Yah, ya know, all you kids out there, let's get some more-a them Staal boys on every team, eh? No more of these Euro kids with their visors and whatnot. Okay, stop right there. Now look what he's doin...
You know all those great young foreign players that have come over to North America to play juniors? Alex Edler, Alex Radulov, Ales Hemsky, Radim Vrbata, Marek Schwarz, Ole Tollefsen, and so forth? Know how they were much better prepared for the North American game because they played in the CHL?
They were all brought to this hemisphere by the CHL Import Draft, and that might soon be a thing of the past.
“It will be either to reduce or completely eliminate import players,” QMJHL president Gilles Courteau said Thursday. “But before we do something, we want to get a position and take it to our Canadian Hockey League partners.
“My personal opinion is that 10 years ago - or maybe longer now - the decision to bring import players to the CHL was something very good. Now it’s getting tougher to bring those players. Second, we must look at the calibre of players we are bringing over now. Third, we must look and see if we can improve the situation we have with them.”
I understand, certainly, that there may be many cashflow problems with running a junior hockey team in Chicotoumi or wherever the latest QMJHL team is setting up shop, and I understand that all this pain-in-the-ass IIHF nonsense is making it difficult to deal with European players and leagues, especially those that appear to be good, young prospects.
And look, guys like Andrej Meszaros, Anze Kopitar, and Ilya Kovalchuk were all taken in import drafts and never came over. Would those guys have not been worth whatever you paid? Even a step or two below Ilya Kovalchuk’s level, still provides a pretty damn good hockey player.
But for the sake of the sport, both at the junior and professional level, completely doing away with the Import Draft is an awful, terrible, no-good, very bad idea.
First, it theoretically lowers the quality of hockey in both the junior leagues and pros. It’s understandable that teams don’t want to pay good money to import Petr So-and-So from Riga, Latvia and have him turn out to be not very good, then have to stick him on the third line where he’s taking time from a good, young Ontario/Quebec/Saskatchewan boy (who not-so-incidentally costs the team much less). Sure, would a team really miss, say, Alexander Edler? Maybe not, and like all drafts, a lot of picks don’t work out for whatever reason. However, it’s become pretty clear over the last however many years that the CHL has a pretty proven record of fast-tracking people to the NHL. How much harder is he to pry from his European team as an 18-year-old first-round pick? Certainly, coming to the NHL from Brandon is a lot easier for all involved than coming from Belarus.
Second, getting rid of the import draft probably only widens the talent gap in the CHL. A team like London, for example, would be in a much better position to sign several top-quality European free agents than most CHL teams. The Knights’ pockets are deep, as is the existing talent pool. Theoretically at least, these teams are all businesses. I get that. But I believe an old saying goes something along the lines of, “You have to spend money to make money.” Say a struggling Canadian team suddenly drafts and signs a top-level talent like Alex Radulov, who helped lead Quebec to the Memorial Cup in 2006 (not that Quebec City is a small market, but you see my point), does that get people to show up and help the franchise make money? Yes. With a draft, anyone can get Radulov. Without one, some CHL juggernaut with big money to throw around will get them most of the time.
So what’s the solution? If the import draft is hurting the CHL financially, I doubt there’s little that can be done outside of the NHL somehow partially financing it. But that seems less likely than Alexander Radulov coming back to the Predators this year, so I doubt that’s anyone’s Plan A. Plan B, though, can’t be resigning an entire league to have a lower-level quality of hockey at the risk of playing some toeheaded kid from Saskatoon instead.
The whole point of a draft is talent dispersal, right? To ensure that deep-pocketed teams don’t stockpile all the Grade-A talent and leave the scraps for everyone else? Would it be fair if the New York Rangers, who have all the money in the world to throw around, had been able to sign Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Dion Phaneuf right when they turned 18 just because they could afford it? But that’s what would happen if imports are either no longer drafted (bad idea) or banned completely (worse idea).
Smarten up, CHL. This is bad for business and bad for the sport.