Judgement Weekend Update: The Final Picture

So, Sheffield beat Nottingham in overtime thanks to the vital-goal scoring machine and surely Steelers (and likely EIHL) Player of the Year Mathieu Roy. Here’s how the table looks now:

SHEFFIELD BEAT NOTTINGHAM (OT) GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Sheffield 51 72 29 34
Cardiff 50 70 28 33
Braehead 50 69 31 33

So…how does that affect the title race?

First, bear in mind that any scenario that sees Braehead level on points with another team means the Clan finish higher. But, the Clan need to take at least three points from the weekend to get in amongst the title race, so we’re looking at them either winning or losing in OT. Anything else on either night will see them out of the title race.

SCENARIO 1: Sheffield Win (in regulation or OT)

Any Sheffield win will give them the title tomorrow night. It’s that simple.

So…we know that Cardiff have to win tomorrow to prevent the Steelers winning it, and Braehead also have to take at least a point on Saturday to even have a chance. Let’s take a look at the possible scenarios .

SCENARIO 2a: Cardiff win in Regulation, Braehead win:

Team GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Cardiff 51 72 29 34
Sheffield 52 72 29 34
Braehead 51 71 32 34

Cardiff go above Sheffield on the tiebreaker here (it’ll go past wins, regulation wins, AND record between the two teams all the way down to better away record) which means that they only need to match Braehead’s result on the Sunday to win the title. Braehead need to get a better result against Fife than Cardiff do v Nottingham on Sunday night.

SCENARIO 2b: Cardiff win in regulation, Braehead lose in OT

Team GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Cardiff 51 72 29 34
Sheffield 52 72 29 34
Braehead 51 70 31 33

In this situation, anything other than a Cardiff loss in regulation against Nottingham AND a Braehead win will give the Devils the title.

SCENARIO 2c: Cardiff win in OT, Braehead win

SHEFFIELD BEAT NOTTINGHAM (OT) GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Sheffield 51 72 29 34
Cardiff 52 72 28 34
Braehead 51 71 31/32 34

This time round the scenario actually benefits Braehead the most. An OT for Cardiff and Braehead will mean that Sheffield stay above both on the tiebreaker. Assuming that doesn’t happen, the Devils have to get an equal or better result than that of the Clan on Sunday-the Clan, logically, then need a better result than the Devils on Sunday to win the title.

Another wrinkle here-in this situation the Clan only need an OT loss to leap into 2nd whatever the result of the title race-even if Cardiff take the title, to take the “other” CHL spot-which means that the Clan COULD potentially be in the position of winning the title on an OT loss in Fife.

That’s a little clearer than it was earlier this evening as far as the title goes, isn’t it? :)

Bring on the weekend.

Judgement Weekend: Every Way The EIHL Title Race Can Be Decided, In One Easy Lesson

So, here we are. 50 games played already, and with two to go any one of three teams (Sheffield, Cardiff and Braehead) can still lift the EIHL league title this weekend. A weekend of high drama, tension and frantic mathematics lies ahead as fans try to work out how every goal and situation will affect the EIHL league table.

Well, now you don’t have to. Because Chasing Dragons does it for you. Get ready to have your brain hurt…it’s the EIHL title race, explained, with every possible result catered for!

PART ONE: THE EASY BIT.

If Sheffield or Cardiff win both their games this weekend, they are champions. That’s perhaps the only certainty within this group, and it’s brought to us by the wonders of the EIHL fixture list, which has one title rival finishing their season against another, at home, on a Saturday night.

If Sheffield win both their games this weekend, here’s how the table will look, assuming Braehead win both theirs also.

SHEFF WIN BOTH GAMES
TEAM GAMES PLAYED POINTS
Sheffield 52 74
Braehead 52 73
Cardiff 52 72

That’s so easy, we don’t even need to look into regulation wins and tiebreakers, do we?

Let’s say, however, that Cardiff win both. Then the result is that Cardiff win the title, but they do so by the narrowest of margins…either by one point from Braehead or by either one or two points from Sheffield.

CARDIFF WIN BOTH GAMES
TEAM GAMES PLAYED POINTS
Cardiff 52 74
Braehead 52 73
Sheffield 52 72

By the same token, if Cardiff and Sheffield both only win one game, and lose the other in regulation or OT this weekend, and Braehead win both, then the Clan win the title, although in this case it’s by one point. Tiebreakers will then come into play to decide which team gets the CHL spot-more than likely regulation wins or wins:

BRAEHEAD WIN BOTH GAMES, C/S BOTH LOSE ONE
TEAM GAMES PLAYED POINTS
Braehead 52 73
Cardiff 52 72
Sheffield 52 72

Whether or not the win in regulation is in the Sheffield/Cardiff game or not will determine who takes the 2nd spot in this scenario, as it’ll come down to results between the two clubs. But Braehead will be champions.

Let’s also bear in mind that as far as regulation wins (the first tiebreaker) goes, Braehead already have four more than both Sheffield and Cardiff, so, in ANY tiebreaker situation involving Clan, they will have the advantage, irrespective of any other results over the weekend).

That, ladies and gents, is the easy bit. Now, let’s work forward from tonight, using all four possible outcomes of the Sheffield/Nottingham clash as a starting point. NOTE: ANY Sheffield win v Nottingham tonight will mean Braehead need to win both games to have a chance at the title, so to save space going forward, we are assuming that if Sheffield beat Nottingham, Braehead will win on Saturday also in all scenarios.

We already know that any Sheffield win v Cardiff on Saturday will ensure them the title, whatever happens. We also know that a Cardiff win in regulation will open the door to both Braehead and the Devils on Sunday.

So, let’s look at the table situations based on tonight’s results.

SCENARIO 1: SHEFFIELD BEAT NOTTINGHAM IN REGULATION

Here is how the top three will look if Sheffield beat Nottingham in regulation tonight:

SHEFFIELD BEAT NOTTINGHAM (regulation) GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Sheffield 51 72 30 34
Cardiff 50 70 28 33
Braehead 50 69 33 31

Scenario 1a) CARDIFF WIN IN REGULATION ON SATURDAY

TEAMS GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Sheffield 52 72 30 34
Cardiff 51 72 29 34
Braehead 51 71 31/32 34

Scenario 1b) CARDIFF WIN IN OT 

TEAMS GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Sheffield 52 73 30 34
Cardiff 51 72 28 34
Braehead 51 71 31/32 34

From this point, Cardiff are in an incredibly strong position. A win v Nottingham of any type means the title goes to South Wales. For Braehead to win the title, they will need to win on Saturday, then better Cardiff’s result on Sunday. Sheffield now need both teams to lose in regulation on Sunday in order to claim the title. However the one wrinkle here-if Sheffield claim a point on Saturday night, then they finish above Cardiff in the table, and take a CHL place, again on tiebreakers.

SCENARIO 2: SHEFFIELD BEAT NOTTINGHAM IN OT/PS

Here’s how that changes the top three:

SHEFFIELD BEAT NOTTINGHAM (OT) GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Sheffield 51 72 29 34
Cardiff 50 70 28 33
Braehead 50 69 31 33

So again, we move to Saturday’s scenarios if Cardiff win. Again, for the purposes of brevity, we are assuming Braehead win on Saturday night. If they don’t, they’re out of the race for top.

Scenario 2a: Cardiff win in regulation:

TEAMS GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Cardiff 51 72 29 34
Sheffield 51 72 29 34
Braehead 52 71 31 33

This scenario is a convoluted one, thanks to the possible permutations. Simple things first…if Braehead better Cardiff’s result on Sunday, then they take the title. If Cardiff win, they take the title. However, if Cardiff and Braehead both lose on Sunday in this scenario, it starts to get REALLY convoluted. Sheffield and Cardiff are now level on points, regulation wins, league wins AND league record (4-4). They’re also dead level in all the criteria taken from those…which means we’re down to the EIGHTH possible criteria…who has the better away record. It’s Cardiff. So – in this scenario, it will be the closest EIHL finish ever, and the Devils will take the title. However, if Cardiff win in OT on Saturday night, then they will need at least a point on Sunday v Nottingham – a regulation loss will give Sheffield the title on regulation wins.

SCENARIO 3: SHEFFIELD LOSE TO NOTTINGHAM IN OT

SHEFFIELD LOSE TO NOTTINGHAM (OT) GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Sheffield 51 71 29 33
Cardiff 50 70 28 33
Braehead 50 69 31 33

This one is where things really start to get fun.

A Cardiff win on Saturday of any kind in this scenario means they only need to equal or better Braehead’s result on Sunday to win the title. It also means that Cardiff can win the title on Saturday night if they win and Braehead lose. However, it also means that even if Cardiff lose to Sheffield in OT on Saturday, they can still win the title on Sunday with a win of any kind, or in fact a better result that Braehead. The Clan, meanwhile, will have to win and hope Cardiff lose in regulation v Nottingham to take the title.

SCENARIO 4: SHEFFIELD LOSE TO NOTTINGHAM IN REGULATION.

SHEFFIELD LOSE TO NOTTINGHAM (REG) GAMES PLAYED POINTS REG WINS WINS
Sheffield 51 70 29 33
Cardiff 50 70 28 33
Braehead 50 69 31 33

This one is easy. Cardiff simply need 3 points to win the title (a win and an OT loss will do the job, whichever order they come in) unless Braehead win both games over the weekend. The Clan will need to better both the Devils’ and Steelers results at least once to finish top.

That’s all the title scenarios worked out…Now, here is who holds the tiebreaker in any tie…

Braehead hold the advantage over either Sheffield or Cardiff in any tiebreaker

STEELERS/DEVILS – STEELERS (unless Cardiff beat the Steelers in regulation on Saturday-then Devils hold the advantage).

To add to this-if Nottingham beat Sheffield they win the Erhardt Conference and thus the 2nd seed in the playoffs. The team that finishes 2nd will take the 2nd CHL place. If that team is Sheffield or Cardiff, however, they will be seeded third for the playoffs if Nottingham beat Sheffield.

Does your head hurt yet?

It’s only the beginning of a title-deciding EIHL weekend, but at least now, you know all the possible ways it can play out.

Buckle up. It’s gonna be a wild one.

A Legend Says Farewell: Sir Tony Hand Announces His Retirement.

“Talent hits a target no-one else can hit. Genius hits a target no-one else can see”

Arthur Schopenhauer
Today is a sad day in British ice-hockey. It’s a day that sees the greatest Briton ever to take up a pair of hockey skates and use them in anger decide to pack his Bauer Supremes away for the last time.
It’s a day that sees one of the hidden greats of world ice hockey finally step aside from the frozen stage for the last time.
Today, via the Manchester Phoenix facebook page, we learned that the man known as the “British Gretzky” and Edinburgh’s favourite hockey son, Tony Hand, is retiring from playing:

It is impossible to explain to anyone outside British hockey just how important to the sport in the UK Tony Hand has been. He’s been a leader, a linchpin, a golden boy, a crutch, and an inspiration to everyone who’s been involved in British hockey at any level-and continues to be so. If it could be done in hockey…if it could be won…he’s probably done it. And won it.
Born in Edinburgh in 1967, Tony started his pro career aged 14-a career that’s taken him all over Britain and the world via Edinburgh, Victoria BC, Edmonton, Sheffield, Ayr, Dundee, Belfast, Edinburgh, and for the last nine years, Manchester. He’s been a pro hockey player for 33 of his 47 years on this earth, all but a few months of it spent playing for British teams.
He’s won countless titles. He’s been a legend at more than one club and for his country, representing every team he’s played for with quiet pride and the kind of skill that takes your breath away.
The sheer numbers alone are incredible.
34 seasons played. Over 1500 games. 3,770 points (and counting). More assists in his career than Gretzky. 10 league and playoff titles. Innumerable individual awards.
Oh yes, and also this one line that makes him almost unique among native-born British players, tucked away at the bottom of the 1986 NHL draft list:
#252 Edmonton Oilers  Tony Hand (C)
Yup. Tony Hand is, to this day, one of only two native-born British players ever drafted by an NHL team (the other, Colin Shields, is also still playing in the EIHL, and at 35 is a young buck compared to Hand’s 47).
The sheer numbers and facts don’t convey just what it was and is like watching Tony Hand play for a British hockey fan, though.
Hand is not and never was a rough-and-tumble player. He could handle himself where necessary (he is Scottish, after all) but his game has not and never will rely on pure brute strength. It relies instead on skating, on guile, and on a hockey brain that ticks along like the finest of Swiss watches while rarely missing a beat.
To watch Hand play, even to this day, is to watch an artist work, using the ice as his canvas and his stick as the paintbrush. His skill with the puck has been matched by few, if any players he’s played with or against in his career.
A typical Hand play is to skate almost lazily into the zone, head up and puck on stick, before either placing a killer pass for a scoring opportunity or starting a move that led to him or a team-mate putting the puck in the net…and if you watch him you always notice that even away from the puck, his head and eyes are always moving, watching, processing the situation around him and reacting to it at a speed that seems almost unearthly. At times you’d watch Hand receive the puck, slow up just a little and the entire arena seem to pause to take a breath and slow around him before beginning to bend itself to the shape he wanted.
Tony had a gift that very few hockey players have ever had-the ability to remain unhurried and unruffled like an oasis of serenity in the madhouse that is pro hockey. He had the ability to make the game seem to go at his pace, so seamlessly did he constantly adjust his pace to fit the game. Passing isn’t a mundane skill in his hands-it is a mean to eviscerate an opposition defence, prompt an attack, relieve pressure…a many splendoured thing.
To watch Hand prompt and subtly probe an opposition defence for weaknesses was like watching a surgeon at work, or an engineer methodically testing the workings of a machine for weaknesses…patient, thorough, unerringly accurate.
Precise.
If you were on the opposition side of the ice in any capacity, watching the Scottish master work was terrifying in its quiet relentlessness…it brought to mind waves eroding away at a cliff or the quiet concentration and dogged persistence of a mathematician working out a problem. He rarely misplaced a pass or got caught out of position. At times he almost seemed to take joy in playing with opposition defences, using his team-mates as rebounding boards to pull them apart, sending them this way and that in an attempt to keep up with both him and the puck.
The only word appropriate for someone like Hand when he was on form was “mesmerizing.”
As a coach, he’s already won several titles while still remaining among the leading playmakers on his team despite reaching the age of 47.
Men of 47 simply don’t play a high-speed, contact sport like ice-hockey to the level he does.
Even when not at work, Hand has an aura of greatness around him for British hockey people of any description. I once had the chance to play on a line with him in a training session when he came along to coach the rec team I played…and it was an experience akin to a footballer sharing the pitch with Pele. The constant thought of “good god…I just took a pass in a drill from the greatest British player ever…” or “I HAVE to get stuff right…he’s watching” was prevalent.
And as for a word of praise, even for a pass that connected…that was like praise from the top of Olympus itself.
As of the end of this season Hand will no longer play-just take a full-time off-ice coaching role. He will no longer take the ice as a player, but he leaves a legacy of British hockey that it’s likely very few if any will ever match.
The most-loved British player of several generations. Career points totals that will likely never, ever be matched in British hockey again. 30 years of bewitching the rinks of Britain with his skills. Countless hockey fans who will remember watching him play the way Canadians remember Gretzky, Russians remember Tretiak or Americans remember the “Miracle On Ice” team. Already there are calls for him to be given the highest possible tribute the sport can give, and for his number 9 to be unilaterally retired across UK hockey.
It would be a fitting tribute to British hockey’s greatest native son. But it still wouldn’t all the gifts that the 5’10, 181lb proud Scot has given to British hockey.
Farewell and thank you, Sir Tony. If anyone has earned a rest from playing, you have.
Bidh mi ‘gad fhaicinn and Sealbh math dhuit, GB’s number nine.

EIHL Number Crunch: Two Minutes (Or Weeks) To Midnight

The sands of time for me are running low…”

Iron Maiden: “Hallowed Be Thy Name”

Four games (or five for a few teams). Two weekends. That’s all that’s left in the EIHL regular season now. This weekend and next. We are now very much in the part of the season where the words “do or die” begin to become more and more frequent.

One team is dead…out of playoff contention and nothing more than a walking corpse waiting to be put out of its misery next Sunday. Another one, maybe two, are hanging on desperately by its fingertips over the abyss at the bottom of the EIHL table. By the end of this weekend, we could know all eight EIHL PO teams. We could, if results all go the right way, see a league champion crowned. Or, we could go to next weekend with the EIHL title potentially still on its way to England, Scotland or Wales.

In short, as a great philosopher once said, it’s the beginnings of “squeaky bum time” in the EIHL.

Here’s the table right now…along with the a brief summary of the situation…

TEAM GAMES PLAYED POINTS GAMES REMAINING TOTAL POSSIBLE HIGHEST POSITION P/O’s?
SHEFFIELD 48 68 4 76 1st Y
BRAEHEAD 48 67 4 75 1st Y
CARDIFF 47 64 5 74 1st Y
NOTTINGHAM 48 60 4 68 2nd Y
BELFAST 48 55 4 63 4th Y
COVENTRY 47 46 5 56 5th 2pts
HULL 47 45 5 55 6th 3pts
FIFE 48 44 4 52 6th 4pts
EDINBURGH 47 40 5 50 6th 8pts
DUNDEE 48 30 4 38 10th eliminated

So…what does that mean for the playoff race? Let’s try and look at all the possible outcomes this weekend:

As we can see from the above table, Dundee are done. Finito. Out of it.

COVENTRY – One more win for Coventry this weekend (or indeed next) will assure them of a PO spot-especially if that win comes against Hull, who they play in three of their last five games (Sheffield and Belfast are the other two)

EDINBURGH:  Four point weekends for Hull and Fife and a loss for Edinburgh this weekend will put the Caps out of PO contention for definite. The Caps will also go out of contention if they don’t at least equal either Hull or Fife’s result on at LEAST one night this weekend…and even then, they will be looking for favours from either Coventry or a win against Cardiff midweek to survive. They’re staring into the void. However, if they equal or better Fife and/or Hull’s result on at least one night this weekend, then suddenly, things get interesting. Very interesting.

HULL – If Hull win and Edinburgh lose this weekend at least once, the Stingrays will only need one point (or an Edinburgh loss) to qualify.

FIFE: Equal Edinburgh’s result on both nights, and Fife will only need a Caps loss in the remaining three games to qualify.

That’s the bottom of the table sorted…now…about that little matter at the top…

SHEFFIELD 48 68 4 76 1st
BRAEHEAD 48 67 4 75 1st
CARDIFF 47 64 5 74 1st

There are still three teams in the title race. And only one of them can secure the title this weekend – if not, it goes to the final day. Let’s look at the scenarios:

SHEFFIELD: Win twice and have Braehead lose both their games, and the Steelers are EIHL champions. Win twice and have Braehead lose once, and a win v Nottingham on Friday night COULD see them take the title.

BRAEHEAD – The Clan cannot win the title this weekend. However, if they win twice and Sheffield lose twice, then a Cardiff loss to Edinburgh next week will leave them needing a point from the final two games to be confirmed champions.

CARDIFF: The Devils’ can really throw the cat amongst the pigeons here. A Devils four-point weekend will put them level on points with Sheffield and at most three behind Braehead.

It’s impossible to overstate how big Sunday night’s game in Cardiff between Devils and Steelers potentially is. Win that, and all of a sudden, they will be watching Friday night between Sheffield and Nottingham very closely indeed…because the Panthers could put a dagger in the Steelers’ title challenge at the last and see Sheffield v Cardiff next Saturday become a genuine winner-takes-all to decide at least a CHL place and possibly a title-decider. Sheffield do not play on the final Sunday… they could be overtaken by both the Clan and the Devils on the last day of the season.

If Cardiff fail to equal or better either Braehead or Sheffield’s results this weekend, however, they will need to win all three remaining games to even have a chance at the title.

This race is only just beginning, and there are many, MANY twists and turns ahead in this last week.

This is gonna be GOOD, EIHL.

Who Needs A League Title?: Making the EIHL Conference System Work

Once again, as we come towards the end of the season, there’s a lot of discussion over the way the Conference system works in the EIHL. Only a few years after clamouring that the old league system meant that the big arena teams were having to play too many games to half-empty arenas against smaller teams, and saying they wanted to see more “rivalry” games. Now they’ve got that, the bigger teams are complaining that they a) see the same teams all the time and b) that the smaller teams are actually at an “unfair” advantage if one of them gets any stronger since they’re in a “weaker” conference.

So…first thing…is playing weaker teams more often disadvantaging the Erhardt teams? To work this out-let’s take the EIHL table this season, and look at the percentage of possible points they’ve gained both within their own conference and cross-conference:

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF WHERE EIHL TEAMS HAVE GAINED LEAGUE POINTS THIS SEASON:

TEAM POINTS GAINED V OWN CONFERENCE (%) POINTS GAINED CROSS CONFERENCE (%)
BRAEHEAD CLAN (G) 47 of 56 (83.4) 20 of 38 (52.6)
SHEFFIELD STEELERS (E) 29/52 (55.7) 35/40 (87.5)
CARDIFF DEVILS (E) 34/56 (60.7) 28/34 (82.3)
NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS (E) 35/56 (62.5) 23/38 (60.5)
BELFAST GIANTS (E) 31/56 (55.3) 24/38 (63.1)
FIFE FLYERS (G) 32/56 (67.1) 12/38 (31.5)
COVENTRY BLAZE (E) 18/60 (30) 26/32 (81.25)
HULL STINGRAYS (G) 29/56 (51.7) 13/28 (46.4)
EDINBURGH CAPITALS (G) 25/54 (46.6) 14/36 (38.8)
DUNDEE STARS (G) 17/56 (30) 11/35 (30.5)

It’s interesting to see from this that while Braehead have undoubtedly benefited from playing more games in the Erhardt Conference, Nottingham (one of the loudest critics of the Gardiner as the “weaker” conference) have actually gained LESS points from them than they have from their own,  and Dundee’s (the worst team in the league) proportion is also about equal-in fact, they’ve got more points v Erhardt than Gardiner teams!

Then of course there’s Coventry, who appear to be in the “wrong” conference by a spectacular margin in terms of equality. Sheffield, too, have benefited massively from cross conference games for their league position to be where it is.

Clearly, the conference system, while achieving its aim of making games more competitive for teams in general, has still slightly skewed the league, although it is interesting to see that the loudest critics in the Erhardt aren’t necessarily those who would have benefited the most from an “even” system (I’m looking at you, Corey Neilson).

The main problem with the EIHL isn’t how it organises its season into conferences-it’s the fact that despite the skewed games, the league champion is defined by the total efforts of both, which means that a team that runs up the points against one conference will always benefit in the standings. This time round, Braehead, Sheffield, Cardiff and Coventry have effectively gained their league position by lopsided results against each conference-indeed Coventry are only still in the playoff hunt on the strength of their cross-conference results…compare their record cross conference and the gap between it and their own to the teams around them,

The EIHL needs to move away from emphasis on the “regular season title” towards a playoff-based system, rather than a separate competition. It also needs to move away from such a disparity between in-conference and cross-conference play. At the moment teams play double the amount of games v their own conference, plus Challenge Cup games, plus playoffs…it’s frankly ridiculous.

So…how do we solve this?

The first thing we do is change things around. Rather than 4 and 2, we go 3 and 3…so teams play in-conference 6 times, out of it 6 a season. That keeps the league season the same length.

The Challenge Cup changes, though. Currently, there are 8 group games played just to eliminate two teams. That’s ridiculous. There’s simply no need for that amount of CC games for what is, essentially, a third-tier tournament. With the CC groups essentially being the same as league groups, it also leads to epic fixture fatigue.

So, how do we streamline the Challenge Cup? We move it to the beginning of the season as a curtain-raiser, played midweek in the following format (this format isn’t mine, incidentally…it’s the brainchild of Liam McCausland, ex of the Frozen Steel blog):

Trouble is, that’ll likely never be implemented, due to the EIHL’s fetishization with at least 3 guaranteed CC home dates which are now lost.

So where do those spare three home games go?

They go into the playoff first round. The playoffs are conference-based, with team records against their own conference determining whether or not they make it to the PO quarter-finals. The winner of the regular season gets a league title more fairly determined but smashing your own conference rewards you with an “easier” playoff first round game-the seedings work 1st v 4th, 2nd v 3rd.

Oh yes-that PO first round game? It’s a best of five, home and away…the team that finishes higher in the table gets the decisive fifth game if necessary. They’re played in double-headers over the next two weekends, with a fifth game (if required) either midweek before the PO weekend or the Saturday before. Winners of those series make the weekend, losers go home.

Seedings at the PO weekend are then determined by league positioning, and that functions as normal.

Granted, this plan isn’t perfect…and it’ll likely never be implemented because of the way the finances will work (and as we all know, the bottom line rules all in the EIHL even at the expense of a fairer, more logical system)…but admit it, it wouldn’t half make the EIHL season more interesting for all concerned, wouldn’t it?

Getting Drafty: Why The New U20 UK League Means It’s Time To Change The EIHL Signing System

This time last year, I wrote a column arguing that the way forward for UK hockey was to adopt a North American system of drafts and player trades to both shake up player movement within the EIHL and allow a potential route for young British talent to make its way into the EIHL system.

Whilst it was an excellent idea in theory, there was much discussion of the obstacles in place to such a system-for example the ability of young British players to potentially move from one end of the country to another for a development place, the lack of firm wages or contracts, and the difficulty of housing players each year.

The main stumbling block, however, was the widely-fragmented and inconsistent British junior system, which rarely allowed the best young players to compete against the best, leading to tricky evaluation of youngsters actual skill. In short, there was no coherent way for teams to actually assess young talent outside their own systems.

However, as of next season, thanks to the IIHF’s intervention and insistence that without it GB will no longer be allowed to compete in the World Championships, UK hockey will have an elite U20 league, which already has 15 teams committed to icing squads next season, according to IHUK.

This would seem the ideal opportunity to introduce at least a rudimentary “draft” system. I can see it working something like this.

– Players are eligible to be “drafted” after one year in elite U20 system. or at age 19-whichever comes first. This means that young prodigies will be able to become part of a team “system” earlier than 18, but also means that there will be a pool the first year out and there’s no “upper limit” on draftees

– Each EIHL team must have at least 5 U20 players in their “system” each year. This means that, while they may not be the “first” team of the player, they will hold the EIHL rights to their services, and so if they sign with an EPL/NIHL club at any time before the age of 23, then they will considered to automatically be on a “two-way” contract, much as the two-ways work in the North American system, and can be called up/sent down to their EIHL teams as necessary, thereby eliminating any chance of EIHL teams playing “short-benched”.

The draft itself will work thusly..

It will consist of five rounds, with each EIHL team being given the opportunity to select 5 players from the U20 league whose EIHL rights they wish to obtain each season. The draft will take place in May.

Draft picks will be allocated the same way as the NHL, with the 10th team in the EIHL having the first pick in each round, and the league champion having the last.

Once a player is selected, they will be considered part of the EIHL roster but will NOT count against any roster limits or salary caps unless they are actually with the team.

Given that the draft age is 19, they’ll be eligible for at least one more year in the U20 league, for the team they currently play for, but can be also called up to the EIHL roster of a squad where necessary. The EIHL team will decide whether their “prospects” play for the U20 team or the EIHL squad. However, they cannot insist a player remains in the U20 league should an EPL/NIHL contract be offered.

Under this system, draft picks can be traded to other EIHL teams during the season for players or other draft picks contracts. They are assets just like players themselves, and are teams to do with as they wish – 

for example, let us say that Nottingham have a surplus of imports – if they wish they can offer one of them to another EIHL team for one or more of their picks the following May.

- Conversely, if an EIHL team wishes to approach and sign a roster player from another EIHL team during the season-they can do so without the player being released first…if they offer one or more draft picks as compensation and this is accepted, The team losing a player would obviously then be able to sign a replacement import if they wished…or call up one of their “pool” of prospects.

The first “draft” would take place at the end of the 2015/16 season, concurrent with the end of the first U20 league season.

Once an EIHL team “owns” a players rights, they have the ability to call an U20 player up for preseason games if they wish to evaluate them. Wages for these U20 players will be set at a “league minimum” while they are with an EIHL team, and will be on a “per-game” basis.

To reiterate…an EIHL team owning player’s rights ONLY means that they have “first call” on that player’s services should they wish to use them and the player is playing within the UK system. It does NOT mean that they can dictate where the player plays outside of the EIHL, that they can prevent them going abroad to further their game – nor which contracts they can or cannot sign. As said earlier, should an prospect sign for an EPL/NIHL team before the age of 23, he will be considered to be on a “two-way” contract with the EIHL team holding his rights. Should they sign for a team abroad, the EIHL team holding their rights will have “first call” on their services should they wish to return to the UK.

When players reach the age of 23, the EIHL club holding their rights must sign them to an “official” contract in the following offseason if they haven’t already done so, or they become unrestricted free agents, with no further link to the team that drafted them.

As soon as a player signs an “official” contract (not a two-way, but as a pro player with an EIHL team), they become that team’s asset and are treated like any other roster player with regards to pay, housing etc.

This is a slightly modified version of the North American draft system – and under this system, a young British player who gets drafted is effectively guaranteed a link with an EIHL team until the age of 23. It means that teams at the top tier of the sport suddenly have the chance to lock up the rights to far more young UK talent while also having the ability to allow it to develop before signing. If used right, it shows young Brit players a clear path to the top of the sport in the UK and offers a more concrete way for all leagues to develop young British talent.

The creation of an elite U20 league is an excellent first step in development. But there needs to be a path beyond that to the top of the sport in the UK. This system is one way to give young players that path. If it’s implemented properly.

EIHL Number Crunch, 3 Weeks To Go: Falling Dominos

These girls fall like dominos, dominos”

The Big Pink: “Dominos”

Now we’re really getting into the business end of the season. Three weekends to go until the EIHL league title is awarded once and for all and the playoff quarter-finals are set, less than a week until the Challenge Cup Final, and a game on Wednesday night between Sheffield and Braehead that could, potentially, be the night the Clan put one hand firmly on the Monteith Bowl. We should also start to see things narrow down as games become do-or-die both in the title and playoff races…indeed this weekend we saw the first team officially eliminated from the EIHL playoffs as the sword of Damocles finally fell upon the Dundee Stars to put them out of their PO chase misery. So-let’s have a look at the league table right now:

LEAGUE TABLE

1. BRAEHEAD. Games Played 46, Pts 67. Games Remaining 6. Max Pts Total, 79

2. SHEFFIELD: GP 45, Pts 62. GR 7, Max Pts 76

3. CARDIFF: GP 45 Pts 62, GR 7, Max Pts 76

4, NOTTINGHAM: GP 46, Pts 56, GR 6, Max Pts 68

5. BELFAST: GP 47, Pts 55, GR 5, Max Pts 65 

6. FIFE: GP 47, Pts 44, GR 5, Max Pts 54

7. COVENTRY GP 46, Pts 44, GR 6, Max Pts 58

8. HULL GP 43, Pts 41, GR 9, Max Pts 59

9. EDINBURGH: GP 45 Pts 39, GR 7, Max Pts 53

10. DUNDEE: GP 46, Pts 28, GR 6, Max Pts 40

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Winners:

COVENTRY: Another win against Sheffield makes it 7 in their last ten..the Blaze are hitting form at just the right time as the race for the playoffs hots up. With three games against Hull and 1 against Edinburgh in their remaining 6, the Blaze are now in an excellent position to lock up PO qualification relatively easily-they can still finish as high as 5th, too, although that would require a collapse of epic proportions from Belfast.

BRAEHEAD: The Clan not only ended Nottingham’s title hopes this weekend, they also put something of a dent in Sheffield’s, although Wednesday’s tilt against the Steelers is more important still…win that and they will be 7 points clear of the Steelers with only 12 possibly available. They’ll also do Cardiff a MASSIVE service in their own title race as it’ll give the Devils an opening to overtake the South Yorkshire side. Speaking of which:

CARDIFF: The Devils benefited massively from Sheffield’s loss this weekend-they’re now neck and neck with the Steelers with only one regulation win less meaning they sit 3rd and not 2nd…a stat that could change this weekend.

Losers

HULL: The Stingrays destiny is still very much in their own hands, but those games in hand are beginning to disappear without being taken advantage of-at the moment the game on March 10th v Edinburgh, plus three games against Coventry, looms massively in their future…all of these are must-wins if they’re to hope for a PO spot-a 9-2 thumping against Sheffield won’t help things, either.

SHEFFIELD: That loss to Coventry is a stinger-it allows Cardiff to gain on them and also drops another two points on Braehead above them. The Steelers are still in the title race…but winning it just got a little harder. Lose to Braehead on Wednesday, and it’ll become a Herculean feat to overhaul the 7 point gap.

DUNDEE: The Stars have fallen. This weekend saw them officially confirmed as out of the PO race, as they’d need to win all their remaining games-even then, the highest they can finish is 9th with Hull now on 41 points in 8th. There are three weeks left but the Stars already know they won’t be playing in the postseason this year.

So, that done. What are ‘tthe positions in the race both for POs and the title? Let’s look…but first, a reminder of the definitions:

GP – Total games played

P – Current points total

GR – Games Remaining.

PtsB – Points Behind Leader

PtsA – Points ahead of 9th place (PO race)

GTE – Games To Elimination – the number of games a team has left before it is mathematically unable to overtake either the leader (title race) or team in 8th (playoff race)

GTQ – GTQ To Qualification – number of games required (assuming that they have the same result as the nearest challengers below them in all) to guarantee either a team cannot be overtaken, either at the top of the table (title race) or finish lower than 8th place (PO race).

Here we go:

THE TITLE RACE

1. Braehead: GP 46, P 67, GR 6, GTE 6, GTQ 3 (will become 2 if beat Sheffield on Weds.) 

2. Sheffield: GP 45, P 62, GR 7, PtsB 5, GTE 4, WTQ 6

3. Cardiff: GP 46, P 62, GR 6, PtsB 5, GTE 4, WTQ 6

4, Nottingham: GP 46, Pts 56, GR 6, PtsB 11, GTE 1, WTQ 6. Any point for Braehead on Weds night will mean they can no longer win the title.

5. BELFAST: GP 47, Pts 55, GR 5, PtsB 12, GTE -1. BELFAST ARE ELIMINATED FROM TITLE CONTENTION 

All of the teams above have now officially qualified for the EIHL POs

Braehead are still very much in the driving seat here-there’s a huge night live on Premier Sports on Wednesday as they face the Steelers at home in a big night at Ice Sheffield…with the Steelers playing four of their remaining 7 games against their title rivals (three of them v Cardiff) this game could be make or break for their title ambitions. The Devils, meanwhile, will be watching and waiting to seize on any weakness shown by the two teams above them.

THE PLAYOFF RACE

6. Fife: GP 47, Pts 44, PtsA 5, GR 5, GTE 5, GTQ 5

7. Coventry: GP 46, Pts 44, PtsA 5, GR 6, GTE 6, GTQ 6

8. HULL GP 43, Pts 41, PtsA 2, GR 9, GTE 9, WTQ 6 

9. EDINBURGH: GP 45 Pts 39, GR 7, PtsB 2, GTE 6, WTQ 7

10. DUNDEE: GP 46, Pts 28, GR 6, Max Pts 40 – DUNDEE ARE ELIMINATED FROM POs

Right now, any one of four teams can still miss out on the playoffs, but it’s these last three weeks where we’ll see the picture change radically…we won’t start to see teams qualify for the POs until at least the penultimate weekend of the season in this group. Fife’s position is looking a little more precarious now, as all the teams below them have games in hand-they’ll need to finish strongly to avoid any last-day nerves. Hull, too, will be a little nervous. Coventry, on the other hand, have four of their last 6 games against their three PO rivals-three of them are against the Stingrays. However…lose to the Capitals at the Skydome this weekend, and the jitters just may start to come back a little.

Hull make up two of their three games in hand on their PO rivals this week, facing Nottingham on Wednesday night and Fife on Sunday (in the only league game that day thanks to the Challenge Cup Final) – Saturday sees a very big night in this race as the four teams meet each other, so we could see big changes in this picture next week.

It’s getting serious now. The amply-fed lady isn’t singing, but she has arrived at the concert hall. Potentially, next week could see not just one, but two titles awarded by the end of it.