CHL Notebook: Import goalie ban needs revisiting

Would Windsor Spitfires netminder Michael DiPietro. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Have pads, will travel. It is hard not to associate the glut of goalie trades during the lead-up to the season with the Canadian Hockey League’s four-year-old decision to bar import goalies, which essentially created one problem by trying to solve another.

When a commodity gets scarce, there’s a scramble to acquire it. The three-team deal that moved overage goalie Logan Flodell from the Saskatoon Blades to the Swift Current Broncos, with 19-year-old Ryan Kubic going from Vancouver to Saskatoon, brought the total of Western League goalies who have been traded since the end of last season up to 14. In other words, that’s two-thirds of the WHL’s 22 teams.

That might just be a random cluster, indicative of nothing. When the Guelph Storm traded with the Hamilton Bulldogs last Friday for 19-year-old Cole Ceci, that meant six cord-cottagers had been transferred to new puck precincts within the 20-team OHL. The Quebec League, which has more stringent restrictions on when players may be traded, saw five goalies swapped over the summer. That brings the total to 25 nationally, not counting waiver claims.

It’s fair to wonder if that is an unintended consequence of the decision to ban drafting import netminders, which was phased in during the 2013-14 season. The rule change was part of a multi-pronged strategy to help develop homegrown goalies, specifically Canadian ones. But one result seems to be that reliable goalies are even harder to find. A trade carousel doesn’t seem to serve the interests of player development.

The rule change hasn’t been bad altogether. The Windsor Spitfires won the MasterCard Memorial Cup in May while relying on 17-year-old Michael DiPietro (VAN), who hails from southwestern Ontario. But DiPietro was one of only two OHL goalies selected in the NHL draft in June. There were just as many European goalies who played in U.S. junior leagues selected. Under different circumstances, both might have chosen the CHL, which points up that the rule has helped the competition strengthen its talent pool.

Goaltenders mature later than skaters, and should have some protected status in the CHL. It would probably have made more sense to exempt goalies from the three 20-year-old overage limit in recognition they need more development time. In that scenario, Saskatoon would have been able to keep Flodell and maintain some year-over-year continuity. It just makes sense to let goalies stay on the vine a bit longer.

Good intentions don’t guarantee good outcomes. If the import goalie ban isn’t improving the CHL product or solving systemic issues with developing goalies, then it should be revisited.

Denied by DiPietro

Speaking of DiPietro and Windsor, so much for goalies needing a short memory. The Amherstburg, Ont., native had a .966 save percentage during three Spitfires’ wins last weekend, and instant recall of a sore spot for London Knights supporters.

Winning the Memorial Cup in May gave Windsor a 3-2 edge against London in CHL championships, but the foofaraw over the Spitfires winning as a host team that had a six-week break before the tournament will probably never die. Not surprisingly, at least one fan at Budweiser Gardens tried to remind Windsor and DiPietro of that when they visited the Knights last Friday.

DiPietro and the Spitfires got the last laugh with a 5-2 win, and the Canucks prospect got the last word by pointing out London did not cash in on similar circumstances in 2014. The ’14 Knights had a month off before hosting, but went winless on home ice.

Of course, the 2016 Knights of Mitch Marner and Matt Tkachuk fame erased any bitterness from ’14 by rolling off 17 post-season wins in a row to win the OHL and Memorial Cup. Bringing up 2014 might be like continuing to use the “Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals” meme. But the point stands. Windsor didn’t create the flawed system; they just flourished within it.

Windsor is raising its Memorial Cup banner at the WFCU Centre on Oct. 12 when, wait for it, London comes to town. Presumably the date was chosen in order to increase the chances that prospects such as Logan Brown (OTT) could be with the team for the ceremony instead of with NHL teams. That said, it doesn’t seem like a total coincidence.

Sold in Seattle

Suffice to say, Russ Farwell is selling high with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Last Friday, as the Thunderbirds prepared to raise their 2016-17 WHL championship banner, it was announced that the ownership group headed by Farwell is selling the team to brothers Dan and Lindsey Leckelt, who own Silent-Aire, a data centre equipment manufacturer. Farwell will stay on as general manager.

Given that Seattle becoming a NHL city just seems like a matter of when, a transaction involving the Thunderbirds inevitably raises eyebrows. That doesn’t appear to play into the deal. The Leckelts’ business operation includes tech-heavy Seattle. On top of that, in the last decade Farwell et al., have created a niche market by the moving the Thunderbirds south to Kent, Wash., and into a friendlier lease at the more intimate ShoWare Center.

While it’s the same sport, the CHL’s much more modest price point means it’s catering to a different age and income bracket.

The Thunderbirds sale will be up for league approval on Oct. 4.

Pac-Man back in ‘Toon Town

The third jersey was the first star in the Saskatoon Blades’ home opener last Friday. The WHL team confirmed last month it was bringing back its classic “Pac-Man” sweater and retiring a rather nondescript navy look. Using an unapologetic bright yellow is inspired since a team’s uniform is supposed to make it look distinct from the opponents. Makers lost sight of that around the time everyone starting wearing black in the 1990s and aughts.

Junior hockey fandom is the ultimate rooting-for-laundry exercise. With 20-year-old leadership from Evan Fiala (DET) at the back and Cam Hebig and Braylon Shmyr up front, Saskatoon is banking on providing more to cheer about on the ice as it aims to end a WHL-most four-season playoff drought.

Frontenacs FERDA win

In one corner of the Twitterverse, the creator and star of a hit Canadian comedy who once played Don Cherry in a movie; in the opposite corner, the team that represents Grapes’ hometown.

Prior to their season opener, the Kingston Frontenacs announced that overage centre Ted Nichol had been named captain. Nichol hails from Listowel, Ont., which is also the hometown of Letterkenny creator Jared Keeso. Keeso tossed a chirp in Nichol’s direction, with the Frontenacs riposting with dialogue from the comedy franchise.

The Frontenacs also got ‘er done on the ice, with 16-year-old first-round pick Cody Morgan scoring goals in wins against both Erie and Mississauga.

Canadian NHL team prospect of the week:

Kole Lind, RW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Lind, who shone with the Canucks prospect team earlier this month, had a three-goal, eight-point opening weekend to help the Rockets sweep a home-and-home against the Kamloops Blazers. The Vancouver second-rounder (33rd overall in June) led Kelowna with 87 points last season.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 173 pounds, the almost 19-year-old Lind would likely face an AHL apprenticeship in order to become an NHL regular. In the short run, numbers nerds can geek out on how many points Lind might pile up with the Rockets whilst teaming up with Cal Foote (TBL) and Dillon Dube (CGY).

New name to know:

Nick Wong, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
It’s safe to say Wong is the youngest player to score a hat trick for the Generals since a 15-year-old John Tavares a dozen years ago. Flanking Jack Studnicka (BOS), the 16-year-old scored not once, not twice, but thrice in his OHL debut with the Generals last Friday. The hat trick came just five days after Wong’s 16th birthday. The Erin, Ont., native hardly arrived as an unknown commodity, but that is heady stuff for a forward taken No. 38 overall in the OHL priority selection in April.

Due to his birthdate, Wong will be eligible for the 2020 draft.

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