Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Import Draft Improvisation

On June 30th,2015 the annual Canadian Hockey League import draft was completed amid once again the word "draft" being stretched to it's greatest limit  as labelling this a European signing period would be more accurate.

The majority of Canadian Hockey League franchises would agree that the import draft has become nothing more but a way for agents to maneuver through this draft to have their clients play in the one particular organization that they covet.  For bigger markets like the London Knights and the Quebec Remparts, this draft is a bonanza because they know going in they can consistently land either a highly touted NHL prospect or someone who was drafted early in the National Hockey League the year before. The Sarnia Sting have had recent success as of late and although not a big market the presence of Russian super agent and former Detroit Red Wing great Igor Larionov creates opportunities that we will touch on later. Conversely, smaller markets like the Prince Albert Raiders,  Swift Current Broncos and Acadie-Bathurst Titan among many others are handed the herculean task of convincing a European who's capable of playing in the league to play for them. I can understand the tentativeness of a European willing to commit to say, just for conversation sake, Prince Albert. Aside from the slighty, and some would say unfairly rugged reputation the city has, what motivates a kid from Moscow,Russia or Geneva, Switzerland who generally speaking live posh lives from wanting to re-locate to small town  Saskatchewan. The answer is their's nothing more significant the small market can offer aside from guaranteed playing time and really, if you're truly a top prospect the playing time will be their whether you're overseas or in North America.

So what can the league do to aid the smaller markets by putting them on an equal competitive playing field with the larger markets when it comes to this draft? I have a suggestion that I firmly believe can right what has really become a wrong.

My first take on this conundrum is to, and I realize this will come with purists who don't believe doing this falls within the integrity of hockey but that is to have clubs completely suspend conversations with European player agents with stiff penalties in place if proof of substantiated conversations happen. By doing this, you're strong arming the clubs who know that going into this process that they have financial and way of living advantages so the players would naturally be more inticed going somewhere more recreationally appealing. I mean really...West Edmonton Mall or the Town and Country Mall(Moose Jaw)???? My point exactly. By suspending the tangible talks to the players and agents teams can be more free in their selections without any pre-conceived ideas that Player A, and Player B wants to go there. The way to make the above work without any hitches is by running a silent draft in which the results aren't known until after the draft completes. If by for example, Dimitry Sokolov, the Russian who is highly sought of as a top ten selection in the 2016 NHL draft does want to go to the # 1 Acadie-Bathurst Titan that his prerogative but by doing so that disables him from ever entering the Canadian Hockey League or seeking a trade. If Acadie-Bathurst isn't the pool you feel like swimming in then your hands are ultimately tied and the player can remain in Russia as in order to maintain parity, the Canadian Hockey League has to throw the proverbial hammer down and for once sternly make clear that the players do not run the league, top league officials do. Also, the reason for my above suggestion is because what is starting to transpire is agents who have strong affiliated ties with a particular club can drive the location of their client because not only does the agent have control of the situation but also what is starting to take place is National Hockey League teams are starting to seek control for where there prospects land, ie Leon Draisatl going to Kelowna via lonely Prince Albert.  Pertaining to what I'm referring to when I mention that some agents hold all the cards, look no further than Igor Larionov. Larionov is a  Detroit native who's agency looks after the majority of the premier Russians. Twice now, in the last four years Larionov has used his stigma and reputation in arranging to have two top players getting drafted by the same team. In 2011-2012, it was current Edmonton Oiler Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenychuk. I realize this situation was a tad different because technically Galchenyuk was not drafted through the import draft but the rules were bent, in large part thanks to the strong arming by Igor to classify Alex as an American so he could bypass the whole process and became a free agent eventually joining his buddy Yakupov. Then, prior to the 2014 CHL Import draft it was the work of Larionov that got sixth overall selection from the New Jersey Devils Pavel Zacha and Nikita Korostelev, who picked in the seventh round by the Toronto Maple Leafs has been considered by many as one of the classic steals of the draft on the Sarnia Sting. If this was a normal selection process it would've been humanly impossible for Korostelev to fall as far as he did to Sarnia but when the player only has one destination hand picked, the other General Managers across the Canadian Hockey League have their hands tied.

At the respect of improving parity in junior hockey, a game in which I believe is already fairly strong but can become so much more equitable to call franchises. The Memorial Cup is one of the hardest trophies to win in sports, I plead with commissioner David Branch to make it attainable that everybody has a shot at this prize.


Brett Murray



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