It's a problem without an easy solution.
The CHL Import Draft can be a costly endeavour for small-market clubs across the league, especially as some of the elite prospects taken in the annual draft seek representation. The apparent cost to transfer a prospect from his country's junior league is $2,400, according to La Presse reporter Steve Turcotte. However, he points out, that number can multiply if an elite prospect has an agent pitting a large market CHL team in a bidding war against his European junior league.
Turcotte's report suggests a fairly radical rule change that is being discussed among CHL brass that could modify the way the Import Draft is executed. The idea would be to prevent the trading of import picks and then, in addition, have teams hold on to those import players for at least a year. Similar to rules in the OHL Priority Selection that forbids the trading of first-round picks. The rule change is not official, but the three leagues are getting together to discuss discrepancies in player recruitment. Currently, large-market teams have an advantage where small-market teams don't.
However the recruitment discrepancy may be stronger when looking at domestic players. Windsor and Portland have been dinged with sanctions by their respective leagues for improper recruitment and benefits, but the best imports have been diversified across the major markets. This season, Leon Draistatl plays in Prince Albert while Nikolay Goldobin has replaced Sarnia's scoring that they lost when Nail Yakupov chose to play for his hometown KHL club over the Sting.
In addition, the rules state that players cannot be traded for at least year after they are drafted. "It's time we cleaned things up," says Gilles Courteau. "Our teams were spending ridiculous amounts of money to bring over European players. We want to regulate this situation, and this was the first step. We'll see how it goes and make adjustments to this policy if need be."
Technically, it costs $2400 to release a player from his national federation terms can easily change, and the price can go up to six figures if the player's agent or a professional team is involved in negotiations.
"There are junior clubs that pay more than NHL teams would to release a player. It doesn't make any sense. There's been a domino effect on negotiations for other releases, in Ontario and in the United States. It was time to do something about it." [La Presse]
(stick tap to Rookie for the translations)
The CHL will obviously not abolish import players altogether, or decrease the two-player limit to allow for an extra overage spot.
Shawinigan general manager Martin Mondou disagrees that the suggested system would help small market teams like the Cataractes. Mostly, he mentions that if an agent intervenes in the draft, the pick can be traded to a larger franchise, at least giving the smaller team assets to work with. The Sherbrooke Phoenix got a player and two picks to help them build their new franchise after trading the first overall import selection—Ivan Barbashev for all intents and purposes—the the established Moncton Wildcats.
From Mondou (again thanks to Rookie):
"I expressed my point of view at the last meeting, and I know that there will be more discussions about it. Removing the possibility of trading European picks will prevent smaller markets from becoming more competitive by recruiting stronger players at the midget level."
"The fact that teams cannot trade Europeans after they've been drafted will cause these smaller markets to draft more cautiously and make modest choices, drafting less talented Europeans who are sure to come to North America to play for them. As such, the larger markets won't have to trade up to draft more elite players, since they're more likely to be available later in the draft. It doesn't look like this will change anything" [La Presse]
No. 2 overall pick Draisaitl of course went to Prince Albert. No. 3 Oscar Dansk ended up with Erie. The Sault-Ste Marie Greyhounds selected Sergei Tolchinsky with their 12th pick and he eventually came over. The best imports in the league aren't disproportionately placed among the larger market clubs like domestic players are, and the Import Draft sometimes comes down to who agencies recommend teams to select, since it costs a lot of money to scout junior players overseas.
I have to agree with Mondou where restrictions on trades for picks would hinder small market clubs' ability to stock up on talent. With a financial discrepancy between big and small clubs that exists, achieving something closer to parity probably doesn't happen through the Import Draft.