LAFAYETTE, La. — After our last conversation with the SPHL commissioner, discussing operational changes going into the 2019-2020 season, Doug Price unintentionally left out what is possibly the most significant paradigm shift.
The Federal Hockey League expanded and rebranded into the Federal Prospects Hockey League (FPHL). Ahead of this, the SPHL made a change which may have far-reaching effects not only in the present but for years to follow.
Over the SPHL winter meetings in January, the league decided games played in the FPHL no longer count towards veteran status in the SPHL.
The league regulation defining veteran players – a player who has played at least 224 games of professional hockey – remains unchanged. Also, teams are still limited to three veteran players, whose total games played cannot exceed 900. With FPHL games no longer counting toward veteran status, the landscape has changed in a significant way.
The regulation change mirrors that of the ECHL, which does not count SPHL and lower-level league games in their veteran rules.
One familiar player affected by the new veteran rules is Justin Levac, acquired by the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs in a deadline day trade last season with the Macon Mayhem. Levac played 378 games professionally across the SPHL, FPHL, CHL, and ECHL going into the 2018-19 season, classifying him as a veteran. Under the new guidelines, Levac’s 286 FPHL games are removed from his SPHL veteran eligibility, leaving him with 133 games played – well shy of veteran status for 2019-2020.
Levac did not report to Roanoke after being traded by Macon and remains unsigned by any SPHL team as of publication time.
Another Peoria signee, defensemen Oleg Shipitsyn, benefits from the new veteran rules after five seasons in the FPHL. Shipitsyn has 239 games of experience in the FPHL but will enter the SPHL with only 103 games from his time playing in Belarus. Shipitsyn, like Dion, would have been a veteran under last season’s rules.
Shipitsyn has a total of 252 games played in Belarus, but games in European leagues as a 20-and-under player do not count towards professional hockey totals.
Additionally, summer league games in Australian and New Zealand hockey leagues are also not counted towards SPHL totals.
Shipitsyn is the first example of the far-reaching effects of the SPHL’s change in veteran status – the ability of long-time FPHL players to possibly make a jump to the SPHL. Another well-known FPHL player – all-time leading scorer Ahmed Mahfouz – has 751 points over 365 FPHL games. If Mahfouz were to sign with an SPHL team this season, he would have a total of one game counting toward veteran status.
Peoria’s Cody Dion, acquired in a summer trade with the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, will retain his SPHL veteran status. While Dion’s 47 FPHL games no longer count, his SPHL (204), CHL (17), and Finnish (51) experience surpass the veteran threshold with 272 games.
A player can spend several years in the FPHL, then play just shy of four years in the SPHL and not be considered a veteran. Only time will tell if FPHL veterans will take advantage of the SPHL’s new regulations and take a shot at cracking an SPHL roster.
SPHL Veteran Rules in a Nutshell
- A veteran is defined as a player with at least four full SPHL seasons, or 224 games, of professional experience.
- Teams may roster up to three veterans, whose total games played may not exceed 900.
- Leagues which count toward professional experience include the NHL, AHL, ECHL, LNAH, and European professional leagues.
- Games played by European-born players in professional leagues when aged 20 and younger do not count towards SPHL veteran status.
The developmental door between the SPHL and FPHL is now wide open. Time will tell if the path between the leagues will become well-traveled.