Gary Russell column: Imports – love or hate?

The main question over every summer is the import numbers for next season. But does the league have the import numbers right or does it not allow talent in the country to emerge?

One thing we know is that we need imports in the league – they bring something new to the table.

They are a name that brings fans to the arena with previous NHL experience. But the spots for any British player have been slowly taken away.

When you have a guy from your own country playing in your team you will be getting more stability, heart and desire. When you bring in a import you just never know what you’re going to get – it’s a gamble.

So what is the right import limit to balance the game and bring through the British players?

Should there be a import limit or could it be that every team must ice a minimum amount of British players? If that was to happen I could see the British guys sitting on a fourth line not getting any ice time.

So how would you get these guys to get more chances, ice time and opportunities? I’m really not sure.

Maybe there could be a transfer maximum limit where teams cannot bring in injury relief for injured players, which would then force teams to play the so-called British fourth liners.

The only way to improve and get better is with experience and constant training – both elements have to be there.

In a way it’s up to the imports to push forward the British guys when playing with them – demanding more from them. You don’t get better from sitting on a bench – that’s a fact – you just increase your chances of an injury.

At the same time the British guys cannot force their way into teams and demand certain positions. The players need to evaluate their role in a team and try their best to accomplish.

You can’t win a game with 20 Ovechkins or 20 Lundqvists. The team has to be a blend of skill, smartness, toughness, speed and well-positioned.

If the team has an overload in any of these areas it’s time for the player to adapt their game for the team.

We cannot sustain any sort of development in Team GB when the number of imports in the top league is over 60 percent.

Another way to possibly to improve more British players would be to send younger players away to professional hockey camps abroad for the summer to improve their game.

That would require a bit of money spent on them, but a player is a club asset at the end of the day.

I’ve done some research to find out what other countries do in relation to imports and getting more nationals on the ice. I looked at the EBEL in Austria and the KHL in Russia.

In Austria they have a point system for every team. I only recently found out about this from guys who played in that league and thought it was a smart system.

All players are rated between one and four. All imports are rated as four, under 23s are rated low and if you are a National team player you are rated a bit higher.

It’s pretty complicated from reading it, but when you’re used to the system it would be easier. If you want to read more, please click here – it’s from page 30 onwards.

The KHL have a system for goalies where a Russian goalie has to play a ratio of 2/3 basic time at the rate of 60 minutes.

If a club goes over the limit then the league punishes the club by banning the import goalie in the play-offs.

The league can also ban the club from signing an import goalie for the following season. So the league has a proper punishment system if the team fails to comply with the rules. If you can read in Russian here is the link to find out more about this. 

If that was to happen I could see more British goalies making their way back to the EIHL instead of the EPL as they know they’ll get two games out five.

How can a player or goalie prove they are good enough if they’re never given a chance in a proper league game when the pressure is on?

I think I could research every league in the world and find all sorts of rules. The KHL is the second best league in the world and they have sanctions to bring Russian players through the system, so why in Great Britain are we deciding to increase the import numbers?

There are many ways I’ve discussed that could change the way hockey is played in our top league.

I’m simply trying to open the eyes of the fans of the many different ways the sport in this country can be improved, as I’d love to see Team GB in a Winter Olympics and World Championships.

The way we are going about it now is just wrong.

(Image permission: Al Goold Photo)

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