Next week the CHL will open their doors to a traveling Russian squad for a 6-game exhibition series that, to date, has proven to be far from competitive.
Recently on The Pipeline Show one of our Bad Ass Trivia questions asked listeners "How many of the 36 games have the Russians won in the annual exhibition series?". We got guesses like 14, 17, 12, 15... all WAY off.
The overall Canada/Russia record is currently in favour of the CHL to the tune of 30-4-0-2. The OHL is a perfect 12-0-0-0, the WHL is 11-1-0-0, and QMJHL is 7-3-0-2. So some quick match has the Russians sporting a 6-30-0-0... with two of those six victories coming after regulation time.
If the purpose of the series was to provide an interesting clash between traditional hockey powers... well the cyber-phrase "Epic Fail!" would apply.
It's hardly fair to ask the Russians to be competitive; most of their best players are playing in the KHL and if they're contributing at all, those teams aren't going to free them up for this exhibition - it's NOT the World Junior Championship we're talking about here but a friendly 6-game set. So right off the hop, the Russians are at a disadvantage. Factor in that they have to travel across the planet and then play 6 road games in 10 days spanning the 2nd biggest country in the world... and you can imagine that fatigue has got to be a huge issue for the visitors.
Considering all of that, is it really a surprise to see that 5 of Russia's wins have come against the Q, where the first two games are played?
Hockey Canada uses the series as a final audition for players who hope to earn an invite to the December World Junior camp. You'll see players who were not involved at the August sessions but who have gotten off to strong starts during the CHL season. Looking at the WHL roster that will take on the Russians this year and you'll notice 21 players who have been drafted by NHL clubs (including 6 who were 1st rounders) as well as 4 other players who were signed as free agents.
The Russians? Well they have just 3 players who were drafted, only one of whom was a 1st round pick.
I have spoken with scouts over the years who have told me that they really don't know what to make of the event. There aren't many undrafted players on the Canadian team and for the most part, the Russians who come over are not really on the radar. I know a few who have told me they don't even both taking the games in because they could better spend that game night in a different rink.
The games are nationally televised on Rogers Sportsnet but I have no idea what the ratings are for it. I do not hear many fans or media discussing the event so I do not get the impression that, outside of prospect junkies like Sportsnet duo Peter Loubardias and Sam Cosentino (above), Dean Millard and myself, the games don't register very high with general fans or media.
With all that said... I still believe that this is a valuable opportunity for Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League, the QMJHL, the OHL and the WHL and should not be scrapped. It should be changed.
It's something I've talked about before and I still feel the same way. The team that the Canadians from the Q, OHL and 'Dub should be playing against is not a 'B' squad (or 'C' squad) from Russian; it should be an international team consisting of the import players who have made the commitment to play Major Junior in Canada.
It would be better for the CHL.
It's a chance for the leagues to showcase the international talent that is playing in their circuit. Wouldn't that help the leagues attract more of the top European talent through the CHL import draft or in recruiting efforts for American players South of the border? CHL team GM to player and his agent:
"Look, not only will you get to play in what we feel is the best development league in the world for players your age but you'll also have a great opportunity to play in the Top Prospects game and another showcase event."Obviously, draft eligible players who are in the CHL may also get invited to the Top Prospects game so the Canada/Russia series would just be another carrot for imports considering the CHL route.
It would be better for Hockey Canada (and other countries).
The Canadian roster wouldn't change at all but the quality of their competition would go up drastically which would give Hockey Canada a better measuring stick for the players they are still evaluating. The added bonus would be for the national team scouts for USA Hockey and the European countries. The Americans would get to see their non-NCAA talent in a much more WJC-like setting just prior to the naming of their team. The same would hold true for the Euros.
It would be better for the fans and for the media.
Instead of a visiting team consisting almost entirely of players no one has heard of (and possibly never will), the media could play up the cross-border rivalry and also focus their attention on stories that have built up over the first few months of the regular season.
Fans will be watching a game where players on both teams are guys that they can follow before and after the series. While the Russians this year will bring perhaps half a dozen notable players, my international teams would have three times that amount.
The series would be much more competitive because it eliminates the aspect of one team being disadvantaged by travel. The international Q team would play the two games against their Canadian counterparts and that's it; no cross-country journey needed.
The international players are also familiar with the North American rinks and style of play so you wouldn't have one team completely out of their element.
A more competitive game equates to a better showcase for the CHL, a better tool for Hockey Canada, a more interesting story for the media and more entertainment for the fans.
With my scenario, everyone wins. If you can think of a reason why the status quo is better, I'd be interested to read it in the comments section below.
Over the next bunch of days I will release my annual International rosters that would play in my version of the Subway Super Series. It all starts Saturday with the International team from the QMJHL.