Recently on this blog, you may have read a post that asked, “Will the Canadian Hockey League ban European goaltenders?” Well, the answer apparently is yes.
According to Darren Millard of Sportsnet, the CHL will permit European goalies to be selected only in the first round of this year’s import draft and will exclude them from the draft entirely in 2014.
This move is raising eyebrows and tempers with good reason. This is a decision that is likely in concert with Hockey Canada, which has growing concerns that its native goaltenders are not developing at a desired level. So this is apparently part of the response. Millard alluded to more being done in the big picture, but if that’s the case, why do this?
Seeing as I already wrote about this at length recently, I’ll hit just a few additional points.
What makes this decision so confounding is the small number of players it impacts. Forty-seven of the most utilized goaltenders among the CHL’s three leagues were Canadians.
There might be a school of thought that thinks, “Who cares? It’s just a few goalies.” To me, however, the small number only makes things worse. It’s almost too specific.
The fact that the CHL is willing to open its doors to import players, unless they wear big pads, sends a strange message. Granted, there are more slots for skaters than goalies on a roster, but if protecting Canadian development is the name of the game, as it appears to be with goaltenders, why not make the CHL a true and pure CHL? Only Canadians, or even only North Americans.
Well, because that’d be bad for business, bad for development and just bad in general. Localizing a ban on goaltenders is unfair at best and discriminatory at worst (or at its most accurate).
The league is happy to let guys like Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Martin Frk light it up because it’s good for business. It’s good for development, too. They force their teammates and especially their opponents to be better, which is the real benefit of competition. They also sell a ton of tickets and jerseys.
Goalies can also sell tickets, but that apparently isn’t enough to offset the fact that they’re taking opportunities away from good Canadian boys. I think there’s a South Park episode about this and it definitely was the subject of a Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry near the World Juniors, which tells you all you need to know about this logic.
Now, I should say that Hockey Canada, which is undoubtedly driving this movement, is well within its rights to dictate how its players are being developed. Its responsibility is only to the Canadian development system and finding ways to make its native players better.
USA Hockey caps the number of imports, European and Canadian, in its junior leagues for similar purposes. It does not, however, localize its import limits on a single position, which to me is the key difference.
Additionally, the European goalie ban is a move made with player development at its core. That’s almost refreshing, considering that since junior hockey is a for-profit venture, development doesn’t always come before wins and the money made off those wins.
In that regard, this move sounds almost acceptable, but again, this move doesn’t amply answer the question of why is Canadian goaltending lagging? It also may not be properly analyzing the perceived crisis. The world is getting better at hockey, is Canada’s actually getting worse? If so, how does that problem get fixed? Those are the internal discussions Hockey Canada has to have with itself.
Keep in mind, this move is being made when the consensus No. 1 goalie for the NHL Draft is Zach Fucale, a Canadian. A year after Malcolm Subban was a first-round pick. He’s also Canadian. Philippe Derosiers was named the best goaltender at this year’s World Under-18 Championship after leading Canada to the gold medal, breaking USA’s four-year golden streak. It’s not like we’re talking about a program in shambles here.
USA Hockey had similar issues with goaltending in recent years. After watching several top-end American goaltenders flounder in international competition (including some CHL-trained guys) and failing to reach their NHL goals, the Warren Strelow National Goaltending Program was founded.
It formalized USA Hockey’s goaltender training program and brought together the best goalie minds in the country to help identify, mentor and train the nation’s elite goaltenders. It also provides materials for coaches of all levels to formalize its goaltender training and get goalie coaches on the same page.
The program is now in its sixth year of existence and has been working wonders with the nation’s elite netminders.
Since its founding, USA goalies have claimed the directorate award as the tournament’s best netminder twice at the World Juniors (Jack Campbell 2011, John Gibson 2013) and three consecutive years at the World Under-18 Championship (Jack Campbell 2010, John Gibson 2011, Collin Olson 2012). Gibson also had a star turn for Team USA at the IIHF Men’s World Championship this spring.
Additionally, Strelow mentee Michael Houser was the OHL’s MVP in 2012, Connor Hellebuyck and Jon Gillies were the two best freshmen goaltenders in the nation in college hockey in 2012-13. Gillies was the national rookie of the year. Campbell was the 11th overall pick in 2010 and had a solid AHL season this year. Gibson has risen to be one of the best goalie prospects in the world over the last two seasons.
The Strelow program holds an annual camp with top-end goalies, both men’s and women’s, including players that will be eligible for international competition the following year, so U16 up to U18. There’s also a separate camp for World Junior-eligible goalies. That’s hands on training for several days and then the national mentors remain in touch with goalies and track their progress.
Hockey Canada has something a tad similar, but to my knowledge is not as intensive.
This isn’t to say USA Hockey is wholly better than Hockey Canada on this. While USA goaltending is approaching all-time great levels in the NHL and below, the European nations with far less players to pull from are still developing elite netminders at a higher rate.
So this still presents the biggest question: Why does Hockey Canada and the CHL think it needs to shut out European netminders? Even if this is part of a much bigger plan, why limit the competition for positions? It is said to be made to create opportunities, but quite simply, some players haven’t earned those opportunities.
I also still can’t see how the NHL is going to be on board with something like this, when so many of its teams would like to see its drafted players, including goaltenders, on North American soil.
The CHL, for so many Europeans, is the only way to make that happen. Many Euro goalies played for teams that would make them professionals in the eyes of the NCAA, taking away the option of playing for leagues along that development path. Those that are eligible still have the option.
Now this could be a move that helps the NCAA in that regard as more Europeans may consider taking the college route if their eligibility is in tact. It could also help the USHL, which allows for four import players per roster. If it does, it will probably only be marginal as I’d imagine most European goalies would just end up staying home.
Conversely, this move will increase the demand for American goaltenders in the CHL. U.S. players are not considered imports. What happens when American kids start taking the goaltending jobs the European kids had? Then it’s just a dumb rule that didn’t work instead of a rule that sounds dumb and might help a teeny tiny bit.
To recap, I think this is a move Hockey Canada is within its rights to order and it’s good to see development put first, but this seems like an incredibly ridiculous way to do it. There is more than enough opportunity for Canadian goalies to play and develop. Taking this developmental option away from aspiring hockey players because of the country on their passport and the pads that they wear can’t be the answer.