If you're feeling ill, don't ask Hockey Canada or the Canadian Hockey League to diagnosis the malady. That's just judging from the two stakeholders' seriously discussing banning European goalies from major junior hockey on the premise that will improve the lot of Canadian goalies.
Far be it to suggest talking about "opportunity" should focus on access at points much, much lower on the food chain in the (call it what it is) hockey industry — the already out-of-control costs of playing competitive minor hockey are that much higher for a goalie. Nevertheless, a measure that has been previously floated appears to have traction, according to the Toronto Star.
From Damien Cox:
When Canadian Hockey League commissioner David Branch met with Hockey Canada officials this week, one of the topics on the agenda was that the 60 CHL major junior teams will consider banning all European goaltenders in order to give more opportunities to North Americans.
“The CHL has had discussions in a broader sense with Hockey Canada,” said Branch.
“One of the ideas put forward was eliminating goalies from the annual import draft to allow more focus on North American goalies.
“That is something we’re exploring.” (Toronto Star)
Granted, "broader sense" is very vague and Cox notes this would not take effect until 2014 at the earliest, so one should not be too fired up.
The crux of it is that this where development and entertainment — winning! — conflict. Perhaps the issue doesn't also start in minor hockey. It might also rest with the fact that European goalies have thrived in the NHL, so the success-breeds-success phenomenon have led to more netminders from overseas looking to the OHL, QMJHL and WHL as a springboard to cashing in the NHL career lottery ticket.
That represents progress, of a kind, and competition. Stopping that is protectionism; how exactly would creating more roster spots for North American goalies improve the overall calibre of play?
More Canadians get a chance, but NHL teams are still going to sign those who show the most potential. So it would not create more chances in the AHL and ECHL, where nearly every NHL goalie goes for further seasoning.
Not to mention, top U.S. goalies who come north, such as Anaheim Ducks prospect John Gibson, inevitably end up with well-heeled teams such as the Kitchener Rangers. Conversely, a small-market team such as the WHL's Swift Current Broncos were able to add a Finn, Eetu Laurikainen, and treat their loyal fans to a playoff season. In other words, it can help with competitive balance, which is always an issue in major junior.
There are reasons to be concerned about Canadian goaltending, that goes without saying. The Halifax Mooseheads' 18-year-old Zach Fucale was the most impressive goalie at the Memorial Cup, but apparently it's not for nothing Cox omitted any mention of Fucale since, he typed sarcastically, Memorial Cup-winning goalies historically haven't gone on to long NHL careers. Never mind that, also historically, Quebec League teams typically struggled at Memorial Cup tournaments held in Western Canada, until last week.
There is some hope out there, but yes, the depth could be improved, and that's where change should start. If Hockey Canada and the CHL go down this road, that's their journey. It would probably only work as one part of a many-point plan, though.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.