As you probably are aware, Don Cherry tore a strip off of Brian Burke last night, castigating the Toronto Maple Leafs' GM for overlooking Ontario-born players in putting together his team. Furthermore, there are rumours that the putative Quebec City team, whenever it arrives on the scene, intends to stock itself heavily with players from its own province. And so I thought it might be interesting to look at all the NHL teams and their recruitment of local players. Which teams seem to be actively looking for players close to home, and which teams aren't? And has it had an effect on a team's success? The chart below will attempt to answer these questions.
A few quick notes are in order before we look at the data. I have defined "local" here to apply to any player born in the province or state in which his NHL team plays. Maryland is included for the Washington Capitals. Players must have played at least one game for the big team in 2011-12 to be listed, although I have included an "In the System" column for minor-leaguers. Points percentage is current as of March 4th, 2012, and all data come from NHL.com. The table is sorted by number of local players, followed by local players in the system, followed by points percentage. And so without further ado, here's what I found out.
- One flaw in the methodology: those numbers do not take into account players who were born in one place but grew up in another. For one example, had I done the table two years ago, Robert Nilsson would have shown up as a local Oiler. For another, even had he not been traded, Blake Geoffrion would not have counted as a local player for Nashville, as he's Floridian by birth.
- In addition to the Bay Staters listed above, the Bruins have 2 players from Connecticut in the system, and it might be a reasonable thing to count them as "local" as well.
- The Winnipeg Jets have one player in the system from the state of Georgia, a legacy of some local recruiting by the Thrashers.
- Although there are no New Jerseyites playing for the Devils, there are a number of players from New York State in their system. I'd hesitate to call them "local," however, since most of them are from upstate.
- Only the Habs and Leafs have more local players bubbling under than the Oilers. Edmonton could move up a few slots on this table in the next couple of years.
- The numbers shook out more-or-less the way I expected them to at the top of the table, but you can colour me surprised at the lack of local talent on the Blues, Blue Jackets, Devils, Blackhawks, and Flyers.
- Don Cherry is partially right. The Leafs have used only two Ontarian players this season, neither one regularly. On the other hand, they have far more local guys in their system than any other team. If Burke trying to exclude guys from Ontario, he's not doing a very good job of it.
- I will be very interested to revisit this table in a year or so, and to see if anything has changed drastically.
So what have we learned about recruitment of local players and its effects, helpful or otherwise? Well, there's something interesting in the fact that 6 of the top 7 teams on that table, including our beloved Oilers, are not at this moment in a playoff position. Furthermore, at the other end of the table, the Blues and Predators are doing just fine and dandy without any local help at all. So does this mean that local players are actually hindering their teams in some way? Is there something about pressure, and higher expectations, that should make teams leery of hunting too close to home? Or is it simply a matter of teams restricting themselves in their recruiting, and missing out on talent in the interests of signing up nearby players? Well, not really.
First of all, there are some very good players on that list of locals. The Oilers aren't in 14th place in the West because of Taylor Hall, and Jarome Iginla is not the problem in Calgary. The New York Rangers have a local captain. Tom Gilbert is almost certainly going to make the Minnesota Wild a better team, once he has time to get settled in his new digs. And there are other examples from that list. The lesson here is that there is no reason to avoid local players, as long as those players are useful.
Secondly, we really don't have any strong proof here that any teams are, in fact, recruiting locally at the expense of players from further abroad. We're not, for example, seeing teams with half their 50-contract list given over to players from their area, and fully half the teams in the league have not featured a local player this season at all. Even the Montreal Canadiens have only 10 Quebecois players in the entire organization, despite the furor over linguistic issues with the team. In fact, that franchise has never, in its long history, shown any reluctance at all to acquire talent from outside French Canada. Geography and demographics account for some teams having more players from close by than others, not any deliberate policy of local recruitment. Teams may market the "home-grown" nature of players from their areas, but that certainly doesn't stop them from pursuing hockey talent elsewhere.
So what do you think?