Let The EIHL Fans Eat Cake: The NHLer Debate

Yesterday there was an excellent article on UK American Sports Fans which saw the four EIHL writers for the site debating whether or not the arrival of NHLers is good or bad for the Elite League. It pretty much reflected fan opinion as a whole as the general reaction seems to be cautiously optimistic, along the lines of “as long as they’re marketed right or fit with the team, then that’s fine with us”. However, there’s been some dissension with several EIHL players and fans mentioning that they’re taking jobs from those who would normally play in the league/reducing ice time for Brits/only a resource available to the richer teams/against the whole ethos of the league and fair competition/harbingers of the UK hockey apocalypse.

 

So here’s Chasing Dragons’ view on the issue, put as succinctly as ever.

If the people want bread, then let them eat cake”

(Queen Marie Antoinette of France)

If you’re a fan who’s genuinely against NHL players coming into the Elite League during a lockout, then you’re not a fan of British  hockey and you should probably wake up a bit. I don’t care what your argument is…whether you hide it behind “competitive fairness” (which is frankly the last refuge of the beaten man/woman when it comes to this argument, for reasons I’ll explain in a bit) or “harming the Brit kids’ chances” (please, get off your high horse cause the EIHL is a competitive league, not a Scout Sports Day) or even the taking jobs argument (uncertain employment is a fact of life in pro sports, and all these players know it)…you should seriously reconsider.

I’ve watched hockey at all levels in the UK, from juniors to NIHL to EIHL, and at no point have I ever thought “wow, I’d enjoy this more if we didn’t use the best players available” or “this game would be much better if a larger arbitrary amount came from the same country as me”. When I’m watching hockey games I don’t care if a great deke or coast-to-coast rush is pulled off by some young British kid or Sidney Crosby.

I care about the game, not who happens to be playing it. I want the product on the ice to be the best potential it can possibly be. And that involves signing the best players available-who right now, thanks to the lockout, are NHLers.

(I know, I know, this is the point at which the “competitive balance” argument comes in and people go on about not wanting to see their teams thrash or be thrashed, they just want exciting games, and a 1-0 win is better than a 13-1 win cause it’s closer and more tense).

So what? Sport is a competition. That’s the whole point of it. Name me one league which actually has as one of its policies “we’ll all try and stick to the level of the weakest team just to make it fair”. The onus is on the weaker teams to get better however they can.

This “we want to be fair and give everyone an equal hope” argument is given very public lip service by fans and teams and then dumped all over in private (as any number of instances in British hockey-but the fact that no-one actually believes in it is clearly evident in the farce of a wage cap which is flagrantly ignored/broken/circumvented in any way possible by most of the people shouting loudest about it.

Until it’s properly implemented in the same way the NHL is, with cap figures and salaries publicly available, even the pretence that there’s a wage cap in the EIHL and more to the point, the pretence that anyone in the league actually wants it for “competitive” reasons or believes that it actually works to keep the league competitive is a waste of time.

This season seems to be the first that the so-called “weaker” teams have actually accepted this argument…look at the strides made in Fife, Dundee, and Edinburgh for three. They’re trying to get their players UP to the level of the supposed powerhouses rather than arguing the league should play down to them-as exampled most clearly by Braehead’s signing Drew Miller…a big-name grab that was a response to Anthony Stewart joining Nottingham. Teams are spending smarter as they try to get the best possible bang for their buck, rather than trying to penalise success. And that’s an attitude that will bear far more dividends than a protectionist view ever did.

The smartest way to spend that money is to get the best level of player you possibly can. This NHL lockout means that suddenly a far higher quality of player is on the market for the same amount.

Why on earth would ANY smart businessman/coach not take an opportunity to get better quality for the same money? Why would you take an AHL/ECHL tweener when there’s a player from the best league in the world sat there? It’s like arguing that, all other considerations being equal, you’d pick a Ford Fiesta over a Ferrari Enzo, or a holiday in Mansfield over Mauritius. It’s complete insanity. You take the best you can get.If bread is the only thing available, that’s fine. But if hockey royalty is offering you slices of premium cake, you take it, and take their hands off doing so.

Right. Quality dealt with. Let’s move on to the most pointless argument of the lot:

they’re only 3rd/4th line NHLers so they’re not that much better compared to the usual import

Bollocks.

Anyone who saw Matt Beleskey’s debut for Coventry on Sunday will testify to this…sometimes, quality just shines out at you. Beleskey’s a third-fourth liner in the NHL-on Sunday night he hit harder, skated quicker and had more skill than just about anyone else on the ice. Anthony Stewart has been criticised for “just using the EIHL to keep fit” but he was still pulling off glimpses of a hockey ability far above that which we’re used to in the occasional fizzing pass or swift shot. Brad Leeb (who’s probably the closest on the Blaze to Beleskey in terms of NHL pedigree, although his NHL days are a little further removed) has been a revelation along with his brother Greg this season.

Even Tom Sestito (who has been roundly mocked as being a “goon” at NHL level and is probably the most “borderline NHLer” signing by far) (including by me)  ha’s already scored twice in two games-and I’m still looking forward to seeing him this Saturday at the Skydome.

Second most pointless argument:

“they don’t really give much more, marketing-wise”.

Presumably the increase of 1500 paying tickets for Coventry v Nottingham in the Challenge Cup over the comparable fixture last year was nothing to do with the presence of two NHLers, then, and Braehead increasing their crowds for the league home opener by 500 over the average for Drew Miller’s home debut was nothing to do with him, either?

Aye, right.

Basically, I don’t care who they sign for and I don’t care if their NHL role isn’t on the top line…the more NHLers over here, the better.

I’d even go further and say that I’m of the opinion that if the NHLers are out there and available, and the financial resources are in place, any EIHL club that doesn’t take advantage of the lockout is crazier than an outhouse rat. The EIHL needs to improve its product to be taken seriously both in British sport and world hockey, and right now, signing players from the best league in the world is the quickest way to do that.

Let ’em come. Whatever jersey they wear, let ’em come.

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