At its monthly meeting, the Elite Ice Hockey League board yesterday approved changes to gameday bench strength regulations, which will come into force for the 2020/21 season.
The following changes do not affect an individual team’s overall squad size. They are merely related to the on-ice roster size (number of players that can be on the gamesheet to play in a game):
The main changes are:
• The maximum bench strength will change from 19 players + 3 U23 British trained to 17 players + 3 25 and Under British trained
• The existing ruling regarding Under 23 players changes to players 25 and Under
• The number of “Imports” is set at 13
Why is the league making changes to bench strength?
The reduction in bench size is in line with the NHL and AHL. In view of the above changes to imports and British players, the reduction of bench strength ensures that coaches use and play more of the players dressed for each game. There is nothing to stop teams, however, from having squads larger than 18 players and 2 netminders. This ruling impacts only the number of players they can dress in each game.
Why is the league changing the U23 rule?
The purpose of increasing the ‘23 years old and Under’ rule to players ’25 year old and Under’ is to further the opportunities given to younger, home-grown players.
“The view of the 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. “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.”
He continued: “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.”
In the 2020/21 season, a player will be classed as 25 or under if they were born in 1995 or later.
What about four-line hockey?
“The changes to bench sizes do not stop teams playing four-line hockey,” explained Hicks. “Teams are still able to ice 12 forwards to give them four forward lines, and six defensemen. What the changes do mean, however, is that to use four lines teams will need to ice players under the age of 25.”
Changes to overall squad sizes
While the above changes do not impact a team’s overall squad size, only the number of players they can dress per game, there is one change that will have an effect on this. Starting from the 2020-21 season, teams will be limited to a total of 18 import players in one season. An additional 19th import signing will be allowed if the change is related to a netminder.
“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.”