Is a fifth import a good or bad thing for the EPL

Following interest on-line when I tweeted that the final Bison programme article of the season touched on the possibility of 5 imports in the EPL here’s the article from the final episode of Stampede from the 15/16 season.

What excellent nights the last two Sunday’s have been. First the high tension drama of the Swindon game to win the league and then last Sunday the presentations for winning the league. Those are moments that players, owners, sponsors, supporters and club officials will cherish for life. League wins don’t happen by accident, they are the result of months of hard work.

Welcome to the travelling Phoenix supporters this evening and welcome back to the Bison faithful here for the final game at home this hockey season.

Now the League is done for 2015/16, Bracknell and Hull have left competition and it’s down to the top 8 to play-off this weekend for a cherished place at Coventry. There’s two clubs that’ll be aiming for the double next weekend and six other clubs that’ll be aiming to win at the expense of Basingstoke or Guildford getting the double! First though four teams have to leave competition at the end of tonight.

It’s been a tough season for the league, with two teams limping over the finish line. The season hasn’t been without its challenges but the league survived with all 10 teams completing the season. Whether or not there’ll be 10 teams next year, or if there are 10 teams whether they’ll be the same 10 as played this year are questions that are probably being asked in hushed tones up and down the country.

After tonight there’s one weekend left in the season. The big flagship finish for the Play-off trophy and the fans social at Coventry. Advanced ticket sales are the strongest for years which shows there’s a fantastic interest in the league.

While it may seem strange to discuss this given I’ve just written how two teams have limped over the line I’m going to give my thoughts on 5 non EIHA trained players or imports as they’re more commonly known in the EPL.

There are a couple of schools of thought on this. School 1 says yes, do it because it will improve the quality of hockey in the league. School 2 says no, don’t do it because it’ll make it even more difficult for clubs to compete financially.

First, let’s dismiss school 2. Many people say that bringing in a 5th import will add a fortune to team’s budgets but I’d question why? I’m not going to go into specifics in terms of finances but I’ll give as good examples as I can as to why I believe it won’t necessarily increase budgets past breaking point. If you think of a top quality Brit costing £X per week consider whether an import would be of similar quality or not. Then consider you may well be able to get an import of exactly the same standard as the £X per week Brit but for a substantially lesser weekly wage, £Y. Both would incur the same registration costs but obviously the import would need an ITC. It may be that you could pick up a player with unlimited ITC in which case there’s no additional cost and it’s all cost savings but even if you pay for an ITC then that’s one payment and the substantial weekly saving will soon erode the cost of the ITC and the overall spend will be less. It comes down to whether 31 x £X is more or less than the ITC cost plus 31 x £Y. I think the second option could well be the cheaper.

People will say you have to accommodate an import but you’ll find these days many of the Brits are also housed in team houses so it would be unfair to count that in the 4 vs 5 import debate.

Now let’s look at school 1, the yes school. My primary reasoning for a 5th import is to reduce the financial burden on the teams that perhaps aren’t as affluent as outlined above. There are some pretty impressive Brits playing in the EPL these days so perhaps the increase in standard won’t be quite as high as people think. There’ll no doubt be an increase but it’s not going to be the increase in standard from says NIHL2 to NIHL1 and definitely not the standard gap between NIHL1 and EPL. Currently NIHL2 to NIHL1 doubles the imports as does NIHL1 to EPL but that’s not the solo difference between those leagues. In general the Brits playing in the EPL are greater standard than those playing in the National Leagues which contributes to the standard difference.

Now teams that are well off could easily spend big and bring in 5 game winning imports but that doesn’t skew the table as much as you may think because if a team can afford to bring in 5 game winning imports then they’ll also be able to afford to bring in the best available Brits which would skew the table regardless of whether a 5th import is allowed or not.

“It’s a step towards the Elite league” is another thing I’ve seen written on the possible increase but it really isn’t. The Elite League is import laden, the EPL, with an increase of 1, would still only be a maximum of 5 on a 20+2 (players plus netminders) team list and I would of course like to see the 3 EIHA trained players on the ice rule retained regardless of whether the limit is increased or not.

So far this year two trophies have been won by teams with non EIHA trained netminders. Flames signed Richard Ullberg and won the cup, Bison have Tomas Hiadlovsky and were fortunate to be able to sign Jon Baston when Hiadlovsky became injured and between the two of them they’ve backstopped the Bison to the league. It seems that import goaltenders are certainly here to stay in the EPL at least for the foreseeable future. I touched on how Brit goalies can force their way back into contention in a previous programme but for now it looks like teams will lean towards looking at import goaltenders for starting spots. This also would tend to lean towards the employment of a 5th import that can actively play rather than fulfil a cover role.

My personal view is that decisions of that magnitude, along with how many teams should be in the league should be taken before the season finishes. Coaches will have already started planning their teams for next season, budgets will already be calculated but then if a team drops out that affects budgets and season tickets or if there’s a change in import levels that affects team building.

It’ll certainly be an interesting summer ahead but that can only start after the post-season.

One person who definitely won’t be here next season is Joe Greener as he’s heading to America this summer with his wife Kellie and family. The Greeners are lovely people and will be missed throughout the hockey community. Joe plays the game hard, he always has done, but off the ice he is a true Gent. He was a fine captain at Slough and has been a brilliant captain and assistant coach in Basingstoke too. I wish Joe, Kellie and the girls all the very best for their future.

I’d like to extend my thanks to Graham Bell for asking me to write these weekly columns this season and also to write the home match reports. I’ve very much enjoyed being a part of this great club this season and writing my contributions weekly. I’ve also gained an appreciation for the hard work Anthony does in live tweeting the game as I’ve managed to cover that role as well for a game and of course I’ve been reminded of the huge shoes that there are to fill if Bavy ever asks for cover! It’s been a great season, the regular season ending in deserved success and the post season up for the taking.

Enjoy Coventry if you’re going. I hope to see you all on April 30th at Bison and Buffalo Hockey Hugs for Cancer which I’m honoured to have been asked to be a part of.

For one final time this season let’s be loud and proud and activate that wall of sound and surround sound.

Thanks for reading