CHL Needs to Consider Extended Eligibility

According to a report on Thursday morning, the OHL season is being put on hold once again (from OHL season benched until further notice as Ontario struggles with COVID-19, QP Briefing, April 15, 2021). At this point, it is really starting to look like there won’t be a season even as the league continues to try to make one happen.

Time is running out to get a season in and it’s time to start thinking about what you do if nothing happens. Extending the eligibility of players is not something the CHL want’s to have to do, but it is worth at least a conversation.

Why Should They Consider Extended Eligibility?

Every player in the OHL has been off the ice for over a year now losing plenty of opportunities to improve their game and potentially even their chance to be selected in the NHL Entry Draft. After their last game in the OHL, some players might never play another hockey game at a high level. Life isn’t always fair, but the way some might end their OHL career is just cruel.

Ottawa 67's, Mitchell Hoelscher
Mitchell Hoelscher of the Ottawa 67’s (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Finding a way to allow at least some of the league’s older players to get a little bit more game action in the league would be a massive step in righting some of the wrongs. Obviously, there would be issues that crop up and will get to those later, but those can be solved adequately.

Hockey Canada has already had their voices heard on the matter, but that came earlier this winter when leagues were beginning to get back on the ice. Slowly, other leagues around Canada have started playing even if it’s an on and off deal, but the OHL hasn’t even devised a way to get players on the ice together.

“Hockey Canada does not anticipate changing its age classifications for the 2021-22 season,” the organization said in a statement to rdnewsNOW. “Hockey Canada has empathy for any young person who has been deprived of the opportunity to experience significant events in their lives over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as attending their high school graduation, leaving home for the first time to attend university, or participating in extra-curricular activities, including playing hockey.”

Cedrick Andree Ottawa 67's
Cedrick Andree of the Ottawa 67’s (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

“While our members in several parts of the country continue to hold out hope that they will be able to offer our players the opportunity to return to the ice before the end of the current season, it has become apparent that whatever hockey activities those members may be able to offer, will differ significantly from those that are offered during a typical hockey season,” adds Hockey Canada.

The above statement to rdnewsNOW was published on Feb18, 2021, and serves as one of the only times Hockey Canada has talked about the extended eligibility option for their member leagues. So far, Hockey Canada has essentially said too bad so sad to all of their players and thrown their hands up in the air instead of looking at ways to smooth things over.

There Are Many Issues With Extended Eligibility

Although on paper it looks great to give some of the older players in the OHL longer in the league, there are so many issues that would make it incredibly tough to pull off. The very first thing to consider is if it is even possible for Hockey Canada to give allow players the extra year in the OHL but not in the QMJHL or the WHL. The three leagues run identical rules and regulations and altering them for one but not the other could compromise the integrity of the league and in turn the Memorial Cup for years to come.

Another issue to consider is what allowing players another year could do for those not yet playing in the OHL. For the players who are about to be drafted this spring/summer, making a roster under normal circumstances is difficult enough, now you add another handful of 21-year-olds to the fray and it’s even more difficult and possibly even impossible for some.

Francesco Pinelli Kitchener Rangers
Francesco Pinelli of the Kitchener Rangers (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

If you decide that you can allow players an extra season, there are still more issues to think about. You have to decide how many players are allowed to continue playing each season. Normally, CHL teams can dress three over-agers each game but that would have to change. Do you just increase that number and consider the 21-year-olds as part of that overage limit? Do you create a whole new category for them? If so, how many are each team allowed to carry at one time?

Additionally, would everyone currently on a roster have this extended eligibility? It would only make sense that if someone gets it, everyone gets it and that would include players like Ty Nelson who were just drafted and have never played a game in the OHL. How far down the chain are you willing to go? This would certainly take time to develop away from some of the younger kids for years to come.

So many issues, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a conversation about the concept of extended eligibility. There is a way to make things work and make most people happy and although it won’t be easy, the players deserve the league to at least take a look at it.

There Are Ways to Make it Work

This is where I can put on my commissioner hat and make the rules. These aren’t perfect, but they are potentially better than nothing depending on your thought process. If I was in charge of making this decision, I would expand rosters for each team by two players, both of those players would have to be 21-year-olds. I would change the maximum allowable over-agers dressed for each game to four instead of three. These four players could be any selection of 20 and 21 year-olds.

There isn’t a situation where everyone is going to be happy. Some older players won’t be able to recover their lost season and some younger players would be given a bigger challenge to make the roster, but this solution would be a fair meeting point. Not perfect, but maybe good enough is all we are going to get.

I’m sure that my idea isn’t even the best one. There is almost certainly someone out there smarter than I am who could come up with something better, but the CHL and Hockey Canada need to at least listen to what they have to say. While life isn’t always fair, you don’t need to be cruel to the older crop of players for it.

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