Grigorenko debacle highlights flaws of NHL/CHL agreement

Mikhail Grigorenko’s initial decision to refuse this assignment to Quebec was the newest chapter in the winding tale of his poorly managed development with the Sabres.

The genesis of the awkward situation – the refusal to report to Quebec, the Facebook comment asking for time to think and final decision to report – stems back to the push to keep him in Buffalo at the start of last season. The well documented and mishandling of Grigorenko has resulted in two burned years of his entry level contract and what could be a growing rift between the team and player.

Although mishandling Grigorenko has become a spotlight matter for two straight seasons, the inability to do anything other than to keep him in Buffalo or send him back the QMJHL has not only handcuffed the franchise but also underscores a rule that requires changing between the NHL and CHL. Here’s some background reading on the agreement.

Whether or not Girgorenko could fill a role on the current Sabres roster is another argument, what’s obvious is that some sort of change needs to be made to the agreement. Specifically one that will provide teams with an opportunity to put certain players in the AHL despite them being under the 20-year old limit.

Something along the lines of the CHL exceptional player status would serve NHL teams the necessary leverage to move those players that are beyond the skill level of the CHL but not yet ready to play in the NHL. Ideally this would be a rule that wouldn’t be used on a yearly basis but only on the rare occurrence that a player is better served developing at the professional level.

Much like filing for exceptional player status, an NHL club – or perhaps a player’s agent – would petition some sort of board made up of NHL, CHL and maybe even AHL executives who would determine if a player was worthy of being granted access to play in the AHL.

It seems like a fairly obvious step to take. Every so often there are players who hop between the CHL and NHL to start a season but don’t fall in for a full time job with an NHL club. A simple petition and evaluation process to provide players the opportunity to grow, as opposed to completely dominating at the junior level, seems like a logical step to take.

The ultimate goal is to continue protecting the CHL from having their players poached too early while allowing those who are completely dominant a route to continue their development at the proper level. That doesn’t mean that Grigorenko would necessary be granted an exception to play in the AHL this season or last, but there would at least be an avenue to explore such an option rather than having the Sabres try to circumvent the rule by putting him on a conditioning assignment.

Hopefully this is something that is being discussed by the NHL and CHL in some form as Grigorenko’s situation has cast a spotlight on the flaws in the system, but the need to make a change isn’t a new development.


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