Tuesday, June 11, 2013

European goalie ban makes no sense

As published on Sports Reported

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The Canadian Hockey League has decided to phase out the ability of European goaltenders to play in the league. Because those Euros are stealing jobs from Canadians and clearly that’s why we’re losing at hockey.

This year’s import draft teams will only be able to choose netminders in the first round. By the 2014 draft, teams will not be able to choose them at all.

Teams will still be allowed their two European players, they just can’t be goaltenders. (seriously.)

The concern is Canadian-born goaltenders are getting squeezed out of jobs. It might be an easy thing to sell without facts (and Google). Look at some of the top netminders in the NHL: Boston’s Tuuko Rask (Finland), San Jose’s Antti Niemi (also Finland), Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky (Russia), the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden).

That’s a scary list of European goaltenders that are taking jobs from ‘good Canadian kids’.....until you realize that not one of those goalies came through the CHL. All of those players came through their country’s junior/elite league system before landing in the NHL.

So back to the CHL. Are Europeans actually taking jobs away from Canadian goaltenders?

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

There are 60 CHL teams. I found about ten European goalies who had played more than 1632 minutes (the threshold where stats may be considered for a league leader). And not all ten of those were starts, as many split duties with their Canadian counterpart.

That leaves 50 starter positions open with another 60 understudy positions. It is junior hockey after all, everyone has to move along after a few years.

Ripping the European goaltenders out so suddenly, I would argue, brings down the calibre of the league. The Seth Jones’, Nathan MacKinnons and Jonathan Drouins of the league will be shooting at a lower calibre of goaltender. Their jump to the NHL will be harder. It’s already happening as the best international goaltenders are staying in their home country and developing in those leagues. Canadians are only coming across these players come World Junior time. No wonder they’re having trouble.

Does anyone actually believe the CHL is where a goaltender develops? Sure it’s where a player can make or break it, but development comes long before. Development is in minor hockey. Canada seems to be pumping out skaters just fine, so why not goalies? That’s the question Hockey Canada and the CHL need to be asking. Has anyone explored the fact that the cost of growing a goaltender is damn expensive. Many parents push their kids away from the position (I know I would, I’m not made of money). That’s a legitimate concern. I know many people who say “Oh not my kid, I can’t afford that”.

That’s where this discussion needs to start. At the grassroots level. Not some childish, protectionist “blame the Europeans” ban.