PRAGUE – It was time to act before it’s too late. With no Czech players picked from a domestic team and just three in total at the most recent NHL Entry Draft another signal was given that the Czech Extraliga level is falling further and further behind other well respected European leagues. As a result the clubs have unanimously decided to turn the trend. And it will start as soon as the 2013/2014 season already.
While each league uses its own methodology to remain as strong as possible and keeping talent on board, the Czech Ice Hockey Association along with all 14 Extraliga teams have come up with a system which is unprecedented in any other major European league.
As of the upcoming season the teams are restricted to several roster regulations that come into play for each game. The new regulations will be as follows and are applicable to any team participating in the Extraliga:
- A maximum of 15 players born 1990 or earlier are allowed in a game for each team.
- A team should have at least 3 players born between 1991 and 1993 on the game roster.
- A team should have at least 1 player born 1994 or later on the game roster.
- Both goaltenders are exempt from any of the rules above.
In addition to above rules, the teams will receive six import licences that they can use throughout the whole season. As soon as any non-Czech player has been registered on the line-up, one of the licences will be consumed, regardless of the fact whether the player will hit the ice or not.
The new roster regulations are the result of a number of workshop sessions conducted by a workgroup formed by various stakeholders and were hosted by the Czech Ice Hockey Association (CSLH). Being one of the members of the workgroup, Sparta Prague chairman Petr Briza had an excellent view on the process.
“When the workgroup was put together we were asked to come up with solutions for two major issues in Czech hockey. First, how to keep players playing in the Extraliga for a longer period of time, especially our youngsters. Secondly we were asked to come up with a way to ensure that the price of the average players that remained in the league was not inflating any further, given the financial situations of many club teams,” the former national team goaltender told IIHF.com.
A quick look at the numbers shows the association’s concerns are not exaggerated. During the 2012/2013 season, no less than 80 Czech players were playing abroad in either the top league in the KHL, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland or Germany. On top of that, another 55 players were playing either junior hockey overseas in the Canadian junior leagues or in the AHL. Those numbers equate to almost half a line for each of the 14 Extraliga teams and then the Czech players playing outside the listed leagues are not even taken in account yet.
What remains are either savvy veterans and average players who had a deteriorating impact on the league level as international club competition has proven.
“The discussions with the group and the clubs lasted for a couple of months starting back in December 2012,” Briza remembered. “We needed to come up with a way to save money and help young players to get on the roster quicker.”
There are two facts not speaking in Czech hockey’s favour. First of all the Czech Extraliga is not among the financially strongest league in Europe, so the main reason for players to leave is money. Secondly a lot has changed since the past. When there was still a joint Czechoslovak league, there were 14 teams in the top league for both countries. Now there’s 25 which means the talent got more spread out and like an act of nature, the best players are taken by the larger league(s).
“We tested several ideas on the teams. Initially we wanted to limit the roster to just 20 players, while another plan was to install a salary cap. But both plans did not find common ground amongst all club teams for various reasons.”
The brainstorm sessions ended when all parties agreed on the proposal listed above. It will be piloted in the Extraliga for the upcoming two seasons after which it will be evaluated.
Briza: “The discussions weren’t always easy. People and clubs tend to be rather cautious when confronted with changes that they might not feel comfortable with. Therefore we took ample time to explain the new regulations and their impact so it could sink in with everyone. Last but not least we had to convince teams whose junior department is perhaps not as flourishing as others that this proposal is good for Czech hockey in general as it has more positives than negatives.”
The new regulations are the next in a line of regulations all across the globe that are being installed in order to strengthen domestic junior leagues. What started with regional training centres and U20 teams playing in professional league, now has been followed up by more stringent goalie rules in the CHL and the KHL, while Sweden also have taken measures to prevent their league having its hockey development pyramid disrupted.
“We realize there’s no such thing as a perfect solution, nor is ours. But it does offer a better chance for young players to get a roster spot and thus get Extraliga ice time. As a result we think that with this stimulus in place we can persuade players to not leave the league at a young age already.”
Especially this goal is the backbone of the plan. While the roster regulations were already met by most teams last season, and are now made formal, the roster position of the young player drastically changes.
“We noticed there was a lot of criticism coming from agents and parents that the young players were not given enough opportunity to gain ice time,” admitted Briza.
“Whereas in the past the youngster had to compete for a roster spot with veteran and older players, as of the next season will be only competing with peers of the same age for a guaranteed roster spot. Now these players will have less competition and can battle it out amongst themselves who is best. It makes the whole process more clear and fair for everyone.”
To measure the exact results of the new roster regulations will be difficult especially after just two seasons after instalment.
“In general I’d say the plan can be labelled as a success when the number of players playing abroad has decreased while the Extraliga level has not decreased or is even improved.”
PSG Zlin can be taken as a perfect example that playing with youth does not automatically put you out of the title race. Although they lost the playoff final in seven games to HC Plzen last season, their playoff roster was comprised out of no less than 5 players born 1992 or later.