HALIFAX – Canada’s representation in the NHL this past season remained steady at 52.5 per cent. Of the 941 players to have appeared in at least one regular-season game, 494 were from Canada. Last year, 496 of 945 players (52.4 per cent) were Canadian. While the Americans experienced a significant surge, it was at the expense of Europe.
Americans had 183 players in the league in 2006-07, but that number soared to 204 this past season (21.7 per cent). Europeans accounted for 243 of the 941 players this season, or 25.8 per cent, down from 266 players a year ago.
Perhaps the IIHF’s ground-breaking survey, which strongly urged the NHL to be patient with the development of European talent, has had an effect. The survey suggested if NHL teams wanted Europeans to be at their best, it was better that they developed at home rather than play a few games with the NHL before being sent to the juniors in Canada or the minor leagues such as the American Hockey League. The study produced strong documentation suggesting that this process damaged more careers than it developed.
These numbers include a handful of adjustments to players’ birth certificate information to make the list meaningful and not just trivial. That is, Dany Heatley, while he was born in Germany, is counted as Canadian because that is where he grew up, learned hockey, and lived, and that is the country for which he plays internationally. The same applies to Craig Adams (born in Brunei; raised in Canada), Owen Nolan (born in Northern Ireland; raised in Canada), Robyn Regehr (born in Brazil; raised in Canada), and Wojtek Wolski (born in Poland; raised in Canada).
Other adjustments include Mikhail Grabovski (born in East Germany; plays for Belarus), Olaf Kolzig (born in South Africa; plays for Germany), Evgeni Nabokov (born in Kazakhstan; plays for Russia), and Richard Park (born in South Korea: raised in United States). Kolzig, of course, was raised in Canada and has spent most of his life there, but he is listed as German because of international play.
The news is not all good for Canada, though. Canadian representation dipped dramatically for first-year NHL players in 2007-08. Of the 145 players who made their NHL debuts in 2007-08, only 71, or 49 per cent, were Canadian. This means that for the second straight year players from outside Canada have represented the majority. This decrease is at the expense of the Americans who accounted for 40 of the 145 positions, or 27.6 per cent, far higher than their overall representation. Europe accounted for the other 34 players, or 23.5 per cent. In 2006-07, there were 40 of 139 first-year players from Europe, 28.8 per cent.
The overall numbers for Europe changed over the last two years most radically with Russia, which is not a surprise given the money that has been poured into its top league to keep players at home. As well, Russia is not part of the IIHF-NHL Player Transfer Agreement which has resulted in NHL teams becoming hesitant to draft and sign Russians. In 2006-07, there were 37 Russians in the NHL, but this past season that number dipped to 31. In 2007-08, there were, shockingly, only three first-year players from Russia. The Czechs also dipped significantly overall, from 65 to 59. First-year Europeans this past season were led by Sweden, with nine, and Finland, seven.
NHL teams ran the full gamut of trying new talent this past season. The young Chicago Blackhawks had ten of the 145 first-year players on their overall roster, and Columbus and Los Angeles were close behind with eight. Yet several teams used only two players (Buffalo, Nashville, New Jersey, New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay).