Next week kicks off the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit in Toronto--with heavy emphasis on Canadian, not so much on world. Oddly though,the big issue that everyone seems to be talking about, is one that likely won't be discussed much.
The original plan for Hockey Canada and the CHL heading into this thing was to sit down with the NHL and remind them of who their real friends were, in regards to Paul Kelly saying mean things about them. And privately, that may still be the case. Publicly, however, there's been a drastic shift in tone from "smug aloof asshole" all the way over to "smug pretending-to-be-conciliatory asshole".
There's been a flurry of articles printed the last couple days, like this one, which feature lots of Jeff Jackson lawsuit-esque statements that prove the gaping chasm between words and actions, such as:
It doesn't mean players don't have the option to go NCAA. We certainly aren't saying negative things about NCAA.
Not to mention multitude of quotes you could dig up like the ones last week with London taking shots at Notre Dame. Of course, there is a very simple solution to all of this, if the CHL is serious about this, and it really is "all about the kids," as Regina Pats president Brent Parker says:
I don't think it's fair to them. They have tough enough decisions as it is. That's where our league has really tried to take the high road through all of this. We recognize it's not the right way to go about it in terms of getting into running down each other's programs.
If you want to take the high road, the WCHA, like most other leagues, has a gentleman's agreement that says once a player makes a commitment to a school, nobody else will talk to them and try to recruit them. I'm sure they'd have no problem with the CHL joining in on that gentleman's agreement.
That's all that needs to be done. All this other silliness about NCAA hockey becoming a professional league like the CHL is just never going to happen. For anyone that thinks, "Just because they're playing with pros doesn't mean they're pros! We can work this out!" I'll point out that this week also marked the release of the demo mode of the new NHL '11 video game, in which you were to play with both the name of likeness of OHLer Tyler Seguin.(That the CHL, negotiating on Seguin's behalf, made sure Seguin gets absolutely nothing out of the deal would be Tyler Seguin's problem, not the NCAAs). I'll say it again, since it doesn't seem to have caught on, but there's a huge difference between an amateur athlete, and a professional that gets very poorly paid.
Personally, I don't buy into the panic about players choosing the CHL over the NCAA much anyway. Earlier this week, I read this quote from Yahoo's excellent Buzz the Net CHL blog(I'm know I'm usually sarcastic about all things CHL, but they truly do a nice job over there):
The NCAA's aim is to stop having, what five or six Cam Fowler-like cases for every player such as Chicago Blackhawks second-round pick Stephen Johns, who turned down the Ontario Hockey League to attend Notre Dame.
First, I'll question the math. Just looking at the draft eligible incoming NCAA freshmen, Adam Clendening, Nick Shore, Dillon Simpson, and Patrick Koudys all had ample opportunity to play in the CHL, which would get us up to 20-30 Cam Fowlers, a number that hardly seems right.
The other problem is classifying most of the kids that go to the CHL as Cam Fowlers--or any other successful CHLer for that matter. By my count, there should be at least 15 Pat Kanes coming out of the CHL for this year's draft.
The biggest reason I don't think there's that much reason to panic is that most of the same people exclaiming that these players jumping to the CHL is the death of NCAA hockey are the same people that were saying that it was death of NCAA hockey when players like Tyler Murovich, Josh Bemis, Beau Schmitz, and Josh Unice backed out on college commitments and jumped to the OHL. As it turned out, all of those kids are going to end up needing a four-year college degree a lot more than the NCAA ever needed them. Incidentally, Unice seems likely to be the only one to get that education from the CHL, as he was willing to give up playing serious hockey at age 20. Murovich forfeited his college deal by signing with an AHL deal this summer, and it seems highly unlikely either of the two, despite going undrafted twice now, will give up their pro hockey aspirations within the next year or two.
Which brings me to my final point about the CHL's Scholarship Program. This piece gets into the CHL's scholarship program in the most superficial way possible. It starts with the title, "CHL seeks truth..." apparently refuting Paul Kelly's claims about the CHL's scholarship program(though the article never bothers with what they are) and finishes with a quote from WHL commissioner Ron Robison saying, "You can't deny what the Canadian Hockey League has done in terms of its education programs, while never actually getting into what it's actually done. There you go. It's all so simple that you don't need any sort of evidence or numbers to know that the CHL is great and Paul Kelly is a lying liar. CHL 1 Reality 0.
I would say that's a monument to dubious journalism, except for the fact that the writer couldn't use any numbers, because such numbers don't exist on the CHL side. Sure, you'll see the occasional press release saying, "200 players are using CHL scholarships! 200 is a very big number!" without ever bothering to get into what percentage of the whole those 200 players are, or how many of those scholarships were going towards one health class. Or more shamefully, press releases that say, "This player's mom is an American apple pie school teacher, and she thinks this scholarship program her son will never use is fantastic!"
The real truth is, while the NCAA maintains publicly available records about exactly what percentage of their athletes are in good academic standing and on pace to graduate within a certain time frame, you'll never see anything close to that from the CHL, because the numbers are embarrassing. As of last year, only about 32% of CHL players were tapping into the scholarship program.
Like I said, this "Hey, we're the good guys" tactic may all be part of the CHL's plan to get the NHL's development money taken away from USA Hockey, and by extension, College Hockey Inc. But it's comical to see how far from reality some of these statements get.