such Player to retain such rights.Again, I'm assuming the players the Irish coach is discussing are the kind of blue-chip prospects that are drafted as 18 or 19 year olds. The rules change if a player over the age of 20 is drafted. But if a young player remains in college for the full four years and is scheduled to graduate, or if he leaves school after Jan. 1 of his fourth year but is scheduled to graduate, he doesn't become a free agent until August. I e-mailed Tyler Currie, communications manager for the NHLPA, about the Tribune passage above and about the NHL "discouraging graduation." Said Currie:
"The CBA certainly doesn't discourage graduation, but this clause is a little complicated, made moreso by the recent altering of the CBA after a grievance decision. In any case, even if a player ceases to be a student, the Club usually maintains their rights until a date where that player would have graduated."So while the NHL and the NHLPA have certainly made it more enticing for a player to leave college earlier for professional development, neither organization is forcing players to choose between the fourth line on an AHL team and their diploma. Which is a good thing because, as Fighting Irish coach Jackson said, a pre-med degree from Notre Dame is "probably worth a lot more than a year in the NHL."