This is a practice that we see a lot in football: teams loan younger or underutilized players to other clubs – whether overseas or in lower divisions – in order to provide players minutes they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Not only is this extremely common, but it is often successful in developing young players and preparing them for the game in a competitive environment. At the end of the season or loan period, that player returns to his parent club, sometimes ready and confident to compete for a starting role and other times not proving good enough.
The reason it works in football is the global scale of the game. There are several divisions in each country, giving players plenty of opportunities to find a place where they can practice their profession.
Looking at other popular sports in North America, of course, there are overseas baseball and basketball leagues out there, but not up to the standards set by the MLB or the NBA.
With Major League Baseball having such an extensive farming system (you know … before [gestures at 2020]) and the size of the NBA rosters too tiny, loans would not work well in most sports.
This does not mean that the KHL or the Swedish Hockey League are starting to compete with the level of the NHL. However, while some European prospects are struggling to adjust to American professional underage gambling here, they may be better off looking to expand on loan in their home country.
It’s a practice that all the NHL teams have already practiced: sending the best European prospects abroad or even the best Canadian players among the juniors. But that is not called a loan, unless there is a lockout.
In 2012-13 (and in some cases this year), players were sent to Europe and allowed to play on loan before returning for their championship seasons in North America. The players stayed fresh and when the 2013 season finally began in January, players were ready to go despite shortened training camps and several months off between NHL games.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the scheduling of matches, particularly at the minor league level, where several ECHL teams have been forced to drop out of the coming season (such as the Boston Bruins‘, the Atlanta Gladiators) and the AHL teams face an uncertain future with likely a dramatically shortened schedule.
Rather than losing a year of development, teams like Boston have lent some from their organizational prospects to teams in Europe to get players good minutes at the professional level.
And it’s a practice that should stay in the post-pandemic game without lockdown.
For example, if a young player within an organization does not have sufficient playing time due to a traffic jam of prospects, sending them overseas to Europe could be beneficial for all three parties involved.
The parent club could see their hopes get solid playing time in a top professional league. The loaned player would be able to boost his confidence in a Premier League executive rather than competing for minutes in the AHL. And the loan team would be able to announce an NHL-caliber player while bolstering their own roster. A win-win-win.
But wouldn’t that mean the end of minor league hockey? Nope.
While loans are not limited to international players, teams would still want to develop players in their own farming system under the watchful eye of organizational coaching teams. Collegiate and major juniors could make a quick jump into the AHL to get their feet wet if needed, while fringe prospects and tweens could still make a living at home.
With roster space and an annual influx of new talent via draft or free agency, players who still need an extra year of development without room for frequent playing time could see tier competition. professional with a short stay on loan.
Engaging in a practice like this is easier said than done, but it is a practice that can help develop the game internationally and allow a myriad of young players to prove their worth. under contract in the best league in the world.