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Discussing Letters of Intent

It was reported earlier this week by Brad Schlossman that Paul Kelly and College Hockey Inc. are working with the NHL to create legislation that would prevent players from signing with the CHL for one full season once he signs his National Letter of Intent.

That set off another round of debate on both sides of the border, summed up nicely by Chris Peters at United States of Hockey. Always late to the party, I figured I would give my take as well.

First off, I should start by saying that I'm a huge fan of College Hockey Inc and the work that they're trying to do. I even like the idea of trying to hold players to commitments that they make. I'm just not sure that throwing all their weight behind something as flimsy as a National Letter of Intent is the way to do it.

The problem with the letter of intent is that players don't have to sign them. If this legislation passes, players will be have two options: Sign a letter of intent limiting them to playing college hockey the following season, or don't sign it and leave their options open.

There is the possibility that once a signing period comes and goes a player chooses to not sign, the school would withdraw his scholarship, but in all honesty, what are the odds of that happening with the type of players this legislation was intended for? As a hypothetical, do you really think Michigan would pull their scholarship offer from Jacob Trouba if he had chosen not sign a letter of intent this past fall? Is there a team in the country that would pass on a verbal commitment from Seth Jones just because he wanted to wait on signing a letter of intent? Probably not. So where does that get us? Pretty much the same place we are now.

It might work toward fleshing out the true intentions of certain players. I can think of players that have signed Letters of Intent, even though it's questionable that they play college hockey next season. But I also doubt the teams those players have committed to are completely in the dark about that possibility. And what about players like Stefan Matteau, whose decommitment was very heavily based on being traded to a specific team in the QMJHL? There's just not a lot of advantage to be gained by a player limiting their options like that a year in advance.

And all of this ignores the fact that many of the players breaking their letters of intent already are doing so because they signed an NHL contract. Would the NHL allow the NCAA to say that the NHL can't sign their players for a year after drafting them? That seems unlikely, and if that happened, probably wouldn't have a desired effect. The NHL already favors the CHL a bit because they have more control and flexibility with their prospects. This would just push that pendulum farther.

The other stuff about allowing CHL players to play in the NCAA is still a non-starter. Having prospective student-athletes play in a league where it is in that league's best interest not to have players eligible for NCAA hockey is a dangerous situation. Given Dave Hakstol's highly principled "the rules should be whatever benefits me most" stance(He doesn't want to lose players in the summer because recruiting a new player is hard, but he wants to steal other teams' recruits so they have to recruit late in the summer. Seriously, shut both sides of the mouth you're talking out of) he'd likely be the first to cry when a player of dubious eligibility scored against his team.

And how much benefit would that actually be? Would 18 and 19 year old draft picks leave the CHL to play in the NCAA, or would they just get 20-year-old leftovers that have run out of junior eligibility? That would do absolutely nothing for college hockey in terms of prestige and help cut the legs out from the momentous progress USA Hockey has made in recent years with the development of their junior leagues. It's just an all-around bad idea for college hockey, and hopefully one that never happens.