NHL player agents want to reduce the number of rounds in the draft from seven to four, tipster Elliotte Friedman told us this weekend. The Players Association could even debate it during the next negotiation of the collective agreement.

We understand the position of the players’ clan. Very few prospects drafted after the fifth round receive a contract offer. However, they are linked to their organization for two years in the case of a junior hockey player and four years for an NCAA player.

For NHL teams, this is a way to maintain control over a greater number of players and thus limit overbidding for athletes who develop late. The agents precisely want to increase the negotiating power of athletes shunned after four rounds in the draft.

Let’s take the Canadian, in fifteen vintages, between 2020 and 2006. Montreal drafted 65 players in the first four rounds. Twenty-two played at least 100 games (34%), including 17 drafted in the first two rounds (26%).

Forty-three prospects were selected by the team starting in the fifth round during the same period. Only four have played at least 100 games (9%). The lucky four? Brendan Gallagher, Jake Evans, Michael Pezzetta and Charles Hudon. Only Gallagher was an impact player.

If the Canadian had been so infatuated with Gallagher in 2010, would he have changed his strategy? Would he have waited until the fifth round, at 147th overall, to draft him? Gallagher, after all, was coming off a 41-goal, 111-point season as a 17-year-old in Vancouver in the Western Junior League, but he was small and not the sleekest skater.

Would Montreal have tried to acquire an additional pick in the fourth round? Would he have preferred Gallagher over Mark MacMillan, drafted in the fourth round, a slightly sleeker skater, but a harder choice to evaluate since he was playing in the Junior A League in British Columbia, a lower circuit than Gallagher?

* Many players, like MacMillan, voluntarily join these lower circuits in order to maintain their NCAA eligibility. Their evaluation nevertheless remains more complex due to the low level compared to the Canadian major junior leagues.

Nothing would have stopped the Canadian from inviting Gallagher to his summer development camp and, or, to the rookie camp, if he had been ignored in the draft. And who knows to offer him a contract afterwards? After experiencing the disappointment of being shunned, Gallagher would at least have had the freedom to choose his organization among the 30 NHL clubs.

Arber Xhekaj followed such a path. He was ignored during the 2020 and 2021 vintages. At least two organizations, the Canadiens and the Florida Panthers, invited him to training camp in September 2021. Xhekaj had the freedom to choose. He opted for the club with the least defense and went straight to the NHL that year.

If he had been drafted late in 2020 or 2021, Xhekaj would have been linked to an organization and would have risked hanging around in the minors among low-end prospects within a club rich in defenders.

The example of Xhekaj clearly illustrates the desire of agents to reduce the influence of teams on players less coveted at the start.

There was a time when the draft had twelve rounds. But there were only around twenty clubs, let’s not forget. In 1991, clubs drafted 264 players over twelve rounds. In 2023, 224 hopefuls found buyers in seven rounds.

We cut a round in 1992, the year when two new clubs joined the League, Tampa and Ottawa. The number of rounds was reduced from eleven to nine in 1995, with two more teams born two years earlier, the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The NHL moved to the current seven-round formula after the 2005 lockout. Who knows where defenseman Mark Streit, a ninth-round pick by the Canadiens in 2004, would have ended up…at 26 years old.

The NBA draft has only two rounds. Each team has fifteen players, eight fewer than the NHL. There are seven draft rounds in the NFL, but each team has 53 players, 30 more than in the National Hockey League.

However, a change in the rules would not favor one category of teams. Smaller markets like Buffalo, Winnipeg or Ottawa would be at a disadvantage compared to New York, Florida, Boston or Toronto. But the example of Xhekaj allows us to see that an athlete can favor the advancement of his career over the advantage of finding himself in a large American city…

Ottawa Senators president and general manager Steve Staios is reportedly actively looking for a top goalie, Sun Media’s Bruce Garrioch tells us.

Staios is reportedly in touch with the Boston Bruins for Linus Ullmark and the Calgary Flames for Jacob Markstrom. There would also have been approaches for Juuse Saros, of the Predators, mentions the Ottawa informant.

The Flames would like to get a first-round pick and a top prospect from the Senators in return for Markstrom. Ottawa holds the 7th and 25th picks in the 2024 draft and all of its picks in 2025. Its prospect bank is rather bare.

Hired by Staios’ predecessor Pierre Dorion, goalkeeper Joonas Korpisalo, 30, disappointed last winter, has four years left on his contract at an annual salary of 4 million. We’ll have to find a way to get rid of them if we get reinforcements. Markstrom, 34, is under contract for just two more seasons and Ullmark, 30, for one year.