Back in 1990-91, if you were playing in the National Hockey League, chances were good that you were born in Canada.
The percentage of Canadian skaters and goalies in the total number of NHL players was 72 percent. Nine of the top 10 scorers were from Canada – the outlier, Brett Hull, was Canadian by birth but an American citizen.
But 25 years later, the NHL looks different. A lot different. And as Frank Seravalli of TSN reports, for the first time in the 98-year history of the NHL, Canadiens don’t make up the majority of the league’s players:
With an all-time high of players born outside of North America, Canadian-born players made up just 49.7 per cent of the 680 players to appear in a game in the first two weeks of the 2015-16 season.
Canadians comprised 51.8 per cent of NHL rosters last season and 53.4 per cent in 2013-14, an average that held relatively stable since 1999-2000 (54.8 per cent).
(OK, so perhaps the headline should be "not currently the majority," as those numbers can shift during season.)
Now, Canada still has more players than any single nation, by a wide margin. It's still very much "Canada's game." But why the decline under 50 percent?
Along with weird furniture and impossibly beautiful people, we can also blame Sweden for this sudden drop for Canadian players. The number of Swedes in the NHL jumped from 7.6 percent to 9.1 percent according to Seravalli, which is the highest percentage of players they’ve ever had. Russia also saw a 1.4 percent increase in NHL players, although those numbers remain way down from their highs around 15 years ago (7.1 percent).
The number of American-born players remains around 25 percent, as it’s been for the last few seasons. James Mirtle noted in 2008, when American players made up just 19.9 percent of the League, that the trend was upward:
Make no mistake, with a decreasing number of Russians, Eastern Europeans and even Canadians in the league, the NHL is becoming more and more American. I remember running these numbers 10 years ago and Canada came in around the high 50s and the American representation would be about 11 or 12 per cent.
The first place you look when you see these numbers is the NHL Draft, but the numbers of Canadians, Swedes and Americans have been fairly steady for the last several seasons. This chart from Third Line Grind covers 2004-2013; wonder if that dip for Canada in 2011 plays into the current numbers?
Seravalli believes the decline for Canada was inevitable, however, given the growth of hockey globally and in the U.S.: “There are more United States-based franchises now, thanks to expansion, than there were teams in the entire league in 1992.”
While we imagine this news will be taken by some north of the border as well as it’s taken when Canadian teams lose in world juniors – think pieces, symposiums and the like – the fact is that the more variety in the league’s makeup, the better.
Not just to ensure that every revenue stream available to the NHL is open internationally, but to help ensure that the best athletes in the world are carrying sticks and gliding on skates in the NHL.
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