With an excess of 300 junior hockey teams across the continent, is there any reason to keep import restrictions in the rule books?
That's the question many struggling junior operators are asking themselves this season. It has always been my opinion that the restriction hinders real development all along. Higher levels of competition fuels improvement.
Enough already. The import restriction has officially wore out its welcome and needs to be eliminated. Here is why.
No other sport restricts the number of non-citizens on a roster, so why just hockey? Are such restrictions even legal? All right, you can stop laughing now. I know, there are a lot of things about junior hockey that should be illegal, but that's an entirely different Daily Dish.
The wheels turn slowly in Colorado Springs but I have to give past Junior Council Chairman John Vanbiesbrouck credit for initiating major changes for USA Hockey's junior program. To date, I've not seen the same drive for change since his departure.
What is the reason for the import restriction? Initially the thought was to preserve the system for the development of American players. Ultimately, it turned into a tool to maintain competitive balance. You have look at today's game to realize that the rule has out lived the usefulness.
With the bulk of pay-to-play hockey now operating outside of USA Hockey, allowing the existing leagues to open up to all international players would actually be a help to USA Hockey. I'm pretty sure teams would be willing to pay a slightly higher fee for the opportunity to roster these players.
Considering all the league (and team) defections to leagues outside the jurisdiction of USA Hockey, maybe it's time for USA Hockey to address the idea of simply striking the import restriction rules from the book in an effort to bring some of these groups back in.
From a developmental perspective, eliminating the import restriction will quickly raise the overall level of play, enhancing the process for all prospects. The last time I checked, the NCAA does not seam to be hindered by an import restriction and plenty of American kids are getting opportunities.
The elimination of the rule will put the remaining USA Hockey sanctioned leagues into a more competitive situation with both Canada and Europe, essentially giving many more prospects the opportunity to develop their game here in the United States. This influx of talent will not only improve the on-ice product, but also be a boost to the entire developmental system.
It is my opinion that removing the restriction entirely would ease the pressure off the entire system in the short term by allowing even more international prospects to play. With the USPHL and AAU already in that mode, doing so will have a dramatic effect on the USA Hockey group's level of play in the following season and beyond.
It's about time.