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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Improving the NHL (and KHL?) - Mad Ramblings from A Hockey-Deprived Fan

World Championship Hockey - No Stanley Cup on the line, but who would complate about hockey in summer? Can there be a new three-way deal for players in the NHL/KHL that the IIHF would support?

  • Strong fan base in two nations, with potential for growth (though Bettman has not yet discovered the magical formula for converting people to hockey fans)
  • Hockey is the only major sport small enough to incorporate tiny Canadian markets as well as the largest American metropolitans
  • Increased competition due to 30 teams in a small league that is equipped with a salary cap
  • Loyalty by the NHL and NHLPA to traditional franchises (a la Edmonton, Pittsburgh)
  • Ice is more expensive to maintain than dirt/grass/sod, or whatever, making grassroots development of the game impractical in Southern parts of the continent, due to temperature fluctuations going N to S
  • The other major hockey centers are across the pond in Europe (and to a limited degree, Asia), going W to E
  • Expansion quotas not strict enough, or nonexistent
  • 82 game season
Suggestions for a better NHL (and better KHL, perhaps)
  • Either increase the number of teams so that more major markets are represented (I'm sure Toronto can handle another team, and how about Las Vegas?) or shrink the league to focus on saving the teams the NHL claims to be committed to - a lot of the current teams (Phoenix, Tampa Bay, to name a few) are annually in deep waters in terms of fan support and financial support
  • Shorter NHL season of 60-70 games, with a pre-playoffs wildcard round (5-10 games against other wildcards) for teams in the 7th -10th spots in each conference, focusing all the Spring attention on teams trying to get in, and not the teams who have already made it
  • Very short Champions league style of hockey tournament with private clubs from the top professional leagues participating, though it would require an NHLPA exemption for contracts signed for non-NHL competitive activity, with a separate paid bonus as agreed to both by the owner of the team, the NHL, and the player agent; this would another dimension to the existing dynamic of one-way and two-way contracts, perhaps giving birth to the three-way contract, referring to such tournaments; not sure what the NHLPA opinion is on the existing World Championships of Hockey, considering their current position on post-Vancouver Winter Olympics hockey participation by NHL players; an example would be if Ryan Potulny signed a three-way contract: if he never suited up for the Oilers for the 60-70 games or the subsequent playoffs (if any), he could still represent the team in off-season NHL club competitions with teams from the SEL or whatever, if the other players ahead of him in the depth chart don't have such bonuses or clauses in their existing contracts
  • This may be a problem for players who are oft-injured; perhaps the player would not receive the bonus or clause in their contract allowing for non-NHL professional competition
Why this helps the NHL:
  • Expanding to large markets provides revenue and buffer (damage absorption) if bad teams have to be relocated or moved, or in a worst-case-scenario, disbanded through a waiver draft
  • Shrinking to a manageable size just eliminates bad franchises outright
  • Playing less games in the tougher league (games that matter) means that veterans have more time to focus on the playoffs and off-season (for family, training, or whatever), whereas younger prospects and players have further advantages to development by representing the team in international tournaments; the only problem I can foresee is if a player is signed to one team in the KHL but is drafted by an NHL team - the player would have to honour their contract regardless
  • Playing a shorter season and having another competitive tournament to compete in means that NHL players have less time off the ice
  • With the World Championship and new tournament, players eliminated from the playoffs can still represent both their team and country in the off-season, contract permitting


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