Belfast Telegraph

Elite League announce major roster changes for 2020/21 season

Belfast Giants winger Lewis Hook in action against the Cardiff Devils (William Cherry/PressEye)
Belfast Giants winger Lewis Hook in action against the Cardiff Devils (William Cherry/PressEye)
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

The Elite League have announced that, starting in the 2020/21 season, teams' rosters will have to undergo significant changes with more emphasis placed on promoting home-grown talent.

The most interesting one to fans will be the reduction on the number of imports a team can dress for a game in favour of promoting young British players.

With the British national team performing at possibly its highest ever level, the EIHL have made the proactive move to try and usher in a new generation of home-grown talent.

Currently, Elite League teams can dress 14 non-British players for a game, however from next season that number will decrease by one to 13.

That comes alongside a change to a team's maximum bench strength, which has been reduced from 19 players (imports plus British players) and three Under-23 players to 17 players and three 25 or under British players.

The reduction in bench size is aimed at bringing the EIHL in line with the regulations in the NHL and AHL, and will try to force coaches to use and play all of their players.

Therefore, next season if a team wishes to ice a full four-line roster it will have to consist of 13 imports, four British players and a further three British players 25-years-old or younger.

Teams can, if they so wish, play more than three 25 or under Brits, and they can still replace an import with a British player as well, as has always been the case.

The changes see the existing rule on Under-23 players change to players who are 25 and under instead, something that was widely approved within the league.

"The view of the (Elite League) board, and also many coaches, is that a player is still not fully developed by the age of 23," said Mike Hicks, head of hockey operations at the Elite League on the changes.

"We want to give those players an extra two seasons to prove why they’re worthy of their place on an Elite League roster, rather than forcing coaches into decisions when players are only 24.

"Additionally, players that have gone overseas for college or university generally return home around the age of 22 to 23. With this rule change, we’re also giving them more opportunity to prove themselves, rather than them only having one season in professional hockey before they’re grouped alongside ‘senior’ British players who maybe have six to seven years of experience in the professional game."

The league has also placed a restriction on the number of imports a team can sign in one season at 18, placing more emphasis on getting off-season recruitment correct.

Teams such as the Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers and Guildford Flames have already made roster changes this season, while the Cardiff Devils have dipped into the market for injury cover.

"The purpose of this change is to create more parity regarding transfers within a season. This puts the onus on recruitment in the off-season," added Hicks.

"Budgets will always be different in any sports league, but by limiting the number of changes teams can make, we are aiming to level the playing field more in this regard."

How does this affect the Belfast Giants?

For the moment, not at all, so you can rest easy for now. But once we get back around to next summer and the Giants start to assemble their roster for next season, that's when it kicks in.

This season, the Giants have made the decision to run a player short of four full lines, with two players per night playing on a two-man fourth line. Whether or not that is continued into next season is unknown right now.

But, for example, if the rules applied to the Belfast Giants this season then they would have to sit one more import per night as they regularly ice 14 per game. That means that two-man fourth line would become a one-man spare.

Currently Belfast only have one player on the roster, Lewis Hook, who will fall under the 25 and under category next season. They have four British players already on the roster so, as long as they retain all four, they fulfill that quota.

So, if the Giants wish to run the same number of players per game as they do this season, then they will need to sign one more British player aged 25 or under for next season.

With head coach Adam Keefe liking to have just one spare import on his roster, it also likely means one player from this season's team will not return next season due to the import crunch.

This could change, of course, as Keefe could decide to return to having a full fourth line, or that he wants to play three-line hockey instead. The make-up of the Giants roster could be set for a major overhaul.

In the long run it could be a problem for Belfast, however, given their lack of junior hockey on the island. While, for instance, the Steelers have a link with the NIHL's Sheffield Steeldogs, the Giants don't have anywhere for young, talented Northern Irish players to develop.

The establishment of the Giants' SNL team at the start of the season will help, however the standard of the Scottish league is not yet at the level it needs to be for preparing players to make the step up to the EIHL.

And while the Junior Belfast Giants do excellent work, once their top players are ready to make the step up to the next level they need to go across to England to get it or potentially even further afield.

Of course, the team can still sign players from elsewhere. However, the Giants are keen to have more Northern Irish players representing them down the line, so this new ruling has placed more emphasis on trying to make that happen.

Key changes for 2020/21 season

  • Number of imports on a team's game day roster reduced from 14 to 13
  • A team's maximum bench strength will be changed from 19+3 to 17+3
  • The existing rule regarding Under-23 players will change to players aged 25 and under
  • Teams must have at least 14 skaters and two netminders on their game day roster
  • A team can only sign 18 imports across the course of an entire season, with a 19th import signing allowed if it is to replace a netminder

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