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European Goalies In The CHL

There is a lack of top goalies from Canada right now.  It is so bad that names like James Reimer, Corey Crawford and Mike Smith are being tossed around as potential goalies for Team Canada in the 2014 Olympics.  A change being made to "fix" this problem is the misplaced idea of keeping European goalies out the CHL.  The 2013 Import Draft will be the last chance teams have to pick goalies from Europe and they can only be selected in the first round of the draft.  In 2014 and into the foreseeable future, teams will not be allowed to pick European goalies anymore.

The "logic" behind this theory is that European goalies taking roster spots in the CHL are preventing Canadian goalies from developing and that American goalies are not.  The theory is that the CHL would be producing top goalies if only they didn't have Europeans taking their roster spots.  This theory doesn't hold for any other positions.  Position players are not being held back by Europeans.  I argue that the CHL is poorly set up to develop goalies and removing Europeans will not change this.  All it will do is reduce the quality of goaltending in the league.

Goaltending is notoriously a slow developing position.  Rarely does a goalie establish himself as an NHLer in his teens.  Many do not make the league into well into their 20's.  Despite the slow start many of these goalies become very good NHL players and often become stars. 

Let's take a look at this year's Vezina Trophy nominees.  Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers played in Sweden until he was 23, Sergei Bobrovsky was 22 when he left Russia for the NHL and Antti Niemi was 25 when he left Finland for North America.  None of these goalies was a CHL goalie.  All of these goalies were Europeans who played in Europe and not in the CHL.  These leagues are a better place to develop goalies because they give them a place to play against top competition into their twenties.  A CHL goalie graduates from the league at age 20 and is not ready for the NHL yet.  If he is a couple years from maturation, he must find a place to play where his skills will be pushed.  The reality is at age 20 many CHL goalies have to decide what to do with the rest of their lives and they chose beer leagues and day jobs or they chose a Canadian university and neither of these are traditional paths to the NHL.  The CHL path often fails because they don't give the goalies long enough to mature and now that other paths have emerged in Europe that do allow it, the best goalies tend to be coming from Europe.

This year is not a fluke.  Last year's Vezina nominees included Lundqvist again, Pekka Rinne who left Finland at age 23 and Jonathan Quick who was 21 when he left the NCAA for the ECHL and worked his way up to the NHL from there.  There is not one CHL goalie on this list, European or otherwise.

Even before the full integration of European players into the NHL some of the best Canadian goalies did not come from the CHL.  Ed Belfour played tier II and signed his first NHL contract when he left the NCAA at age 22.  Curtis Joseph took a similar path.  He too left the NCAA at age 22.

This doesn't mean that NHL goalies never came from the CHL at a young age.  Patrick Roy was 20 when he left the CHL for Montreal.  Martin Brodeur spent a year in the AHL after his CHL career before becoming an NHL goalie.  Roberto Luongo was 19 when he left the CHL.  These are exceptional cases and all are a generation ago or longer.  There are more European goalies in the NHL today because there are more established paths for European goalies to develop in Europe and they can develop there to a more mature age then they do in the CHL.  This is important because goalies develop slower than position players.

Canadian hockey is scared because they are not producing as good goalies as Europe is producing.  As a result they are circling their wagons by kicking the Europeans out of their development leagues.  There are no significant goalies who have come out of the CHL.  In fact it has been a while since any top goalie came out of the CHL - North American or European.  The problem is harder to solve.  The CHL is not a good route for goalies to develop because they graduate from this league at age 20 and are not ready to be serious NHL goalies yet.  Now that there are routes in Europe that allow goalies to play until they have matured, those routes are producing the best goalies.  The problem is that the CHL is not a well-designed league for producing goalies.  Goalies are usually not NHL-ready at age 20.

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The CHL would likely have better luck making a full press to get an exception to the silly NCAA ‘amateur’ rules. In that case there would a larger pool of North American slots were Canadian Net Minders could go and wait out development.

How come the Canadian university system is a black hole of hockey? Is just a difference of approach sport is not so important at Canadian university. It should theoretically allow another 3/4 years for talent of any kind to mature.

Posted by paul k on 06/14/13 at 07:30 AM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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