A change in the rules of the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft could bring an end to European goalies playing junior hockey in the league.
The annual import draft is a two-round process that allows the 60 teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League to pick the best junior-age European talent. Each team is restricted to two European players on its roster.
However, for the 2013 CHL Import Draft, which will be held later this summer, teams can select only goaltenders in the first round.
Starting with the 2014 import draft, goalies will be banned from the selection process and will have no other way to become eligible to play in the league. However, the two-player European limit will remain.
The ban would not apply to European goalies already playing in the CHL. They will be allowed to remain with their teams and complete their junior eligibility.
The decision was made last month by the CHL Board of Directors.
"The goaltender position is the most important in our game," CHL president David Branch told the league's website. "In partnership with Hockey Canada, the CHL has identified the need to further develop Canadian goaltenders by providing increased opportunities for them to compete in our league and succeed at the next level. The CHL will continue to be the world's largest development league and the number-one supplier of talent to the National Hockey League and Canadian Interuniversity Sport."
The move is seen by some as a response to Canada's recent inability to develop top-notch goaltenders. For the first time this year, all three finalists for the Vezina Trophy are European.
Poor goaltending has been blamed for Canada not winning a World Junior Championship gold medal since 2009; the CHL goaltender of year was awarded to Czech-born Patrik Bartosak of the Red Deer Rebels; the last time a Canadian-born goalie was the first at his position picked in the NHL Draft was 2008; and in the past five NHL drafts, three Canadian-born goalies have been first-round picks.
"For me, it's all about opportunity,” Ron Tugnutt, a former NHL goalie who spent the past few seasons working as Hockey Canada's goaltending consultant, told The (Toronto) Star on May 30. "There's nothing wrong with goalies in our country and there's nothing wrong with how we're developing them. They're just not getting a chance to step up to the plate."