October 05, 2007

Nate DiMeo's Plan to Save the NHL: The NHL should be more like pro soccer. No, I'm not crazy.

A nice fit with chico's column, too.

posted by Amateur to hockey at 08:34 AM - 20 comments

I love the idea, but my main concern is what would happen to hockey in non hockey markets like Carolina or Phoenix if their teams were relegated. It would kill hockey in those areas, wouldn't it? Last years bottom three from each Conference: Eastern: Philly, Washington, Boston Western: Phoenix, Edmonton, Chicago Wow.

posted by emoeby at 11:05 AM on October 05, 2007

I have no problem with watching Phoenix or Chicago get relegated.

posted by igottheblues at 11:27 AM on October 05, 2007

Thing is, NA pro leagues only compete with eachother. Internal competition is second fiddle to "parity." I'd love to see the free market system in the NHL. Maybe the Leafs wouldn't treat each season as four quarterly reports.

posted by garfield at 11:46 AM on October 05, 2007

This could actually work. First, though, you would have to re-organize the lower league structure. I'm thinking about the rather bloated AHL here. Perhaps if you have 3 major second-tier leagues, each with 2 divisions, a very nice 8-team playoff (6 division winners plus 2 wild cards) could be set up. The top 3 (winner & loser in the championship game plus the winner of the "consolation" game) move up to the NHL. The threat of relegation might be exactly what the Jacobs family needs to start caring about more than the bottom line in Boston. With 5 or 6 AHL teams within easy driving distance of Boston, the Bruins would soon begin losing fans, and more importantly, ticket sales. I somehow can't see too many NHL owners agreeing to something like this, but if it were to mean the long-term survival of the NHL, perhaps they could be talked into it. Another point is what happens to player salaries on the relegated teams? Could all NHL contracts be altered to the "2-way" contract that many fringe players work under? You can bet there'd be some real passion on the ice if players on the relegation-threatened teams suddenly started looking at their personal bottom line.

posted by Howard_T at 11:58 AM on October 05, 2007

I specifically excluded relegation from that column, because anything that would potentially diminish revenue for the owners would get summarily laughed out of the boardroom. Getting past that, though, the two sports where promotion/relegation would work best are soccer (MLS has at least considered an arrangement with the USL, which is huge and seems to have a dozen or so clubs every year that are healthier and draw better than the bottom MLS clubs) and baseball (no, I'm not drunk; if the affiliate system could be massaged so that the top teams wouldn't have to flush their rosters upon promotion, it could work. I know how big an if that is, though). But that said, I'd be fine with this plan. 20 teams is a very small league, but maybe 24 or 26 would be alright. Though, please, keep Neil Peart out of this.

posted by chicobangs at 12:05 PM on October 05, 2007

Nope. Don't like it. I'm for contraction - not relegation. The competition level in the AHL, ECHL, etc. is so far from the NHL it would be embarrassing. And it's yet again a scenario where the actual fans of the sport are slapped across the face in favour of trying to woo some fence-sitting sportsfan who couldn't really give a crap.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 01:01 PM on October 05, 2007

Actually, I think this would feed the hardcore fan in non-NHL markets a lot better, ultimately. If Carolina got relegated, they might fold, but that wouldn't mean the end of hockey in Raleigh. The Canes have enough fans now to at least form the nugget of support for any local team (cf. Hartford). Any change this large would have a lot of casualties, but honestly, it would shake out a lot of the professional deadwood in the league. And the owners who really were committed to hockey as a sport would hang on, because ultimately, this would strengthen regional rivalries as well as provide season-long drama, which itself sells tickets. If Washington got relegated, for example, Ted Leonsis wouldn't dump the team. He's clearly committed to hockey in DC. (I hope; he's taken a lot of crap the last few years and he seems to truly love that team.) Minnesota lost their NHL franchise and picked up another one without skipping a beat. I don't believe the top of the AHL and the bottom of the NHL are all that far apart. And if this happened, that gap would only close. Think of the boost at the AHL level as that happens, eh? The entire sport becomes stronger, not just at the top, but all the way down. (I'm just drooling at the thought of the Wolves getting promoted the same year the Blackhawks get relegated. Talk about putting the NHL back on the sports pages in Chicago.)

posted by chicobangs at 01:45 PM on October 05, 2007

Thank you weedy, someone had to say it. This is a direct slap in the face of the fans. I have been a rabid pens fan my whole life. I hate the Flyers, Devils and Rangers in that order. It would be possible for my favorite team to fold, or rivalries may disappear for years, decades or forever. This is the single dumbest idea I have heard yet to fix the NHL.

posted by Steel_Town at 03:19 PM on October 05, 2007

I'd much rather support a failing franchise than watch some kind of free market/sporting natural selection see my team cease to be. /sarcasm. I'm also a Libertarian, so there you go.

posted by igottheblues at 04:16 PM on October 05, 2007

For those with opinions like Weedy's, who think relegation/promotion would create such mismatches, please look more closely at the experience in European soccer leagues. Teams coming up know they have at least one season of vastly larger revenue and buy players to help close the difference--Wigan and Reading the last two seasons have shown its possible to be competitive, and Reading even qualified for Europe their second season up. As for rivalries, I understand the sentiment but don't agree; why should you care who the opposition is if you're a fan of a specific team and the game? There will always be six players in different kit on the ice when the puck drops to root against. Of course neither contraction nor relegation/promotion will happen in the NHL or other major American professional league, even MLS, not as long as owners have to pay multimillion dollar fees to get a franchise, expansion or existing. Do the math: Either change in the NHL would need the votes of 2/3rds of the owners, which is 22, and a 20 team league would mean 12 departures (temporary or not). A 24 team league proposal might squeak through, somehow, if the situation gets dire enough. The threat of lawsuits, though, does not seem like a big obstacle to me (note: IANAL) as long as the Player's Union accepts the deal. Contraction or, even more so, R/P would be a clear business decision and courts generally give a very wide berth to them. Possibly a breach of contract claim might be viable but defensible if the reality on the ground is dire. Of course the league could try some type of prepackaged Chapter 11 deal if they find a really creative legal team. Returning to reality, as long as there are suckers willing to step up and buy any franchise that comes available, or do a Mario and get it from a default, then the league will stay at 32 teams. Or more. Media deals make up only 4 percent of each of franchise's revenue. Your league is almost entirely dependent on gate receipts and arena revenue. Wow, I did not realize the situation was so bad for the NHL!

posted by billsaysthis at 04:27 PM on October 05, 2007

I think that it was Tina Turner who once said, "Two men enter, one man leaves". I am not sure its directly relevant but I love the quote. I am all for the suggestion of relegation especially in the NHL where they have the most trouble drawing large scale interest from the media and the general public. Then I can start rooting for these guys.

posted by kyrilmitch_76 at 06:09 PM on October 05, 2007

You know you could have promotion/relegation within the NHL. Everyone who discusses the promotion/relegation idea in North America always talks about promotion/relegation between leagues, but for a variety of obvious reasons that's not going to happen in the North American sports cartel system (unless the leagues in question do some kind of merger). Don't think of promotion/relegation as demotion to the minor leagues. Think of it as a yearly scheduling readjustment - ie, you have a crappy season, the next year, you get a crappy schedule playing against the other crappy teams. You have a good year, the next year you get a good schedule playing against the other good teams. You're still in the NHL, you still have to meet all of the financial and other requirements of an NHL franchise, the only thing that changes are the names of the teams you are playing against and the name of the trophy you are competing for and/or the name of the division/conference/whatever that you are playing in. Same thing goes for MLS/USL in soccer here in North America. Promotion/relegation can't happen for a lot of economic and political reasons due to the way that the professional game is organized here. But promotion/relegation within a single league, as described above, is entirely doable. It means that you keep reshuffling each team's "schedule set" each year, based on ability, thus, "like plays against like" and you have far fewer mismatches and blowouts. And you double the number of teams that have a realistic chance of having a winning season (assuming a two division pro/rel settup). I don't know if such a system would "save" the NHL, but it would make it a whole lot more fun to watch.

posted by dave2007 at 07:20 PM on October 05, 2007

As long as you have revenue sharing, that idea only hurts the good teams as they end up having a significantly harder schedule than crappy teams. It's almost the opposite of teams' incentive to excel during the regular season to play the 8th seed round one.

posted by jmd82 at 11:15 PM on October 05, 2007

The author of this article called the work stoppage a strike. It wasn't a strike, it was a lock-out. That is all.

posted by NoMich at 11:19 PM on October 05, 2007

What Dave2007 said makes a lot of sense too. If you can't demote bad teams to a lower league you can always promote the good ones to a higher league which kind of amounts to the same thing without the legal drama. At one point when the people crying about the lack of parity in Major League Baseball were at their loudest I remember some meaningless discussion of creating a "Super League" of 8-10 of the top teams with continued membership contingent on performance. I use the baseball example because I remember reading it somewhere but I think its truly a much better idea for hockey.

posted by kyrilmitch_76 at 01:24 PM on October 06, 2007

For those with opinions like Weedy's, who think relegation/promotion would create such mismatches, please look more closely at the experience in European soccer leagues. Teams coming up know they have at least one season of vastly larger revenue and buy players to help close the difference--Wigan and Reading the last two seasons have shown its possible to be competitive, and Reading even qualified for Europe their second season up. As for rivalries, I understand the sentiment but don't agree; why should you care who the opposition is if you're a fan of a specific team and the game? There are wayyyyy more futbol players than hockey players. Europe has the advantage of having less distance between teams and many cities have many teams. Plus, I don't see how relegation improves TV revenue - and with gate receipts so important, there's an arena problem, too. There aren't enough big ones.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 01:56 PM on October 06, 2007

The arena issue is a real one that would have to be addressed (though googling around, there are some decent-sized hockey venues out there), but Weedy, there seem to be enough players to support many leagues at all kinds of levels, even now at basically the modern nadir of the sport. And the continent is getting smaller and better-covered for travel all the time. The travel issue is only going to fade as the years go on (and this kind of change would take years to sell and put into effect, if it happens at all, so I'd bet that won't be an issue by the time this sees the light of day). Promotion and relegation would fluctuate with the individual markets, but it certainly wouldn't hurt overall national TV revenue. In fact, you'd find some natural rivalries where none exist at the moment, and nothing, but nothing, drives viewership among casual fans and out-of-market viewers (which is the market these proposals are aiming for) like having a true underdog team in the mix.

posted by chicobangs at 02:56 PM on October 06, 2007

"As long as you have revenue sharing, that idea only hurts the good teams as they end up having a significantly harder schedule than crappy teams. It's almost the opposite of teams' incentive to excel during the regular season to play the 8th seed round one." This is a typical reaction from North American sports fans, and it is caused by a number of misconceptions that I'd like to address. Revenue sharing. This concept often gets confused with the concept of parity. The two are completely different things, though they do influence each other and thus get confused. The purpose of revenue sharing originally was to financially stabilize the league in question, by ensuring that clubs having a bad year would still get enough income coming in to be around the next year and have a chance to improve their situation; it was not originally intended to cause parity. Parity on the other hand is the idea that you have to punish successful teams and reward unsuccessful teams in various ways so as to "handicap" or even things out, and this is done in various ways (at least from my understanding of the NFL; NHL may do some of these things differently) such as through college draft picks and jiggering the schedule to give poorly performing teams easier schedules the following season, etc. I don't see how my proposal above conflicts with either revenue sharing or parity. In fact, it's just taking the concept of fiddling with the next season's schedule to give poorly performing teams an easier schedule, to its logical conclusion. In point of fact, the existing parity system, in the way it addresses schedules (at least in the NFL the last time I checked; I'm not as familiar with the NHL scheduling system), already "punishes" the good teams and rewards the bad teams. So this proposal I'm discussing isn't really that radical of a change from the already existing systems used in North American sports, once you get over the initial conceptual hurdles. As for the rest of the objections above, IMO it is looking at things a bit backwards. You seem to be thinking that the good teams get a harder schedule but still have to compete against the bad teams with their easy schedule for Stanley Cup playoff spots; that is not what I am proposing at all! Sure, the better teams get a harder schedule; but really that's a reward, not a punishment, because being in the upper division (or whatever it would be called) means you have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup that year, and that means a lot of prestige and chance to earn money in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Being in the lower division means you are in competition that year not for the Stanley Cup, but rather for a chance to get back into the upper division and a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup the next year. There could also be a post-season playoffs and cup competition for the top lower division teams so they could get some post season revenue, too. What this means in practice is that the top half of the league are only playing against other top half teams, so sure their schedules are "harder" but by not having all those games against the bottom half of the league, fans get to see better matchups and fewer craptactular mismatches and blowouts. The same goes for the bottom half of the league: you get better, more even matchups, ie, you get "parity" by adjusting the "schedule set" every year by moving the top two or three or four teams up from the lower division, and moving the bottom two or three or four teams down from the upper division. Better matchups, more evenly matched teams, means a better product, as well, for the fans to watch. Yes, this means for the year in question all the lower division teams are "out" of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but they have that year to turn things around and get back into the upper division. That's their motivation, that's their fan's motivation, it works quite well as an incentive for players to play and fans to watch. It may take away the illusion that "any team can win it all" in any given season, but we all know that that is just an illusion. It takes more than one season to turn around a cellar dweller into a championship contender; this system acknowledges that fact and gives the lower teams an easy schedule for a year and a better chance to turn things around, and it gives the upper teams a chance to compete just amongst themselves and thus makes their games that year that much more meaningful than they would have been under the existing system.

posted by dave2007 at 07:06 PM on October 06, 2007

Hypothetical situation: You drop down the Caps and and bring up the Bears. Nice, you just dropped a franchise and brought up it's minor league affiliate. Seriously, who could possibly think the Bears be a better option than the Caps? Or the Phantoms than the Flyers? Or the Icehogs over the Blackhawks? They're the feeder team so if the NHL team doesn't have the talent what makes anyone think the minor league team (typically run by the big-league team) would or could? Most, if not all, top-level minor league teams (oxymoron?) are affiliated with an NHL team so if the talent were ready or able to compete, said talent would already be in the NHL.

posted by SummersEve at 01:03 AM on October 07, 2007

Not a bad idea but the money grubbing owners would never go for it.

posted by SportsNarrative at 07:47 PM on October 11, 2007

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