IIHF, NHL and NHLPA propose raising age limit to 20 for return to Europe

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NEW YORK - International hockey executives have emerged from meetings with NHL and NHLPA representatives satisfied that their concerns about too many young Europeans skating on minor-league North American teams are being heard.

It was proposed that the age limit for players should be increased to 20 from 18 when they must first be offered back to European teams who hold their rights. First-round NHL draft picks would be exempt.

Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - the top five talent producing European countries - were represented. The five-hour meeting on Wednesday was headed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, IIHF president Rene Fasel, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly.

"We were satisfied that both the league and their player's association share the same concern with too many young European players coming over to North America before they are NHL ready," Fasel said in a statement Thursday. "As we share the concern, we still have different opinions about which are the correct measures to address this problem, but one major issue which we agreed upon is to increase the age by which a player who does not make the NHL team's roster must be first offered back to his European team."

The current IIHF-NHL player transfer agreement is a four-year deal that begun last season, but both sides decided to reopen it before Jan. 1, 2008.

Under the reopened agreement, a player who is still under contract with an IIHF team and has not reached 20 must be offered back to his team in Europe. The new proposal sees the age limit to be increased by two years. The provision does not refer to first-round draft picks.

The framework "is subject to all of the parties going back to their respective constituencies to discuss its merits," Daly told The Canadian Press on Wednesday night.

The IIHF, NHL and the NHLPA are considering an interim framework agreement for the 2008-2009 season which, if approved, would regulate transfers of European players who sign NHL contracts for the 2008-2009 season.

"This way we are buying ourselves some time to be able to fully evaluate the effects on the movement of players from Europe to North America and to use those results when trying to reach a new long-term agreement for 2009 and beyond," said Fasel.

Out of the 59 European players who were signed by NHL clubs prior to 2007-2008, six are on NHL rosters, 46 were assigned to minor leagues and seven returned to their European clubs.


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