The star prospects are flying around the CHL right now as trade deadlines hit for major junior. Some very notable names have moved in the past week, while other deals that were known about during the world junior trade freeze have now been officially completed.
One of the most prominent names to be moved was center Akil Thomas, whose profile got a raised just a little bit after he scored the golden goal for Canada at the world juniors. Thomas, the Los Angeles Kings prospect, had spent his entire junior career in the OHL with the Niagara IceDogs, where the team has been fairly successful of late. But the IceDogs were not going to be contenders this spring and thus the teardown began, with Thomas going to Peterborough and Nashville Predators first-rounder Phil Tomasino heading off to Oshawa.
Speculation of a Thomas trade had been alive since early in the season – it only made sense from a rebuilding perspective, since the talented center will be turning pro next year anyway – but he did have a no-trade clause.
Yes, it’s true – junior players can have no-trade clauses. And this is a very important right for them to possess.
The balancing act in major junior has always been between the development of teenagers and the elite product that fills arenas and future NHL rosters. Yes, these kids are fantastic at their sport, but they are still kids in many ways. They live with billet families, many are still in high school and almost all of them are away from home for the first time in their lives.
My colleague Ken Campbell has written about the money made off the backs of junior players before, so I won’t dig too deeply into that part of the issue, but it’s important for these kids to have some agency over their young lives and careers.
Naturally, having a good agent (see what I did there? Wordplay!) can go a long way. While players officially make peanuts for playing major junior, they do have scholarship options and a good representative can make sure their young client gets the most out of that offer. In the case of no-trade clauses, it brings both security and insurance. If you’re a first-rounder in a CHL draft, a no-trade clause is practically standard now. In many cases, a player who may have been highly considering the NCAA route can also grab one, though there is no hard-and-fast rule.
There are some CHL teams that are basically mini-NHL organizations. They pump out high-end players, win titles and nary a word is heard about them letting down their responsibilities over the kids they are helping. But there are also programs that aren’t so well-to-do, that aren’t so well-run. If we were talking about NHL players making millions of dollars, you would be fine to say ‘deal with it,’ but we’re not. Junior players have a very small window of time to prepare themselves for what they hope is a pro career in hockey and unlike NHLers, they don’t even have the option of free agency years down the line.
That no-trade clause gives junior players some leverage during a very intense time of their lives and while the major junior system isn’t perfect, at least some of the players have some protection over their destiny.