Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why Banning European Goaltenders is a Terrible Idea

Recently CHL commissioner (and OHL boss) David Branch announced that the Canadian Hockey League (in partnership with Hockey Canada) is considering the banning of European goaltenders. That is to say that CHL clubs would no longer be able to select and utilize European born netminders.

Obviously this comes as a response to the poor goaltending Canada has received at the WJC's in recent years. Fewer and fewer of the NHL's top young netminders hail from Canada, and Hockey Canada (and the CHL) sees this as a way to help rectify that.

Here's why it's a terrible idea:

Firstly, the CHL tries to promote itself as the premier developmental hockey league in the World. By preventing the best talent in the World from playing in your league, doesn't that taint the product? Wouldn't Canadian players develop the best by playing against the best? By my count, 12 CHL teams utilized European born goaltenders as their starters this year. Some, like Andrei Makarov, Mathias Niederberger, and Patrik Bartosak, were among the best goaltenders in their league. Several years ago, it was all about how Canadian forwards lacked skill and offensive ability, so reforms were put in place to "improve" that. Well, I want our Canadian forwards shooting against the best goaltenders possible, Canadian or not. But, I'll admit that I'm a bit biased in this area because I think we should increase the Import number by one, not put restrictions on it.

Secondly, the CHL, as much as it's a critical developmental league, is also a business. CHL teams want to put the best possible product on the ice . If a team has a need in net, they've been able to fill that need with an Import goaltender. For example, I can't imagine where the Brampton Battalion would have been the past few years without Matej Machovsky. Or...where the Ottawa 67's would have been the prior two years without Petr Mrazek. Fans want to be entertained by the best, that's the bottom line.

Lastly, isn't the whole concept of banning European goalies silly, when American goalies are in fact nearly as prevalent? While 12 CHL teams used European starting netminders, 8 used goaltenders born and raised in the United States. That includes two of the top goalies in the CHL; John Gibson and Mac Carruth. How is the CHL and Hockey Canada going to guarantee that CHL clubs fill those 12 spots with Canadian goaltenders, and not American goaltenders? Like I said, it's a business; a business that requires the best product be put on the ice. You think the Hunters or Rychel's of the OHL care about developing Canadian goaltenders? They'll take the best goalie available to them, regardless of whether he's purple, brown, red, or yellow.

So, why is Hockey Canada and the CHL "picking on" the players hailing from Europe? Simple. In a perfect world, I'm sure Hockey Canada would love the CHL to place restrictions on American goalies too, but Branch would scoff at that idea. It's all about trying to "stick it to the NCAA." If restrictions start being placed on American players entering the league, they could limit their draw to American born players. That means, less talent in the league; or MORE talent to the NCAA. And the CHL would never go for that. I'm sure that US hockey is very thankful to the Kitchener Rangers for helping to develop their Gold medal winning World Junior goaltender, and Bronze medal winning World Championship goaltender (Gibson). But Gibson (and Niederberger) are great for the league, not the other way around.

If Hockey Canada really wants to improve goaltending in this country, they should look at reforms to minor hockey development. They should be looking at the reason why kids don't want to play goaltender anymore. Is it cost related? There's no secret that the position places pressure on parents to meet cost requirements. It's not cheap to play goal. Maybe we look at donations or cost adjustments to those players who play net. You know, similar to the way your rec hockey league works because you're so desperate for a goaltender!

Bottom line is this; those extra 3-4 spots in each CHL league, freed up by excluding European netminders, are not going to help Canadian goaltenders develop. The reforms need to be done at a much lower level in order to truly cause change. You want to improve Canadian goaltending? How about you get more kids to play the position at a young age, and teach them the fundamentals that will increase their competency and confidence at the position.

So don't worry Mathias Niederberger and Matej Machovsky, it's not your fault Canada is no longer a goaltender factory! I hope you haven't lost any sleep.


Anonymous said...

Everything Damien Cox suggests is terrible. This shouldn't be an issue.

Anonymous said...

That move smells of Affirmative Action.

I believe in the free market let the best play.