The NHL Players Association is considering barring agents from contacting players under 16 years of age. The change has some merits, but some legitimate criticisms as well.
TSN’s Rick Westhead reported that the NHLPA has been looking into enacting the rule for more than a year now, and is still gathering feedback about the new hockey agent restriction this coming week. Although there’s no timetable for a decision to either approve or table the rule change, it’s great that any decision isn’t being made hastily. The decision has the potential for good or ill regardless of the way it’s made.
The case for making the rule change
If the rule change is enacted, agents who work in hockey would face a yet-unspecified penalty from the NHLPA for contacting a player or any member of her/his family before that player reaches her/his 16th birthday.
The argument for enacting the new rule is that agents contacting players at young ages, sometimes as early as 10 or 11, creates false hopes in the minds of young players and their families of a long and successful NHL career. Agents have taken advantage of these ice dreams to personally profit, and not been realistic about the players’ chances. The reality is that the odds of even beginning, much less sustaining, a career as a player in the NHL are worse than the odds of being injured while using a toilet.
Another less quantifiable but real concern is that involving the business of the game at such a young age robs the teenagers of the fun of the game and some of their adolescent care-free years.
Those arguments are valid, but there are caveats to the enacting of the rule.
The equally-valid case against making the rule change
While some agents will take advantage of fringe-level talent to their own profit, most hockey agents are on the up-and-up. They’re honest about the chances the player has, and what it will take to get drafted. The few young prospects who seem to show the talent necessary to make a career out of professional hockey do have a rather momentous decision to make during their teenage years.
Most sports fans are familiar with the fact baseball players in the United States and Canada are often drafted by MLB franchises in their teenage years, sometimes before they finish high school. It’s then up to the player and his family, who is free to seek out any and all advice he can muster, to decide whether or not to sign with the team that drafted him. Doing so would forfeit his eligibility to play college baseball for any NCAA-member institution because of the NCAA’s amateurism rules, so it’s a significant decision.
Hockey works much the same way. The pros come calling for these top-level prospects at young ages and the player along with her/his family must make a decision that will affect the teenager’s future in many serious ways. Signing with a team would similarly forfeit the player’s college eligibility.
Making that decision is when families could most use the advice of an experienced hockey agent. The agent deserves to be compensated for her/his services as well. Barring these families from soliciting that advice from the very people most qualified to give it would put them at a severe disadvantage in terms of negotiating contracts for these teenagers with hockey teams.
Finally, there’s the possibility that creative agents could find another way to brand themselves as to be exempt from the rule.
If the NHLPA does enact this rule, it needs to create resources for families to utilize when the time comes to decide whether or not to begin a professional career. If the NHLPA determines that the rule change is either unnecessary or unwise, it needs to do a better job of educating agents about proper ethics and holding those agents accountable.
Either way, the NHLPA has realized that it needs to take a bigger role in the recruitment of players at the youngest ages. Whether or not that will involve this particular rule change remains to be seen.