BOTW Breakdown – the 2016/17 import increase

It was announced across the league today that EPL member clubs have agreed to increase the import limit to 5 non EIHA trained players. Teams will be able to increase the number of imports dressed but must maintain 3 British players on the ice at any one time.

The chance of another Karpov on your roster? The EPL has voted to increase the number of non-EIHA trained players but keeps the rule that 3 Brits must be on the ice. (c) 5 Hole Photography

The chance of another Karpov on your roster? The EPL has voted to increase the number of non-EIHA trained players but keeps the rule that 3 Brits must be on the ice.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The release on the Basingstoke Bison’s website mentioned that alternative ideas were voted down and sources tell BOTW that one of the other proposals that was voted down was that if a team fielded an import netminder they would have been allowed to dress fewer imports.

The motion brought forward by one of the EPL clubs at the recent owners meeting would have seen import netminders effectively count double; teams fielding an import netminder in a game would have been allowed to dress 4 imports but those dressing a British netminder would be allowed to dress 5 imports.

Before I get into what I think about this, let’s ask the obvious question (and keeping the press release from the league and clubs in mind) of why this vote has passed. There’s a few possible answers and arguments;

The smaller teams were struggling to sign high end Brits so an import that they can get fills out the top end of their roster easier – sounds mad (though it was alluded to partially in the Bison’s press release by John Neville) but it’s a way for teams that won’t be challenging for the title to get some extra high end offence or defence. Ciaran Longs and Danny Meyers and Aaron Nells don’t grow on trees and certain Ben Bowns don’t so to allow teams further down the table to be more competitive, allowing an extra import at any position gives teams that may not be able to afford the wages of a top end Brit the chance to add something they need.

The bigger teams want to add more imports to strengthen their position – whilst there’s all that talk of development and costs bigger sides, knowing that they’re perennial title challengers and keeping crowds and sponsors happy means that you have to do one thing; win hockey games. That means, development league tag or not, getting the best players that you can. There is some top British talent but as the quality of the EPL grows every year but the size of the player poor, particularly for top end players stays the same, how do you keep in the hunt? By finding a way to increase that player pool and find another overseas player. This could be a high end player to get you 70 points or a guy to add some really solid depth and be a role guy. If you can afford a better guy then you get the better guy. Either way, it’s an attractive option for the teams at the top end.

All clubs think that imports will increase the standard – more on that in a bit

All of the above – make your own jokes.

I have made my stance on the raising of import limits clear in private discussions and on social media so I will make it clear here as well. It is not a good answer or a bad answer to any of the ills of British ice hockey at this stage. No, at this stage it is the lazy answer. It is a catch all tactic used in the EIHL and now the EPL not with any finesse or direction but like a man out of ideas shrugging his shoulders when asked what to do.

I don’t deny that the EPIHL has had its problems; as I write this we have 2 clubs as close to the wall as they can be but it was a league that overall was seeing rising attendances and a regular increase in its quality levels. You only needed to watch games in the league on a semi-regular basis to see that. However when you think of all the issues that this league faces from the club finance issues to the lack of consistency of approach to development to treating the EIHL like an awkward relative to the utter inaction of the EIHA in its role as a governing body and the one thing that 100% didn’t need doing in the EPIHL was a raising of the import limit which becomes even more frustrating an answer when you read that 4 imports had been agreed in the first place.

In talking to someone about this change they said to me “you’d have hated the BNL” I responded saying that the BNL had its place within the structure at the time. With an EIHL with 10 or 11 imports, a 6-8 import league had its place. If a move towards clubs forming the BNL 2.0 then announce it! Come together, form a plan allowing those clubs to stay in a 4 import league to do so, work with IHUK and maybe even the EIHL to formalise a structure in some honest collaborative working to benefit the sport but as I’ve said above, there’s nothing of that in this. Many people from fans to players to coaches have spoken of the likely damage this will do to the development of British netminders or the spot lost for a developing player who could be given a chance. I find Ken Taggert’s assertion that the move to 5 imports will “close the gap” to the EIHL when they’ve increased their import limit thereby further limiting the chances for players to step up, borderline absurd in context of the British game today. With no apparent long term strategy for why this is being done announced with the import increase, I struggle to understand how “this change will help to enrich the flow of talent”.

The response of Peterborough to initially start the season with 4 imports right off the bat is an interesting move. A team that defied expectations last season, will have agreed to the change are the first to say that they’re not taking up the option. Whilst this their press release says that they “support the EIHA in their decision” despite the fact it was a decision that their ownership would have voted on, they obviously have faith in the roster they’ve recruited (including James Ferrara and Tom Norton being back for the 2nd year of their two year deals) whilst leaving flexibility to add a 5th import if they can for the run in.  Will any of the others join them in this move?

As ever there are some who will be perfectly fine with this, that’s their right. When I find myself having my 800 millionth discussion about imports, a few EIHL fans always say that the cream will rise to the top which is true in sport but not every player in Britain is a David Clarke or a Ben Bowns. Players need to develop and players develop with hard work on their part but on the part of others. Players need to take a chance on themselves but so do coaches and organisations. Any club, no matter if EIHL or NIHL2 have an obligation to develop players to keep the sport going. NHL clubs, vast billion dollar organisation spent vast chunks of their turnover developing players in the AHL and ECHL and even if it is for their own ends, they’re developing them but we can’t see that in British hockey. Instead we…oh yeah.

That’s not fair to some clubs who are trying to make steps in the right direction but clubs are acting so independently of each other and with no proper structure that allows players a real route upwards that they all might as well be screaming in to the vacuum. Junior and NIHL clubs are doing tons of work and it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of fantasy for them to see this as a bit of a slap in the face.

Ultimately today’s announcement is a symptom of a bigger sickness that we keep seeing time and time again; steps forward get made but it’s a step forward deeper into the molasses. I’m daft enough to believe that hockey, in and of itself, is entertaining. It’s entertaining whether it’s the Basingstoke Buffalo or the Buffalo Sabres so adding another import to the EPIHL might make things more interesting, it might not. I’m sure whatever extra import your team and mine signs will give their all in the shirt. Will it help the long game? I suppose I can only answer in the same way the league is dealing with its many issues by copying today’s attempt at an answer and shrug my shoulders.

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