CHL ban on European goalies shortsighted

The Canadian Hockey League's ban on import goaltenders is not the answer to Canada's goaltending woes.

Yesterday, the Canadian Hockey League (juniors) voted to ban the drafting of European goaltenders after the first round of their upcoming 2013 draft and from their 2014 draft altogether. This is a move justified by its supporters as an attempt to correct a perceived competitive imbalance with Swedish, Finnish, and Russian goalies at the international and NHL level.

The thought process goes something like this: Canada, which used to produce the best goaltenders in the world, is having a bit of a goaltender crisis at all age levels. Canadians are not being drafted into the NHL in the numbers they once were and goaltending is seen as a weak spot in international competitions.

The top goaltenders in the NHL are now mostly European or American, rather than Canadian. Thus, Hockey Canada and the developmental levels of Canadian hockey must begin to develop better goaltenders. By not allowing foreign goaltenders, the CHL believes they can develop better Canadian goalies because more Canadian goalies will get playing time.

Yes, that's right. That's the entire rationale for this move. The Canadian Hockey League, after consulting with Hockey Canada, believes that by providing more playing time to approximately nine or ten 18-20 year old North American goaltenders, they can turn around a decade of underdevelopment at the position.

It's a #dumb move, designed to look good rather than achieve results. If you won't take my word for that, read the twitter timelines of InGoal Magazine writer Kevin Woodley (@KevinIsInGoal) or Justin Goldman of McKeen's Hockey (@TheGoalieGuild). Or just read the comments section on this InGoal post from May 30, when the ban was first discussed.

Frankly, in the absence of the kind of development that Finnish and Swedish (and to a certain extent Russian) goalies get from the time they're 11 or 12 (or younger), handing a few goaltenders more ice time is a minor change that has as many drawbacks as positives. The most obvious of those drawbacks is that it decreases competitiveness by artificially removing competition.

The worst drawback to a move like this one, however, is the sense that the problems of Canadian goaltending are being blamed on outside forces like 18-year-old Swedes rather than on systematic deficiencies in goaltender coaching and development throughout Canadian hockey. It gives Hockey Canada the illusion of addressing a problem without doing the hard work of actually fixing things.

What this means, essentially, is that young European goalies looking for North American experience will be going to other leagues, like the NCAA, the USHL, and the ECHL. And that means that those leagues are going to be getting better while the CHL stagnates by not investing in "infrastructure."

For an in-depth discussion of the issues in Canadian goalie coaching and development, I highly recommend two articles from the latest InGoal News:

- Does Canada Need Goalie Coaching Certification?

- European Pro Coach: Goalie Development in Switzerland