Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Case for Relegation

I know that I've spoken about this before - the use of relegation in soccer in Europe. There are obviously some main differences between professional soccer and professional hockey, but I think that if the NHL wanted to look into making necessary changes to be able to implement a two division league, they would be able to.

The professional hockey leagues are quite fractured in the states. You have the NHL, then there's the AHL, CHL, ECHL, and the IHL. The biggest problem I foresee right now is that some of the minor league teams are farm teams for the NHL teams. But, why couldn't they rearrange these relationships; my understanding is that the farm teams are owned separately from the NHL teams. The Rochester Americans are the farm team for the Sabres, however the Amerks have completely independent ownership. The relationship is based on an "Affliated Partnership" agreement that has existed for the past 25 years. There's no reason that affiliated partnerships can not still exist either. Chances are one of the teams would stay in the lower league and one would be in the upper league. If the NHL was willing to liberalize the sharing rules between the teams, while maintaining a maximum amount of transfers between teams, it would allow certain partnership groups to guard franchise players, even if one team was dropped to a lower league.

Basically the way it works here in France (I believe it is similar in the UK too, but I'll have to wait to live there to confirm this) is the bottom 4 teams from league 1 get dropped to league 2 for the next season. The top 4 teams from league 2 get pulled up to league 1 for the next year. The first tiebreaker is goal differential (I have no idea what the second tiebreaker is - head-to-head performance maybe...).

Anyway, the League 1 teams get much more money based on the collectively negotiated TV deals (this would obviously be a huge windfall in NHL [sarcasm, dripping, dripping]...but who knows maybe it would pull down more cash if they managed to make changes that increased popular interest). The League 1 teams can charge much more for tickets, merchandise, etc. Basically the League 1 teams have a much higher cash flow to be able to buy (or trade for) players. League 2 teams end up selling their good players to be able to survive. Shitty teams can't just keep buying and buying players (yes, the NY Rangers, I'm looking at you).

Why is this system good? Number one, it would immediately deal with the contraction issue, without actually contracting. The NHL could go to a schedule of 50 or 60 games, the league could be 20 teams, and the playoffs could just be the top 10 teams, or something. This means the playoffs won't go on for 18 months (or 2) so they won't be playing hockey in Southern FL in the middle of June.

Also, and this is one of the main points I think. Every fucking game matters. The way it is now, shitty teams that are 15 games out of playoff contention have no reason to care - they wait for "next year." With relegation, you have to play hard all the time - or you're going to be charging $5 per seat and really playing for "next year." Yesterday was the last day of the French league, and there were 6 teams that could have been among two relegated. The level at which they played, and the importance of these games to the coaches, players and fans is amazing if you've ever seen a hockey game of already eliminated teams in May. The stadiums were also sold out - imagine that...Basically in this case every team has reason to play every game (and not in the cliched, media day announcement way).

There are many things that would need to be worked out for this system to be effective, but I really think that they should look into doing it. It really could be the answer to some of the problems that are plaguing this sport.

1 comment:

Jeff K said...

Either your idea, or they go back to the "The Original Six" (BOS, NYR, CHI, TOR, MTL, DET). And maybe to keep it interesting, have "The Other Ten" (highly changeable, depending on team success). ESPN declined the option on the TV rights to the NHL for next season, by the way. They said it needs to be more "TV friendly". Uh oh, I don't like the sound of that.