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CHL president David Branch: Eliminating import players ‘never been discussed’

Kingston Frontenacs wing Henri (Hank) Ikonen was drafted by Tampa Bay this summer after being passed over while …If the wheels are in motion to proscribe European players from the Canadian Hockey League, its member teams had a funny way of showing it when they selected 78 players in last month's import draft.

Nevertheless, since the embargo on European goalies was enacted in June, there's been scuttlebutt that was a first step to wider restrictions. The CHL president and OHL commissioner David Branch addressed that on Tuesday's Prime Time Sports with Elliotte Friedman and David Branch and said that's not the case. The interview was a response to a claim from a Russian agent — Russia accounted for nearly 30 per cent of this year's selections, 22 out of 78 — that the CHL would soon make that move.

As Branch put it:

"It's not on the table, never been discussed. I have absolutely no idea why this individual would have uttered such a statement.

" ... We see no reason to make any adjustment. As we've stated before, we expect that we must serve the best interests and opportunities wherever possible for the North American player. So we're trying to bring some balance, keep some balance, to it. And we view the two players as a real positive to our program in terms of what those players bring in terms of style of play, quality of play and everything else.

" ... Generally, there are several teams that do not have [the maximum of] two [imports]. That is for a variety of reasons — the team did not get a release for the player, the player did not necessarily wish to report to the team. (Prime Time Sports)

There are, he said in a bid for Understatement of the Year, issues with the import draft, but that's no reason to throw the baby out with the baby water. The reality is teams either play ball or they don't; the CHL probably knows full well that any protectionist move simply means another North American development league such as the USHL would realize a windfall.

The new rule that forbids trading an import pick for one full year — while contentious — is supposed to help level the playing field by putting an obstacle in the way of the arranged-in-advance deal.

Essentially, while Canada is struggling to produce elite goalies for reasons well beyond 20 per cent of CHL teams starting a European goalie, it still turns out top defencemen and forwards. In a follow-up query from Friedman, Branch stated discussions about imports in major junior have been limited to goalies.

"We had some discussion with Hockey Canada on development in general and from time to time the import question comes about. And it's always been on goaltending, just due to the uniqueness of the position and the number of [import] goalies alone... never did we discuss eliminating imports, ever."

There it is, for the record and for posterity's sake.

As for their new rule about goalies, let's see how it plays out. The CHL might have created far more opportunity for late bloomers by exempting goaltenders from the three-overage limit and by encouraging Junior A teams to rely more on younger 'tenders, but that would have required a lot more politicking than a sweeping, across-the-board arbitrary decision.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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