When the NHL locked out its players during the 2004-05 season, many thought the collective bargaining agreement was a step in the right direction for college hockey.
The NHL significantly reduced what players coming into the league could earn during their entry-level contracts. Most figured that would be a deterrent to players leaving early, as they wouldn't have the same motivation to leave for multi-million dollar contracts immediately out of school.
What people didn't see coming was that NHL teams would have more incentive to sign young players to entry-level deals.
With the 2004-05 lockout came a salary cap, and teams were looking for a way to continue to pay high-priced NHL veterans while staying under the cap. Getting creative and signing cheap talent under NHL deals was a way to bring teams' overall salary under the cap.
This led to the NHL ravaging college hockey, and signing players earlier and earlier that it might have previously let develop with their NCAA clubs. Undrafted college free agents especially have become a significant source of cheap, available talent for NHL teams.
The NHL and the NHLPA talks started heating up on Tuesday, with a deal potentially in striking distance.
The NHL made a proposal that most look at as a positive for a deal getting done. Included in the proposed deal is a 50/50 revenue split with no rollbacks of player salaries. In the last CBA, the players were receiving 57 percent of the revenue split.
The important part about the offer from an NCAA prospective is the length of the entry-level contract. Under the expired CBA, the length of your entry-level deal was dependent on how old you were when you signed the contract.
If you are 18-to-21 years old when you sign your ELC, you are required to sign a three-year deal. If you are 22 or 23, you are required to sign a two-year deal. If you are 24, you have to sign a one-year deal.
Given that the majority of high-end players who are in college and were drafted come in at age 18, most are required to sign that three-year entry-level contract if they are leaving school before their eligibility expired.
Under the new proposed CBA by the NHL, players signing entry-level contracts will have to sign a two-year deal as opposed to a three-year deal as was stipulated in the previous CBA.
At first glance, it certainly seems like a win for college hockey.
As I mentioned previously, teams love that they can pay players scraps on an entry-level deal to stay under the cap. That said, dropping ELC's from three-years to two-years limits the amount of time NHL teams can pay top players coming out of NCAA hockey on the cheap.
Knowing they only have two cheap years for a player, NHL teams are more than likely not going to rush players out of school as fast as they currently are.
For example, a lot of teams sign players away from NCAA programs early knowing that they are going to spend a significant amount of time in the minor leagues the following season. They can do this knowing they still have the kid for cheap at least a few more seasons.
The positive with the two-year ELC is that teams may not want to sign a kid they know is going to spend most of the year in the AHL. If they know they only get a kid on an ELC for two seasons, why waste one cheap year knowing he's most likely not going to have much of an impact on your NHL club?
It doesn't cost the NHL team any money to let the kid stay in school for another season. Would this entice NHL teams to sign a kid after his third season instead of pulling him out after just two years? As a college hockey fan, I'd like to think so.
The two-year ELC news was first reported Tuesday night by ESPN and TSN analyst Pierre LeBrun. Previously in the day, it had been erroneously reported that the NHL's offer included four-year ELC's. Initial news of four-year ELC's sent panic waves through NCAA hockey coaches offices everywhere.
While I mentioned a two-year ELC would be a positive for college hockey, a four-year ELC would be devastating. NHL teams would sign college hockey prospects with no repercussions.
Players would jump at the earliest chance to strike a deal, as well. Knowing they were bound to four full seasons of cheap salary, they would want to get the clock ticking for that to expire as soon as possible.
Thankfully for now, the report of four-year ELC's was false.
Despite Tuesday's offer from the NHL being a step in the right direction, this lockout isn't over. The NHLPA will make a counter-offer soon, and who knows if two-year ELC's will even be in the final CBA.
When they finally do reach an agreement, the first thing NCAA hockey fans should be looking for is the length of the ELC. Two-years would be great. Three-years is fine. Anything longer, and college hockey is in serious trouble.
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