Five Ways To Fix The Elite League

It’s off-season time now, and with some saying that this was the best EIHL season ever, it appears that the much-maligned EIHL board have at least begun to take steps towards improving the product to a level where it can be taken as seriously by the wider world as it is by the world of UK hockey fans. These changes are not some “magic wand”-I’m not realistically going to think ice hockey will get anywhere near the status of “major” sports in the UK. But maybe they’ll help to improve the sport further. So here is a Five Point Plan to fix the EIHL.

Point One: Kill The Challenge Cup.

Let’s be honest…the Challenge Cup is a dead flush. I wrote a post way back in October describing why the Challenge Cup had to go,  and I still feel the same now-at least in its current format. The Challenge Cup is becoming an irrelevance-teams are now using games to double up for league points instead of making it a competition in itself, it’s labyrinthine in structure (8 games just to eliminate one team in each group for the quarter finals? Really?!) and it quite frankly gets in the way early in the season for quarters, semis and finals that are only going to be played midweek anyway. So here’s what you do…you kill it. Replace the Challenge Cup with an “Autumn Cup” with two groups of five EIHL teams that are randomly-drawn at the summer fixture meeting…then play each other home and away once each in the first 8 games of the season, with points counting both for league AND Cup standings. Top two from each group qualify for the semis, which run in a 1A v 2B, 2A v 1B fashion. The final then is a two-legged affair in November.

That way you have silverware early on, a streamlined cup competition that actually works, and the early season means something more.

2. Make a Minimum, Not a Maximum

The “import” limit in UK hockey is a farce. Not least because players are classified as imports for league play while being British for international play (I’m looking at you, Corey Neilson and Rod Sarich). Plus, the claim that import limits help Brit development is horrendous…it doesn’t. All it does is drive up the prices of the “premium” British players and make for token UK youngsters sat on the bench.

So here’s how the EIHL shows its commitment to the British hockey scene. Rather than saying “you must have no more than this number of non-Brits” say “you must have this number of young Brits on your roster”.

How? You make a rule along the lines of the Forderlizenz (development licence) rule in Germany, which states every 20 man roster is not only limited to 10 imports, but must have at least three British players under 23 on it. All of a sudden, young British players are being given a chance to break into the EIHL, and the seniors can’t demand as much money for the remaining spots…either they accept a little less money or they’re squeezed out by the youngsters. And, like the “veteran” rule in NA leagues, it means that teams can’t monopolize the “best” players for their Brit pack, spreads the top British talent around the league, and allows a genuine pathway for young Brits to break through into the top level of the UK game.

3. All Points Count For Everything.

This is so astoundingly simple a scoring system, and reeks of so much common sense that surely the EIHL wouldn’t miss out on it, right? Wrong. In the NHL, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing…the points count for both the overall standings and the division standings. So why on earth aren’t we doing that here? The silliness that sees a team being top of the overall competition without being top of an arbitrarily-defined group of teams within it is something that’s frankly embarrassing to all concerned.

4. Stop Seeing The Playoffs Only As A Cash Cow.

80 quid for three games of meaningful hockey that your team might not be playing at is simply TOO MUCH. Stop mucking about with the format and make it simple…semis on Saturday. Junior international and finals on Sunday. 30 quid a day. 15 quid a match. Or about what we pay to watch our teams anyway, only with the added pomp and circumstance of an actual final weekend.

Trust me on this one. People will come. And they will come in far greater numbers. The playoff weekend is supposed to be the final weekend of the season-a massive hockey jamboree. An overpriced love-fest for the Erhardt Conference, as it has been the past few years, simply isn’t going to cut it.

5. Make the Playoffs Conference Based

This one’s perhaps the most radical change on the surface, but it’s astoundingly simple to implement-and ensures that two teams from each conference will always make Nottingham. Furthermore, it gives teams even more incentive in the playoff quarter finals AND ensures that, even if you don’t win the playoff final, there’s still a reason to celebrate on BOTH days at PO weekend.

It’s very simple. Ditch the “league position as playoff seeding” system and seed by conference instead.

After the league title is awarded, the teams split into conferences for the playoffs, with (and here’s the key change) the bottom team IN EACH CONFERENCE missing out, not the bottom two teams in the league. 1st v 4th and 2nd v 3rd in each conference play each other, with the winners of each quarter final progressing to Nottingham. The two teams from each Conference then face each other on the Saturday, with the winners being crowned “conference champions” and progressing to the final on Sunday. It’s then Gardiner champs v Erhardt champs for the EIHL playoff title.

Think about it. Under this system, the playoffs would be far more likely to have two genuine rivals facing each other in the quarters and semis (imagine, say, Edinburgh v Fife and Coventry v Nottingham for Conference Championship), & ensure that everyone has the chance to reach the playoffs until the the final day of the league season in both conferences. It’d also pretty much remove any doubt over who is the best team in the league and ensure that the playoff weekend will never be dominated by one conference in presence. Plus, it makes it genuinely harder to get to PO weekend…there will guaranteed be no easy games.

If it means one of the “bigger” teams losing out, then surely that’s even better for parity in the league-and if it works for the NHL, it can’t be too bad, right?

This leaves us with four possible trophies for a team to win still, but ensures that any doubt over a Grand Slam from now on is eliminated…you HAVE to win your conference to win the league and the playoffs.

Also, it makes things a lot simpler for anyone watching, as they know where all points are going, who keeps the league standings and who is the champion of the conference in each case. It also, crucially, increases the importance of the conference titles and actually makes winning them a palpable achievement even if you don’t win the league, and establishes a clear hierarchy-league, playoffs, conference title, Challenge Cup.

And that’s your lot. Sure, they won’t all be accepted as ideas and I’m sure they’ll provoke a fair bit of debate, especially the playoff reform, but it’s got to be worth a try, right?

Let me know what you think…

11 thoughts on “Five Ways To Fix The Elite League

  1. Good blog and a few good ideas.

    I agree that the Challenge Cup needs a major tweak. I can’t remember any of the group games and if I was to recall one of them I would consider it a league game rather than the cup. However the last minute knockout win over Coventry was one of my games of the season.

    A cup in any sport is exciting due to the fact that you can be knocked out if you have a bad night and it is a chance for smaller teams to spring an upset, think of the romance of the FA cup. I think a straight knockout (home and away) would be a better format for the competition and I would consider opening it up to non EIHL teams (not sure how this would work with organisational rules etc).

    To see the possibility of Manchester knock out Nottingham in a shock cup result would bring excitement to the competition. It would also give players from the ‘lower leagues’ a chance to shine and possibly win a move for the next season or make the British team.

    I agree changes need made to the conference system as I am still not convinced at all by it, think the league is too small to warrant such a system and it has been poorly implemented it. (http://jaytsport.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/conference-system-success-or-failure/ ) Personally I would do away with it but if not I would be open to point 5.

    Also, instead of a junior international match on the final day I would have an EIHL all-star match if the conference was still in existence. (http://jaytsport.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/eihl-all-star-game/)

  2. How would insisting on a min no of u23 Brits sitting on the bench stop the big 3 loading up with the entire GB team? Other than that, these ideas are brilliant!!

  3. This season has had more interest than most because the lower teams have had more to play for throughout the season. So, these five points, some of which have merit, are essentially a tinkering with the settings.
    But they ignore the fundamental flaw of the British sport. That there should be a salary cap, properly enforced. If that were the bedrock then all these questions about numbers of imports would settle themselves. We have the prototype up and working in the NHL. There, in the Land of Free Enterprise, they see the need to level the ice and it works. The richest franchises are not able to dominate results. The Stanley Cup is successively won by the best coached team, which is as it should be.
    I have a tendency towards a positive discrimination on behalf of British players. What they do in the EPL by limiting the numbers of imports on-ice at any one time seems like a positive incentive for Brits. We are in danger of having a sport dominated by foreign mercenaries. The arena teams will continue to want to extend the numbers of imports and stretch the sport to breaking point.
    Continually twiddling the knobs of the format of the British sport without addressing its basic lack of parity is something of a distraction.

  4. I like most of what you say apart from:
    1. You might not get the 2 best teams in the league in the playoff final so it might be a walkover.
    2. The Challenge Cup should be re-named to The Panthers Cup…

  5. I read this blog yesterday, and after considering each point carefully overnight, I thought I’d give my response:

    1. British fans, as a generalisation, like cup competitions to go along side the League in most sports. It also gives added incentive to the smaller teams to put up a good fight as, with a bit of luck in a few games, they can go far in the competition. I would agree the format could be changed, but 8 games to eliminate one team is part of the “Challenge”. To be honest, this competition is the closest we have to a real playoff run.
    I think randomly drawing the groups is a good idea, and having the final by November/December should be the case – it would mean teams off to a slow start would be at a disadvantage and we could hope for more upsets. But the points should always be separate otherwise there’s no point in having the separate competition.

    2. The import limit is not farcical. Imports for league play are those who were not trained in the UK. Therefore those who are non-imports are always going to be the product of British youth hockey – good. Brits for international play comes under IIHF/international sporting rules – whoever has a British passport can represent that country.
    Having a minimum number of Brits is an idea with potential, forcing teams to call up young Brits and give them playing experience will be good for their development. It won’t help the Brits spread out through the teams, though. With young Brits getting paid next to nothing, all it would mean for teams like Nottingham/Sheffield, is that they could keep their current Brit pack, and would then have the option of running a 4th, all young-Brit line. Just adding to the divide between teams in quality in depth. This would only truly work with a “minimum salary” too, but this would just force the lower budget teams to pay more than they were previously willing to.

    3. All points counting for everything was something that annoyed me and I did attempt to contact the league about to get an explanation. When I didn’t get a response, I thought to myself why it makes sense. And it does make sense for the Gardiner Conference. It means results against the Erhardt teams aren’t taken into account so can’t distort who is the best team in the conference. My main concern with the League/Conferences are the tiebreakers – in my opinion, regulation and overtime wins should be first, the overall wins (adding SO wins) then results between the two teams.

    4. The price of the Playoff weekend is excessive. If the price was a little lower, I’d hope it could be a sell out each year. Around the £60 mark for the weekend seems right. I’d also like to see some form of All-Star game instead of a Junior International. Get all the players from the teams that didn’t make the weekend there. Get the fans to vote for captains, captains pick teams, and we get to see a showcase of hockey. It would also mean everyone will have some players representing them at the weekend, making it more beneficial for everyone to make the trip.

    5. I love this idea. My only concern is that currently, there is still a gulf between the Erhardt and Gardiner teams. Making it the case that one from each will be in the final means that the final is likely to only go one way. Yes, shocks happen but I genuinely didn’t know who would win this year’s playoff final – if it had been Belfast v Edinburgh, I’d have been pretty sure who would have come out on top. I’ve done the calculations, in cross conference games the Erhard team won 79% of time. If this idea were implemented, it may be the case that the Gardiner teams could attract better players in the guarantee that one team from the conference will make a final, but we can’t rely on that. It likely would mean the Final is a meaningless game of hockey.

    Apologies for the long comment, but I hope you appreciate a structured reply!
    Rob

  6. I agree with the point about the challenge cup. I would replace it with a crossover cup as was mentioned. I would suggest straightforward knockout style.

    10 Elite league teams + top 6 EPL teams from previous season.

    Drawn out of a bag, FA Cup style with the first team out being the home team. One off game. I think two legs would make upsets less likely (look at the Fife v Nottingham PO QF).

    I don’t think many EIHL teams would fancy Manchester, Basingstoke or Guildford away in a one off game. You could even say that the EPL teams and bottom two EIHL league teams get a home tie for the first round.

    Straightforward round of 16, QF, SF and Final, potentially with 2 legs for SF and final.

    Thoughts?

  7. A win on regulation should be 3 points then 2 for an overtime/so win and 1 for an overtime or so loss. A maximum of 3 points can be won from any game. You could win the league as it stands without ever winning in regulation!

    OTH

  8. What you describe for the Challenge Cup is already in place in the EPL for their League Cup – and it seems to work well. If everyone is doubling up on points, it’s a fairer system than some yes and some no. Also, it means that fixtures HAVE to be arranged so that each team has played the other home/away by Christmas.

    EPL teams are allowed to ice a maximum of 4 imports, with a limit to how many are on the ice at a time. There are other (minor) rule variations too. Playing a cross league cup would either mean heavily handicapping the Elite team, or accepting that, most likely, the EPL team will be walked over.

    In terms of the play-offs, I’ve never understood why the QF is played over two legs, while the arguably more important SF and F are only single games. Lots to think about over the summer.

  9. More importantly would be to change the points system

    3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an overtime win, 1 point for an overtime lose

    Saves any issue in trying to work out who’s actually won

  10. Have to say all of this makes sense but do the elite league have any? Seriously the conferences didn’t work last season and the challenge cup is a farce.

  11. they’re all good points and i agree – one thing that should be done is the balancing of the conferences (Belfast and Hull switch) as teams like blaze (me) and devils (you) watch our teams play better all year round vs the Scots yet we finish near them. It allows teams to be above us, the problem now is if they do that it stops Nottingham s chances of winning the league but the conferences were made to be based on area, not skill/ability. It is like having a a league and a b league but still comparing the teams together :(.

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