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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter

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For the first time in the 98-year history of the NHL, Canadians do not 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).

Hockey has always been Canada’s game. As recently as 1990, approximately 75 per cent of the NHL was born in Canada, a number that was significantly higher in earlier years.

The decline has perhaps been inevitable, with Canada’s relatively small population (35.5 million) compared to the NHL’s larger American footprint with 23 teams. There are more United States-based franchises now, thanks to expansion, than there were teams in the entire league in 1992.

"There will always be an ebb and flow to the numbers of Canada's contribution to the National Hockey League. This is simple evolution," Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney said. "The game is growing and other countries produce very good players. We do not have an exclusivity in that. We all want hockey to be a global game and it is. I think that is healthy. The mistake we make is in equating success in life by whether or not youngsters who play hockey now actually make it to the NHL."

Expansion has helped grow the game to a record 611,296 participants in USA Hockey youth and adult programs last season. The NHL now has players who call non-traditional states home, such California (eight), Missouri (four), North Carolina (two) and Texas (two). Projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, Auston Matthews, is from Scottsdale, Ariz.

In Canada, there were 634,892 registered players in 2014, according to HockeyCanada.ca, but yearly participation has dropped four different times in the last 15 years.

NHL participation from American-born players (24.2 per cent) is not currently at an all-time high. There were slightly more American players (24.8 per cent) each of the last two seasons.

Instead, a record number of Swedish players (9.1 per cent) have joined the ranks, while a recent influx of players from Russia (4.5 per cent) - thanks to the drop of the Russian ruble - have taken jobs away from other players.

This year, the NHL has its first player born and raised in the Netherlands in Pittsburgh’s Daniel Sprong. Colorado’s Borna Rendulic joined the league last year from Croatia, the first player from that country since 2004. This is also the first time since 1996 the NHL has not had a player from Lithuania, after New Jersey bought out veteran forward Dainius Zubrus.

Canadian players still outnumber Americans (and every other nationality) on nine of the NHL’s 30 teams. The only NHL teams with more American players than Canadians are Minnesota, Pittsburgh and New Jersey.

Two Canadian-based teams - Calgary (15) and Ottawa (14) - have the highest number of Canadian-born players. Edmonton (13), Boston (13), Columbus (13) also have a higher number than the league average of 10.3 Canadians per team. Pittsburgh (four) has the fewest Canadians; Vancouver has just one American on the roster.

Of course, even though the numbers may be declining, Canada still holds bragging rights as winner of the last two best-on-best tournaments at the 2014 and 2010 Olympics. That title is up-for-grabs again next September during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
 

NHL NATIONALITIES

 
Country 2015-16 2014-15 2013-14 2000 1990 1980
Canada 49.7% 51.8% 53.4% 54.8% 73.9% 82.1%
United States 24.2% 24.8% 24.8% 15.9% 17.3% 12.5%
Sweden 9.1% 7.6% 7.4% 4.6% 2.2% 3.1%
Russia / USSR 4.5% 3.1% 3.2% 7.1% 1.5% 1.0%
Czech Republic 4.2% 3.8% 3.8% 7.3% 3.0% 0.7%
Finland 3.2% 3.0% 2.7% 3.3% 1.7% 0.9%
Slovakia 1.1% 1.4% 1.4% 3.1% - -
Switzerland 0.9% 1.3% 1.0% 0.5% - -
Germany 0.9% 0.9% 0.4% 0.6% 0.1% -
Denmark 0.8% 0.9% 0.8% - - -
Austria 0.5% 0.3% 0.3% - - -
France 0.3% 0.3% 0.3% 0.1% - -
Latvia 0.1% 0.2% 0.1% 0.8% - -
Slovenia 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% - -
Norway 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% - -
Netherlands 0.1% - - - - -
Croatia 0.1% 0.1% - - - -
Belarus 0.1% 0.2% 0.1% 0.2% - -
Ukraine - - - 0.4% - -
Lithuania - 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% - -
Kazakhstan - - - 0.3% - -
 

Current data source: NHL.com

Historical data source: @eliteprospects

Frank Seravalli can be reached at frank.seravalli@bellmedia.ca.