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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

New Rules To Hinder Europeans In Upcoming Draft

Bottom's up

From "New rule may temper appetite for Europeans", Columbus Dispatch, 6/18/06, written by Michael Arace:

It used to be that a team could draft a European player, leave him unsigned and let him sit in Sweden, Finland or wherever. NHL teams maintained rights to these players until the players turned age 31. League GMs could keep tabs on the player. When he was deemed ready, or needed, he was signed and brought to North America.

Now, it appears the collective bargaining agreement born of the lockout also will have an impact on the draft.

"We’re all looking at European players a little differently than we did before," Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said.

"You can’t draft a European player and park him overseas anymore," said David Poile, GM of the Nashville Predators. "We’ll have to wait and see what effect that has on the draft."

The new agreement calls for teams to sign European draft picks within a span of two years. Any unsigned players re-enter the draft pool. Put another way: European draft picks are now treated exactly like North American picks.

"It was a CBA issue, and it was a decision made to put players here and in Europe on a more level field with regard to negotiating rights," said Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner.

The IIHF transfer agreement, redrawn in 2005, includes another wrinkle that makes NHL teams take a harder look at European prospects. The agreement now includes fees to be levied against NHL teams for taking a European draft pick and placing him in the minor leagues.

"The IIHF has always been fine about players who are ready for the NHL coming over," Daly said. "But they thought it was detrimental to European leagues to have players signing before they were ready for the NHL and being brought over. The fee structure was a key initiative to getting a new transfer agreement done."

Russia's Nikolai Kulemin (#14)

Jim Clark, the Blue Jackets’ executive vice president and assistant GM who makes regular trips to Europe to scout, said Columbus’ pre-draft meetings have taken on a new bent.

"The scouting staff has to be more accountable now," Clark said. "Aside from all the work of rating and ranking talent, you’re also going to try to determine if these kids have the motivation to sign, or if they’re going to stay in Europe. And European players, now, after the age of 22, don’t have to be drafted anymore. They’re free agents. That’s new."

This is merely a turn in the cycle. There were 142 Europeans drafted in 2000 and they represented nearly half of the draft crop that year. The number has ticked down to 97 Europeans, or 33 percent, drafted in 2004. The trend is about to be artificially enhanced.

Next week, the later rounds are going to roll around and, all things being equal, the tendency will be to take a North American over a European.

"Before, you could draft a European kid, put him in the bank and cash in when he was ready," said Waddell, the Atlanta GM. "Now, you’ve got to have a pretty good feeling on a kid. You can’t just put him in deposit."