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…