Challenging the System: Revamping the Elite League Playoffs

Before we begin today’s post a bit of Chasing Dragons admin:

I’m planning to start running a weekly mailbag (probably on Fridays) where you lovely readers can sound off/ask questions about the EIHL and I’ll respond to the best emails. To have a chance of getting in, send your questions/views on the talking points of UK hockey to along with your (first) name, home town and (if you want) team supported, and I’ll do my best to get as many in as I can. The mailbag will likely run weekly  on Fridays…but that may change depending on volume received. Get tapping away, lads and lasses!

Anyway…here’s today’s post.

I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime here and write something a little bit controversial as an opening statement.

The EIHL Playoffs need fixing, and the way to do it is to kill off the Challenge Cup.

Yes, this is a big opening statement, since I’m effectively dismissing the EIHL’s big cash-cow of playoff weekend and one of the major competitions out of hand. But there are several reasons for this:

The playoffs are too easy to win:

You can become Elite League Playoff Champion by winning one game. That’s what the Nottingham Panthers did a few seasons ago, when they won one leg of their PO quarter final and then snuck through both the semi-final and final on the lottery of penalty shots. Four games is not a viable PO series, particularly in a straight knockout-have one bad game, and you’re out.

No-one cares about the Challenge Cup

There is no situation whereby a supposed cup game should be combined with a game for league points, particularly when the two competitions have different rules. It’s simply laughable to combine two competitions into one-the fact that people do it automatically devalues the Cup. Then, of course, there’s the fact that CC group games are among the lowest attended in the season. Why? Because people aren’t willing to see yet another game against the same opposition in a different competition-we have enough of those in the Elite League already.

Probably the best indication of how seriously the Challenge Cup isn’t taken by fans is reflected when the Nottingham Panthers brought out a “Double Double” t-shirt this season commemorating their playoff and CC wins in both of the past two seasons, and the rest of the league just laughed and went “um..get over yourselves, lads. Come back when you have a league title”

The Challenge Cup isn’t doing its job

The Cup is supposed to provide another competition aimed at giving those teams who may not be in the league race something to play for, and provide another chance for a shock, potentially. The winners over the Elite League period, however, have been (with one exception when Cardiff won it in 05/06) Belfast, Coventry, Sheffield and Nottingham. That’s it. Coincidentally, these are the only four teams to have won Elite League league titles, as well-and the final usually ends up being a permutation of these four and Cardiff…even the semis usually involve the other two.

The playoff weekend is in the home arena of one of the participants

This is the hockey equivalent of deciding to hold the FA Cup semi and final at the home of one of the teams. It just wouldn’t happen in pretty much any other sport. The arguments about WHY it’s held at the NIC are a completely separate issue and have frankly been done to death, and maybe there is no alternative right now…but neither is there any real evidence of the Elite League looking for one. If the EPL can hold its showpiece weekend in a neutral venue, then why can’t the EIHL make more effort to-or at least move it around from year to year between Nottingham, Sheffield and Belfast (who are realistically the only three UK hockey arenas capable of holding it)? There must be a way if teams are prepared to work together and look for it.

The PO weekend itself seems to be more about money than hockey.

If you want to see the EIHL playoff finals, it’ll cost you (for both days) nearly eighty quid a ticket. That’s insane-especially as you have to pay it in January when there’s a good chance your team might not even make the weekend, never mind the final. Off ice there’s hardly anything in the arena beyond the usual arena-price food and drink…so what are you getting for your eighty quid? Not enough.

Occasion or no occasion, the playoff weekend is overrated nowadays-you win one game for your team to get there, get gouged on ticket prices, and even a PO title win is viewed as “well, you didn’t win the league anyway”. And as for the Challenge Cup…it’s a trophy losing relevance faster than a London 2012 Welcome Pack.

So…how do we make the playoffs meaningful and solve the problem of a Challenge Cup that no-one really cares about?

Simple. We kill the Challenge Cup completely.

Yes, this looks counter-productive, but think about it. The CC games currently fill four home game slots for each team-or a whole month’s worth of game days for each squad. Wouldn’t you rather use that month for the playoffs at the end of the season, rather than the CC at the beginning?

Here’s the plan. The league season starts in early September and runs right through until the first week of March-all games league games only. Points count for everything…none of this “points count in conference and league but also just conference” confusion. Every game means something.

The week after the regular season finishes, conference titles are awarded. The bottom two teams in each conference play each other in a home and away “wild-card” series, and the top teams in each conference play each other in a home-and-away series for the title of EIHL Champion. If you finish 2nd or 3rd in the conference, then sorry…you get a week off. Perils of having ten teams.

Winners of the wild-card go into the playoff quarter finals, winners of the “league final” win the EIHL league trophy. Wild-card losers…you’re done. Sorry. See ya.

The eight remaining teams split by conference, highest seed v lowest, in a best-of-five-game series, with the top seed getting a deciding game 5 at home. This runs through the second two weeks of March, with one midweek game. Winners go through to the PO weekend.

Then, you run the PO weekend as normal.

Sure, it’s not perfect…but imagine the drama of being  bottom of the conference and knowing you still have a “winner takes all” chance to make the playoffs. More to the point-imagine a home-and-away to decide the league title-the two conferences scrapping back and forth to once and for all decide who’s the best team in the EIHL-it eliminates any “easier schedule” arguments at a stroke.

Then, imagine the playoff quarters as a series. Five games, rivalries built up…proper playoff hockey, the way the NHL does it. Three games where one shot could save your season or end it.

To head off all the “scheluling arguments-this system requires the same number of game dates to be reserved. In fact, under the current system there’s one home date more for each team. So we have easier scheduling as well, as an unlooked for benefit

Imagine going from preseason straight into a situation where every point counts for one competition and one only-and more to the point it’s the most important one-the league?

More to the point, imagine a scenario where the playoffs actually last more than a maximum of four games, of which you only actually have to win one “properly (ie not in the lottery of OT/penalties)”.

You’re telling me that’s not a better prospect then what we have now? You’re telling me that wouldn’t be more exciting than a semi-meaningless cup competition and a playoffs seemingly tacked on at the end of the season as an afterthought?

What are your thoughts, EIHL fans?


6 thoughts on “Challenging the System: Revamping the Elite League Playoffs

  1. I completely agree with you. Have you sent this as a proposal to the league and although it would most likely get thrown back at you it might get them thinking

  2. Some good ideas. Am a romantic for a cup though. Like to see an FA cup style cup though like in France and Poland.

    As for playoffs I like it but hits one practical problem. Any best of series lead to one of two things. 1. Arenas booked at expense and not used as series has already ended. Or what is more likely 2. Teams fumbling around trying to fit in fixtures at last minute. Often wondered how NHL deals with that issue where teams and arenas are not owned by same company.

  3. Pingback: THE EIHL PLAYOFF DEBATE | clanorama

  4. I think essentially it’s a good idea. However, I reckon I’d prefer just the top 8 in the overall league standings qualifying for the playoffs. Then, do 5 game series 1v8, 2v7 etc through each round, right up to the final. If we could get the EIHL Playoff final series games live on Sky that would work really well.

  5. Definitely some good ideas here… the Challenge Cup becomes more of a farce when some teams (such as Nottingham) are allowed to double them up as league games when others don’t and you’re really defeating the “giant killer” aspect unless you make it inclusive and bring in teams from, say, the EPL; unfortunately the skills gap is too wide to make that viable with a full Elite League squad.

    As was mentioned getting ice time will always be the biggest issue but one answer to this might be to adopt a “best of three” play-off series with quarter and semi finals played on the normal weekend (one home and one away) with the decider if necessary during the following week… and also following the NHL example of carrying on with overtime until the game is won properly rather than the penalty lottery.

  6. I think its a good post and I agree with most of what is written. Aside from the bit about Nottingham having won an Elite League Title of course.

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