by PuckStopsHere on 11/13/10 at 12:20 AM ET
I think teams should be very careful in using 18 and 19 year old players on their roster. There is an opportunity cost associated with it. The player in question uses up a year of his entry level deal, where he will likely be a bargain to his team. It pushes the player in question a year closer to unrestricted free agency, as that can occur after a player turns 27 or has seven years in the NHL, whichever happens first. An 18 year old in the NHL will reach potential free agency at age 25. This means that his team could lose the player in his prime, two years earlier than he otherwise would have been lost. The loss of the cheap entry level years is also significant. In a salary capped environment, teams win Stanley Cups when their roster significantly outplays their salary cap hits. Entry level contract players are some of the best bargains who outplay their salary cap hits. For example, last year Chicago had Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as entry level bargains in their Stanley Cup run. This seems to be a near-mandatory step toward winning a Stanley Cup under the salary cap.
As young players improve, they become better players. An 18 year old player will generally be better when he is 19 and better still when his is 20 and so on for the first few years of his career. Thus he will be a better player and thus bigger bargain in his entry level contract and have a better chance of leading his team to Stanley Cup success.
Obviously, this concern is less important with a team that is a Stanley Cup contender today than it is for a team that is a ways from contention. This is a reason why I would not recommend that Edmonton leaves Taylor Hall in the NHL this year. When we combine this with the fact that Hall has not been a world beater so far this year (he has six points and a poor -8 +/- rating is significant ice time) I think the Oilers would be better served by keeping him in the minors this year.
There is another 18 year old rookie who is a more obvious call to return to the minors, but has been kept in the NHL anyway. He is Alexander Burmistrov of the Atlanta Thrashers. Burmistrov was picked eighth overall in the 2010 Entry Draft, so there is far less demand from the fans to keep him in the NHL than with Taylor Hall, who was a first overall pick. Burmistrov has been unsuccessful so far. He has four points to show for his 16 games played, while being protected from any tough competition.
There is no good reason that Atlanta should be playing using a year of Burmistrov’s entry level contract. He isn’t playing very well and isn’t being used in a significant role. He would probably be better off playing against top competition and starring in the OHL. Atlanta is losing one of the years when he could be a significant bargain and possibly help the Thrashers contend for the Stanley Cup. Atlanta may be pushing Burmistrov toward free agency one year earlier. They have had a problem with losing stars to free agency in the recent past. Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa are probably the two most significant UFAs since the lockout and both came from Atlanta.
The Atlanta Thrashers have never had success in their history. They have never won a Stanley Cup playoff game. It is decisions like the one that they made on Alexander Burmistrov that keep them from this success. It is a poor decision with a large opportunity cost and no real upside.
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