As the NHL and National Hockey League Players’ Association continue to discuss the logistics of staging the 2021 Draft, several teams have indicated a preference to have the draft pushed back.
But exploring the specifics of how that change would function in practice has led to the emergence of big hurdles, and pessimism that the adjustment will be able to happen.
“Among the concerns are: If you move the draft back, will players still have to wait seven years until unrestricted free agency?” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported during the Headlines segment of Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. “Will they be able to move down to six? Also, if you’re drafted out of the CHL, you’ve got to have two years until you re-enter the draft. Will that be kept the same or will it be dropped down to one? These are the kinds of issues that they’re going to have to solve and I think it’s going to be a big challenge.”
Planning the 2021 NHL Draft, currently scheduled to take place July 23-24, has been a process made more complicated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the desire to adjust its date is not a new one.
Three weeks ago, Friedman reported that there were teams who would be interested in seeing the draft moved back to December or January instead of July. Another possibility being considered was doing two drafts next June — a late ’02 and an ’03 draft on one day, and the late ’03 and ’04 draft a few days later — to accommodate the full draft class.
Though the most recent concerns from the league and its teams appear centred on issues like draft eligibility and contracts, the challenges are not limited to those. Due to closures brought on by the pandemic, several draft-eligible players haven’t been able to play at all this season, posing not just a barrier to player development but one to scouting as well.
“One thing that has been discussed is a tournament, a series of games, what have you, at some point in the spring, in which those players could play,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported back in January during a Headlines segment. “Obviously you could invite scouts or have them watch from a safe distance through video, but it might be a way to get some eyeballs on these guys, because it’s been a tough year on those teenagers, too.”