Yesterday the EIHA announced that it had been voted through that the EPIHL will allow teams to dress 5 non EIHA trained players in every game, an increase of 1 from previous seasons. Reaction has been mixed but I think it’s a great idea. It ups the standard of the game, gives Brits the chance to play in a higher standard league and consequently up their standard. My one question was whether the 3 EIHA trained players on the ice rule would stay and it has so I’m happy with that. The only concern I have is why such a decision was taken in the middle of May when recruitment will be almost done and budgets almost spent? This decision should have been taken back in January or February time to allow teams to plan.
Some will also say that this will also be of no help to Manchester or Bracknell but from what I’ve seen it’s not the number of imports that’s lead to the current situation those two clubs find themselves in. They couldn’t afford competitive teams last season with 4 imports! PSM ended up with a mainly NIHL standard Bees team with a few EPIHL standard players. Manchester scraped an 8th place finish after ostracising themselves from the Altrincham based junior club in their move to Deeside (not Manchester as was indicated!). What this will do, if indeed they are a part of 16/17 is give them the chance to recruit another non EIHA trained player within their budget instead of just sitting back and accepting that their budget and/or location (and possibly reputation) puts them out the running for high quality Brits.
Some will also say that this puts an end to EIHA trained netminders in the EPIHL. This won’t put an end to that, what’s done that is a generation of poor development of netminders in the British junior system. By and large British forwards and defence have out-developed British goaltending so even with 4 imports last year teams recognised that and went down the import route. This extra import allows teams more freedom to ice and import goalie but it’s now up to goalies and goalie parents to go back to their clubs and demand better coaching so that when their time comes to compete for an EPIHL place they’ll be good enough to start in the 2nd tier and offer their club’s coach the opportunity to rotate 5 out skating imports. Hopefully teams with import goalies will get these goalies to work with their backups and most importantly their junior clubs to give a boost to the coaching available to netminders in the UK.
Some will say that this denies up to 10 Brits starting spots in the EPIHL and in truth that it does. However this is unlikely to affect the top end Brits in the league, it’s the fringe players, those that were likely to be warming the bench with the occasional shift that are the ones that will BENEFIT from the import increase. Yes, you did read that right, I did write benefit! How would they benefit? The answer to that is simple. The Brits likely to miss out if a team takes up the option to sign and dress a 5th import will be one that wasn’t going to play a big part anyway. So instead of dressing every game and doing little else they’ll get to sign with an NIHL1 team and play meaningful minutes in the game. There’s nothing to say they can’t also sign with the EPIHL team on a 2 way contract and play / train alongside their NIHL team commitments but surely them getting ice time in NIHL is preferable to them having the status of saying I’m an EPIHL player but managing a minute or two’s ice a fortnight?
If the above comes true, which there’s no reason it shouldn’t, then this also benefits the NIHL and ups the standard there too. We saw a couple of seasons ago in the Challenge Cup that the gulf between EPIHL and NIHL is quite large! Save for a couple of surprise victories for the lower league teams, the higher league teams, who were having to sit out 2 imports already to match the rosters of their opponents, easily won the majority of games. Now by adding these EPIHL fringe Brits that just can’t quite cut it at the 2nd tier level yet into the NIHL talent pool you’re instantly strengthening the 3rd tier at the same time as developing these players. Fans of NIHL will then say that by doing this you’re cutting 10 roster spots for traditional NIHL1 players and yes you are but again these would be fringe players perhaps not racking up regular minutes who would then strengthen the NIHL2 talent pool. So while the player strength rules for NIHL1 and NIHL2 haven’t been changed, just those for EPIHL it seems that the addition of an extra overseas player will strengthen three leagues and help British players develop.
Guildford have run with extra overseas player(s) on their roster for many years now. It’s not likely to have much impact on their spending. Swindon, who’s coach appears not 100% behind the increase, have also played with an extra non EIHA trained player on their roster in the past. Basingstoke did last season. What this means is that rather than these clubs paying for players to sit out they will be able to make the most of their investment by dressing 5 imports in games rather than 4 playing in the game and 1 on “fan liaison duties” in the rink!
The one huge question I have though is the timing of this. Why has a decision affecting rosters and budgets been made in May when budgets are probably committed and even though teams are drip feeding the announcements of player signings the reality is that the teams will have signed all the key players they want by now already. If this decision was to be made to affect 16/17 then it should have been made long before the season just gone finished and long before budgets were set and coaches started filling their roster. If it was to be made in May 2016 then it should have been for 17/18 season!
It is perhaps bad enough for the 8 confirmed members of the EPIHL that they still face uncertainty in mid May over the make-up of the new season with Bracknell still far from certain to be requesting membership and Manchester liquidating a “holding company” which in it’s very name is trading as what it’s apparently supposed to be holding. At the same time the Phoenix still have released nothing but virtual information on their new venue. Now, with most teams probably having committed the majority of their 16/17 budgets with 4 imports the confirmed rule they have the option to sign and dress a 5th which has more implications added to the possible loss of 2 opponents from the expected league make-up
In short 5 non EIHA trained players is good decision made with poor timing but for the longer term future of the EIHA’s administered senior hockey it’s a brilliant decision that will improve EPIHL, and also help up the standard of NIHL1 and NIHL2 by allowing players to play and develop at their natural levels rather than bench warm a level too high.