CHL no route to NHL for Europeans

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:24 PM ET

TORONTO – Playing in the Canadian Hockey League hurts a European junior’s chances of being a success in the NHL.

That was the message from Slavomir Lerner, the director and head coach of the Czech national team at the World Hockey Summit Tuesday as a panel addressed junior development on a global basis.

Only 22 of 527 European imports who played in the CHL went on to be "successes" in the NHL, with success being defined as a player playing 400 NHL games.

Lehner brought a number of statistics to show the large majority of Europeans who opt to play in the CHL do not have the success of their counterparts who remain at home for their junior careers.

There have been 91 Europeans who have won a total of 140 Stanley Cup titles, but only eight of them played in the CHL, said Lehner.

The drain of Czech juniors to the CHL is crippling hockey in that country, he said. In his presentation, Lehner called it the “European demoralization.”

"Why spend millions of dollars developing players if they are going to be gone? This is our big concern," said Lehner, "and there are no Canadian dollars coming into our bank account.

"The Czech Republic is in big trouble right now and Slovakia is the same. We strongly believe the players should stay in their environment until they are 19, 20 or 21 and finish their development."

Lehner said European juniors are often sold a bill of goods by agents to lure them to North America, but his research shows the CHL is far from a guaranteed route to success.

CHL commissioner Dave Branch said he was sympathetic to Lehner’s concerns and would consider discussions to lower the number of European imports from two to one for each CHL team.

"I do feel for the situation," said Branch. "It’s not to the same extent, but we go through it when we have underage players leaving our league (to play the NHL). We all recognize the effect on your program when you lose star players.

"We’ve been quizzical about what happened to the European game at the world juniors because the level of competition has not been what we had come to appreciate, but I don’t think you can put everything at the feet of the number of junior players leaving."

Something else to consider is the legal question of whether the CHL or the Czech federation could dictate where a player chooses to play.

Lehner said he recognized part of the solution is for the Czech federation to do what it can to make it more attractive for Czech juniors to stay at home. They are reducing the number of teams from 22 to 18 to make the league more competitive, for instance.

"That’s the number one goal," he said.

Good coaching, a chance to play in the elite league and oppportunities for play with the national team could all induce juniors to stay home.

Lehner said he is in the process now of trying to come up with a more challenging international schedule which would appeal to the players.

“Right now they might have 20 to 30 good games. We want to give them 50,” he said.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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