With the news that the EPL side Guildford Flames have resigned Joe Kohut as their sixth import is it not time for a chance to be made to force clubs into a new challenge.
The Flames who are currently at the top of the EPL table and 6 points clear have signed the Slovakian as cover for the long term injured Curtis Huppe despite already carrying a spare import. (EPL rules say only 4 non-British trained players per bench.) The point is if sides at the top of the EPL or ENL have the cash to spend on spare imports to keep their team at full strength then isn’t the status quo becoming too easy for those teams. Are teams too comfortable being at the top end of the second or third tiers of British ice hockey to make the move up the ladder and face a tougher challenge?
If British ice hockey were to introduce a promotion and relegation system where by the champions of the EPL would move up to the EIHL and the ENL champions to the EPL this would give those clubs a new tougher challenge and the demoted teams a chance to regroup.
It is not an overnight solution but it is something to think about. According to some reports including from British ice hockey agent Gareth Chalmers there are teams in the EPL spending as much as clubs in the EIHL. Therefore a promoted club probably wouldn’t be spending that much more on their team just changing how they would spend it. Players’ contracts would also not be that much of a problem as most players are signed on a season-by-season basis and this would also negate the difference between the import quotas.
For the promoted teams there would also be increased revenue from larger attendances, more media exposure and more prize money to play for as well as a chance to try out a higher league without the risk of having to succeed. Whilst for the demoted teams it would be a chance to give their fans more wins than the previous season and gain some more media coverage by having a successful year. Demotion could also save some hockey clubs from going out of business completely by offering them an easy way to run their club at a cheaper price in a low league and give them the opportunity to return if their fortunes changed.
Promotion and relegation would also provide the league with a chance to reduce the number of meaningless games. At present with an 8-team playoff system teams in the middle order often end up playing out many games with little at stake. However with relegation a prospect the leagues could have fewer teams in the playoffs for example 5 or 6 and introduce a relegation playoff for the bottom 2 or 4. Thus making the season more interesting for longer and maintaining a climax to the season.
For the fans as well promotion and relegation is an opportunity. It would give them new places to go to, a chance to visit some of the biggest and best arenas in the country and the chance to see their team be a bigger team than they are now. Some fans seem to be very vocal in criticizing the EIHL and blaming the league for the fact that their team is not contending for the title. There are in any sport the haves and the have not’s and unfortunately the majority of teams are the have not’s but promotion and relegation gives teams the chance to move up that scale. Also it is a system widely understood by British sport fans due to its use in soccer and the promotion and relegation is used in hockey in Europe too.
It also gives rinks and their owners a reason to improve their facilities. This is because promotion could only be granted based on the standard of that clubs rink and because of the increased revenue streams on offer there is an inventive to make improvements.
There are some problems however. For instance there is the Scotland issue. What would happen if Dundee or Fife were to be relegated? They cannot really play in the EPL and the Scottish National League is at an amateur standard. And this system probably would have scuppered the Braehead Clan’s chances of coming into existence because they play in a large arena that needs good attendances from the start to survive. It also does not stop the top teams in the EIHL from loading up on imports to win the league or the issues around the salary cap.
But the point isn’t that this is a quick fix and would not solve all the problems of the EIHL and EPL. This is to argue that a new system like this would stop a culture whereby teams and fans become too comfortable with success at a lower level and end up becoming jealous and wary of those at the top of the hockey pile blaming the league set up for why they are not the best in the country.
See more on British ice hockey at www.getrealhockey.com