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What to take away from the NHL’s “Declaration of Principles”

The NHL partnered up with what feels like every hockey entity in North America and Europe to develop a core belief system for playing and living the game we enjoy so much

The NHL 100 presented by GEICO - Show Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Pat LaFontaine took the podium yesterday in New York to help unveil what the NHL branded as the “Declaration of Principles,” not just for the NHL, but for many professional and amateur leagues in North America and Europe. The premise was simple:

“How can we support and help build the culture in our sport?” - Pat LaFontaine

The result was an amalgamation of leagues and representatives coming up with these “beliefs” that represent how not only to develop the game, but better the world in which the game operates.

Given the tenor and the branding of these principles, the target audience is the kids coming up in their respective leagues, and these are largely ideas that are put out by almost any athletic activity. Not to say that they aren’t important; the beliefs are.

However, you could possibly construe this as the NHL patting itself on the back, saying “Hey, look at us! We’re the only major professional sport in North America that is taking care of our youngin’s!”

Please like our sport.

NHL.com

The NHL (and the AHL) are already a part of the You Can Play Project, which focuses on safety and inclusion for those in the LGBTQ community in all sports. However, this program hasn’t been given the same stamp of approval as these “new” principles in terms of participants.

Similarly, Gary and friends have aligned themselves with the Hockey is for Everyone initiative, which also focuses primarily on the last of the beliefs in the Declaration and is also hockey specific. Unlike the You Can Play Project, USA Hockey throws their hat into the ring for this one.

“What’s the point, then?”

The short answer is that this is the only initiative that has garnered this much support in the hockey community. Despite playing the same sport in North America (and Europe, kind of), each league has their different policies and philosophies regarding how to educate their players and all those involved.

Put your pitchforks away, this is more than a ploy to get the lockout hungry front offices to look like the good guys.

In the NAHL Code of Conduct, the first mention of emotional and mental development doesn’t come until page 6 and is targeted at the coaches. A player’s code of conduct is focused on on-ice penalties.

There is no Code of Conduct to be found on the USHL site. USA Hockey has an extensive Rule Book that covers conduct of everyone, except for the players...

There are a variety of leagues in Canada with their own rule books that do detail things like bullying and so on over just simple “what will happen when you slash somebody”. The OHL has their own initiatives such as the CMHA Talk Today Program, which addresses mental health, and the OHLOnside program, focusing on respect for women.

If you’re thinking that I’m leaving out the women’s leagues, they play by the same rules, so the NWHL follows the USA Hockey rule book and the the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) follows the Canadian Rule Book. The latter starts with the “Fair Play Initiative” and the following “Announcement” that addresses character over the rules that will put you in the penalty box.

A cohesive mission is better than having to scour multiple different websites, and development has a broader focus than improved edge-work.

Personal Reaction

There are a lot of beliefs on this list that are universal in any youth sports program, from the idea of a strengthened community to having core values on and off the ice. What I particularly enjoy is the emphasis on playing other sports as well as the emphasis on age-appropriate development.

Kids shouldn’t specialize.

It feels like the prevailing opinion amongst the most intense parents is kids need to be put into camps as early as three-years-old if they are to excel in their sport. And that phrase alone is my problem, “sport” not “sports.” You can enroll your kid in whatever camp you want, but pigeon-holing from an early age can lead to burning out or, worse, resentment.

Off-seasons are great, and that doesn’t mean kick back and do nothing. I, for one, am a huge fan of box lacrosse, which is essentially just hockey on gym shoes. Minnesota is known for their baseball as well, which still has the fundamental skill of hand-eye coordination.

Play ping-pong, take up boxing. Athletics are meant to cross-over, and sometimes it feels like people forget that skills are translatable.

The latter point of age-appropriate development is something that is already ruffling some feathers. It’ll probably lead to the re-opening of a few debates, namely the NHL draft eligible age.

The CHL already has rules for this sort of thing in place like being granted “exceptional player” status which allows a 14-year-old to play in the 15 to 20-year-old major junior leagues. This status has only been granted five times: John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, Sean Day, and most recently to Joe Veleno.

John McFarland applied for it way back when after scoring 165 points in 49 games in the Metro; he was denied, is 25 now, has 3 NHL games to his name, and currently plays in Finland.

The case of John McFarland is one that shows that players need time to develop with kids their age, to take on the mental and physical pressures year-by-year in order to develop into not just a good hockey player, but as a person.