Following Up: Five Ways To Fix The Elite League

Wow.

Late on Friday night, I posted Five Ways to Fix The Elite League-five points that I thought might help the EIHL build on a season which, while it showed up several flaws that still needed to be fixed, was still arguably the most exciting in the league’s ten-season history. I expected a little debate, maybe a single comment or two from regular readers of the blog, and then things to fade a little into the ether the same way most posts do.

Instead, the post ended up being the most popular in the history of the site, receiving over 1200 hits in 24 hours (the previous record-holder, a post on the Braehead Clan, was just over 800), generating something like 300 replies on to me on Twitter and across UK forums, and being discussed and/or praised on Twitter by some of the most influential figures in the EIHL, such as Cardiff’s GM Brent Pope. And those were just the comments I was able to see. Clearly, the post has set people thinking. And the level of response was such that it’s worth a follow-up. So here is the feedback addressed, point by point.

Point 1: Kill the Challenge Cup/bring in the Autumn Cup

It seemed the majority were in favour of the changes to the Challenge Cup competition and its replacement with an “Autumn Cup” to streamline it…however it was interesting that some, for example Dave Simms on Twitter, seemed to think that the slight shortening of the cup competition would take away games, so any disagreement came in on financial grounds-with Simms saying “implement all of these changes and the league is bankrupt in a year”. Leaving aside the fact that that seems like hyperbole, it should be made clear that these proposals were made with the intention that the number of games each team is guaranteed to play wouldn’t change…all that would happen is that the first eight games of the season would be CC/Autumn Cup group games as well as league, with all afterwards counting for league only. If anything, this would increase the prestige of the league title as it’s effectively adding eight more games to the league season without having to find any extra dates to do so.

A lot of fans suggested a straight-knockout Cup competition similar to football’s FA Cup, inviting the top six teams in the EPL to take part also. Sorry-but while this competition is a good idea in theory, I considered and rejected this idea purely because a straight-KO would need EPL teams to take part-and the relationships between the two leagues are such that to organise such a competition would require a decision on which league’s rules to use…if you use EPL rules then over half the EIHL team’s imports sit out, use EIHL rules and the EPL teams are potentially at a major disadvantage. Couple that with the sometimes-frosty relationship between the two leagues and the travelling distances involved and I just don’t think this is viable. Maybe in the BNL days it may have worked, but arguably at the moment the league rules are simply too far apart for EPL teams to be convinced of the benefits.

Point 2: Minimum Brits/development licence

This was the point that divided a lot of people, with some arguing that “you can’t dictate where the established Brits play” or that “most of the good Brits nowadays are under 25” or simply “the big teams will still load up on the GB team”. Some even suggested that a “veteran rule” would force older Brits out of the league altogether.

I don’t think there’s any way that bringing young talent into the league will force older Brits out-but it will increase the competition for their jobs-which is surely only a good thing for the standard of the league?

Interestingly, some suggested implementing the EPL rule whereby only three imports can be on the ice at any one time. Can you IMAGINE the rumpus that would cause in the EIHL? That said, it might be worth a try…

Point 3: All Points Count For Everything

This was the most popular point by far…it seems that all the fans want in the EIHL is a logical, simple scoring system that leaves no confusion over who’s where in the league OR conference.

Point 4: Reducing Playoff ticket prices

Again, the main argument against this was that “it has to be run as a commercial enterprise”-which I can see the point of…but frankly, if the EIHL is relying on one weekend a year to ensure the stability of the league as a whole then there are far bigger issues to address than the ticket prices.

Point 5: Conference-based playoffs.

There was a clear split here. Gardiner fans, in the main, loved it. The fans that didn’t? Sheffield, Nottingham, and to a lesser degree Belfast.

Well, of course, since there’s a big chance that one of the “big teams” may not even make the playoff QFs under the conference-based system. Apparently to some this is a “bad thing”.

To me, it’s called sport.

The main argument was “we want the best teams in the league in the playoff final”. Well, the NHL very rarely has the best teams in the league face off in the Stanley Cup Final (last year, an 8th-seed won it) and they seem to be doing just fine, thanks. Almost invariably in the EIHL era the playoff final weekend has seen the same four or five teams make it, with Cardiff being the only one to make every playoff despite never winning a league title. Every playoff weekend has seen at least three of Sheffield, Nottingham, Cardiff, Coventry and Belfast compete.

Before Hull last season, Newcastle in 2005/06 (seven seasons ago) were the last team outside these five to make the weekend.

Clearly, if the EIHL is going to truly claim that it’s more competitive in more than just a token fashion, something needs to change.

I refuse to accept that a Gardiner-Erhardt system will automatically lead to a one-sided one-off final, either. Look at Nottingham taking two games to (barely) dispose of Fife this season, say, or teams like Edinburgh beating teams like Nottingham and Sheffield. The whole point of the playoffs is that it’s a SEPARATE COMPETITION to the league…if you want “the two best teams” in it as a fan then we may as well just have a 1st-v-2nd playoff final every year and be done with it. Clearly, though, that’s a horrendous idea.

Right?

One of the questions I’ve been asked most often is which changes I’d pick if I could only implement some of the changes I’ve thought of-rank them, if you will.

Of the five recommendations, the two that I think NEED to happen are the change to the scoring system and conference based playoffs, closely followed by the Challenge Cup changes. The “cash-cow playoffs” would be nice cheaper, but I think that if you make it more likely fans will see three competitive games and three titles won over the weekend, the price becomes a (little) less of an issue.

There’s my reaction to people’s concerns, anyway. The over-riding message I’d send to the Elite League owners given the chance, though, is this:

You’ve taken the first steps towards a truly sustainable/competitive league with the conference system, even if at times the scoring system was needlessly complicated. It’s the first step in bringing the game back to the people who watch it ALL over the league, as opposed to the traditional powerhouses. You’ve seen the response from fans and people within the game-the excellent initiative brought in by Brent Pope has seen to that.

Now, it’s your turn.

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