No matter how things change, they always stay the same.
I’m in self-imposed exile from the Elite League. Anyone who was aware of my acrimonious break-up with the Steelers will probably know I’m staying away from the product as much as possible, which is fairly hard when you’re a hockey fan in the UK with friends who still attend games.
I keep a passing interest in what happens, mostly because of said friends who follow teams and want the best for them, mostly. The thing is, I could write the script for the Elite League season and it would play out almost verbatim year after year.
Let’s have a look at it:
One team starts on fire, looks unstoppable, loses one game to unlikely conquerors and season starts to crumble. Check.
Nottingham stumble early on but somehow still keep getting results despite Cage forum members declaring this year’s squad the worst in living memory. Check.
Belfast fans think the walls are falling down but somehow are still a pretty decent hockey team. Check.
DoPS make some questionable decisions that bring claims of bias and favouritism, even if there isn’t. Check.
A top team really struggles early on. Check.
Coventry fans have unrealistic expectations and so are surprised when things don’t just fall into place. Check.
A Gardiner team makes waves early doors, prompting yet more conversations about the easier conference and scrapping the system. Check.
Edinburgh kick and claw but ultimately languish beh…oh. That’s new. That’s different.
The point I’m trying to make is, Edinburgh aside, the story of the EIHL is the same every year. You know, come March, the title will belong to one of Belfast, Cardiff, Nottingham or Sheffield. Coventry will sneak into the playoffs because they always bloody do, and Fife will just be there, happy to be invited, glad to be with the big boys at all (from a business standpoint at least).
Fans keep saying teams are improving year on year, but the teams all seem to be improving at the same level. If Sheffield have become 10% better, then so have Belfast, so have Nottingham, so have Dundee, so have Fife. So sure, the on-ice product might be a bit nicer to watch, but in terms of overall results, it just leads to the same old, same old.
There’s no chance of a Calgary-like charge up the league and into contention. Sure, a team could fluke their way into the playoffs, play well for four games and win that title, but with our obsession over here with “league title is everything”, that’ll be passed off as tinpot if it was ever to happen. Imagine the reaction if Hull had beaten the Steelers in the semi-final last year, then gone on to beat Coventry. “Well done little guys, but you won’t win the big one.”
The league is far too predictable, and far too stagnant, but nothing will change while people just accept it. I’d love to see Edinburgh finish top three, but if they did, the league would revert back to even fixtures and every barrier would be put in the way to stop it happening again.
Look at it another way. I’m covering the NHL now, and in another league where there’s supposedly the big boys and the rest, the goddamn Arizona Coyotes, of all teams, have been shocking people left, right and centre. Will they win the cup this year? Probably not, But it’ll be a hell of an exciting ride.
The same last year, with my Calgary Flames. People wrote them off at every opportunity but they still made the post-season dance. You just don’t get that over here.
“Aww look at Edinburgh, they’ve got a couple of wins. That’s cute. They won’t win the league.”
“Yeah but all they need is a few wi…”
“Let me stop you there. No.”
And they’re right. Edinburgh won’t win a 52-game league. They’re better than they were, but the big boys have too much. Now, put them into a playoff position. Maybe the league is shorter, over 40 games. All they have to do is finish top four in their conference, or top eight in the league? That’s doable.
Now, put them in a series of games against other teams. Maybe over the course of a season they wouldn’t beat Sheffield or Belfast to the league, but over 3-5 games? Any team can beat another on any night, and they’d only have to do that three times out of five, or twice out of three.
Ha, look at me. Wanting revolution when many people are happy with what already exists. Fair play, that’s your opinion. But to me, the league is too predictable. You know what’s going to be the ultimate outcome, and that just doesn’t appeal to me.
For those of you who have a passing interest in the NHL, I now write for Matchsticks and Gasoline, the Calgary Flames blog on SB Nation. Follow me on Twitter @LiamPMcCausland to watch me regularly melt down over Bob Hartley’s coaching.