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Kitchener Rangers drop Gabriel Landeskog, CHL to review import rule this summer

Thanks to Kitchener Rangers star and Colorado Avalanche prospect Gabriel Landeskog, the Canadian League will likely make changes this summer to the way it runs its annual import draft, which goes Wednesday.

CHL president David Branch acknowledged that because of the situation involving Landeskog, the junior league should reconsider its rules involving the number of imports allowed on a team’s roster during the off-season.

In particular, the CHL will consider the possibility of allowing teams to freeze an import spot on their rosters during the off-season. As it stands now, underage players cannot be placed on a “frozen list” until they begin the NHL season. The only problem with that is the import draft is in June and teams are allowed only two Europeans at one time.

“I think we’ll be looking at that,” Branch said. “I can’t predict what the outcome will be, but it certainly merits consideration. This kind of situation has not occurred with great frequency, but it has come up several times in the past two or three years.”

And the problem is, it will cost the Rangers either an import player to replace Landeskog or about $135,000 in development money over the next two seasons. The Rangers chose their poison and, going on the assumption that Landeskog will be playing in the NHL next season, dropped him from their roster to make room for another selection in the import draft.

And while the Rangers will receive about $10,000 of the pool of draft and development money the NHL gives to the CHL each year, the fact they dropped Landeskog means they forfeit the roughly $60,000 in development money he would receive for playing in the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2011-12 and about $75,000 for playing as a 19-year-old in 2012-13. The NHL provides the CHL with about $7 million in development money each year, but has no say in how it is distributed.

Landeskog, meanwhile, will be available to any one of the other 57 teams in the CHL that wish to take a chance on him perhaps not making the Avalanche and coming back to junior hockey. Should that happen and he is taken in the import draft Wednesday, the Rangers face the double whammy of losing the player and the development money they would have received if he had been on their roster. (Nobody seems to know what would happen if Landeskog is not taken in the import draft and he fails to make the Avalanche.)

There are a number of junior operators who are petitioning to have that changed and it sounds like they’ll have a sympathetic backer in Branch. As it stands now, when an 18-year-old CHL player is drafted into the NHL, the junior team that owns his rights has the option of placing him on a frozen list once he makes an NHL roster. They want the CHL to change its bylaws to allow them to place 18-year-old Europeans drafted in the first round on a frozen list prior to the import draft. And once that player’s fate is decided one way or another in the fall, the team would then choose what to do with its two European spots. If the Rangers had not dropped Landeskog and lost him to the NHL, the only way they would have been able to fill his spot was by trading for another team’s European player or taking one that had been dropped from another team’s roster.

The change will likely come this summer, but it will be too late for the Rangers, a community operated franchise that is the model for junior hockey excellence. The Rangers have actually always done well financially, but $135,000 over the next two years would go a long way to covering expenses.

The Rangers are said to be not pleased, but GM-coach Steve Spott would not comment on the situation. But Spott is well versed in it, since he went through the same thing with Mikkel Boedker in 2008. Boedker was taken by the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the NHL draft that year and surprisingly made the Coyotes roster. Spott kept Boedker on the roster as an 18-year-old and was forced to give up an import spot.

And the Portland Winter Hawks faced the same problem with Nino Niederreiter last season. Drafted in the first round by the New York Islanders, Niederreiter came back to Portland because GM-coach Mike Johnston decided to keep him on the roster. He has done the same this year and will miss out on an import pick in order to protect Niederreiter, a 19-year-old who stands a much better chance of cracking the Islanders lineup next season.

Meanwhile, the Windsor Spitfires, Plymouth Whalers and Rangers will receive all their development money for losing Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and Jeff Skinner as 18-year-olds last season. But teams don’t when European players are in precisely the same position.

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