I originally posted this at Silver Seven, the Ottawa Senators blog on SB Nation. I re-posted this here since this is the blog for world hockey, and it may be interesting for some readers here. Enjoy.
Tanking. The worst thing to ever happen to the NHL since Alexandre Daigle. It actually brought Alex Daigle into the Ottawa Senators history books. The mere art of tanking makes me shiver. It's a form of losing, and losing, and more losing, e.g. Edmonton Oilers. Since the NHL introduced the lottery system rule of having the five-worst teams in the NHL made into "magic balls" and have a chance at grabbing the first overall pick in the Entry Draft, an possibly the next superstar.
I will admit, I at times was advocating the Sens to purposely lose games so they can get a better lottery position. When I think about it, it was totally wrong. The goal of an organization is to be successful, not to fail in professional games. Even if it will mean to lose a chance to get a Taylor Hall or a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, creating a losing culture around your team only increases your chances of getting "second-hand losing", like the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders (sorry to any Isles and Cats fans out there). And since I'm also a huge soccer fan (EPL and La Liga, screw MLS), it got me thinking whether or not the National Hockey League could ever endure a promotion and relegation system like in Europe.
My first example will be the English Premier League. Now I know, and do know that everyone reading up to this point is saying "YOU CAN'T COMPARE THE EPL TO THE NHL, YOU DIMWIT.". I know, I know people. Two different specimens. But as a mad scientist, why not experiment and compare the results? So, the EPL has a system where its worst three teams are booted off to the lower league, the NPower Championship. The two best teams from the NPower Championship get promoted to the English Premier League, and teams ranked 3-6 that season participate in a playoff to decide the 3rd entrant into the EPL next season. Last season, Blackpool, Birmingham, and West Ham United all finished in the bottom three of the EPL, therefore relegated. They sucked during the season, so they should feel shame and should not participate in the best soccer league in the world next season. As you see, in Europe they are rewarding the best teams, not like in North America where we are in sense rewarding the worst teams because they get a shot at the 1st overall pick. In the NPower Championship last season, Queen's Park Rangers and Norwich City finished 1-2, while Swansea City won the promotion playoff to get the third spot. All three will play in the EPL this coming season. Great, right? The best teams in the "second division" of English soccer get rewarded for their hard work and determination, and get to play one level up next season. To mirror that, the Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup this past season. Although it was great and all, what happened after? They still remain in the AHL, a league that still has work to do to attract the regular hockey nut.
Now, let's get away from soccer. Did you know the Swedish Elite League also has a P and R system, albeit quite different? There's the SEL of course, on top of Swedish hockey. Below it is the Allsvenkan. What happens is that ever year the two worst teams from the SEL, and the four best teams of the Allsvenkan play each other in a 10-round-robin called the Kvalserien in March and April. For example, Sodertajle SK and Modo Hockey were the two worst teams in the SEL in the last season, while Vaxjo Lakers HC, Rogle BK, Orebro HK, and Mora IK where the four best teams in the Allsvenkan in the past season. After, the best two teams out of the Kvalserien are promoted to the SEL for the next season, while the last four teams are relegated to the Allsvenkan for the next season. Vaxjo Lakers HC and Modo Hockey were the best two in the 2011 Kvalserien, therefore they were promoted while the rest were relegated. Confused already? Join the club.
But from what you can see in the examples, there are major difference between the NHL and the SEL or EPL. First off, the league that serves as the "second divison" of hockey in North America, the AHL, is mostly used as a development league. Each NHL team is affiliated with each AHL team. If we had promotion and relegation, we would have to change those affiliations every single season, therefore prospects and players on two-way contracts would have to move every season. Secondly, the huge major difference between the EPL and the NHL is that we have a draft, they don't. They get their players by buying them, most of the players that play on a team were drafted. So if we had promotion or relegation, how would the Draft Board go? Who would get the 1st pick? Those are questions too complicated, but I think I may be able to solve them.
To implement and promotion and relegation system, I would first off change the landscape of the hockey pyramid in North America. The NHL stays 1st, obviously. After, I combine the AHL and the ECHL into one, keeping it as the AHL. If we want teams after one season being promoted to the NHL, I would want markets that can support an NHL team. So teams like the Bingo Senators, although great, would be contracted under this plan. The teams that would be injected in the AHL would be markets that want a hockey team and can afford one, keeping teams like the Toronto Marlies, Hamilton Bulldogs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Connecticut Whale, Lake Erie Monsters, Charlotte Checkers, Chicago Wolves, Milwaukee Admirals, Houston Aeros, and the San Antonio Rampage. Add teams in Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Quebec City, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Brooklyn, Saskatoon, Indianapolis, Halifax, and a second team in Montreal. A 20-team league, perfect. What I would do after is create the NDHL, or the National Development Hockey League. This league would serve purposely to prospects and players who NHL teams look to develop. This would be the "third division" of North American Hockey. This is where teams like in Binghamton that were contracted from the AHL and ECHL would go. 30 teams would be in the NDHL. Teams with prospects in the NHL and the AHL make deals with the teams in the NDHL for prospects. As an example, the Sens decide David Rundblad needs conditioning in the NDHL. They send a memo to all 30 NDHL teams saying Rundblad is available for a some of money, a transfer if you may until Ottawa calls him up. The Hershey Bears come calling, and offer Bryan Murray $500,000 for Rundblad. Untill he is called up by the Sens, he plays with the Bears in the NDHL.
What happens every season if that the three worst teams in the NHL are relegated to the AHL, while the Calder Cup winners, the runner-up, and the winner of a tiebraker playoff between the two semi-finalists in the AHL are promoted to the NHL, and so on every season. So, this past season if a system like this were in place, the Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche, and the Florida Panthers would play in the AHL next season. This would suck, right? Not as much revenue as in the NHL, likely fact that attendance will drop, and fan interest will as well. So this would be a deterrent, an incentive if you may to make these clubs competitive so not only will they win a promotion spot to the NHL, but make sure they never go down to the AHL again, and eventually challenge for Lord Stanley.
What would happen with the Draft, you say? Well, it's simple. Involve the "new AHL" teams in the Draft now, and make it to 14 rounds. The first three overall picks go to the promoted sides. The next three picks go to the relegated sides. After those six, the 27 other teams in the NHL that did not get relegated go from worst to best. So the first round would have 33 picks, the second round 27 picks, all made from the other teams in the new AHL, and so on until the end of Round 14.
Now that may be all fantasy, and it will likely not happen in my lifetime. It's just a thing that if it can be implemented, league parity and overall competitiveness would be much, much stronger. It's very radical, and lots of hurdles need to be passed. When reading this all over again, I think this would also solve another issue, expansion and viability of hockey markets. Now all cities that "could" handle a professional hockey team get one, whether in the NHL or AHL. If they remain competitive and successful as an overall franchise and entity, then they could move up. Fans clamouring for a franchise in Quebec City get one in the new AHL, and now they are tested to see whether or not they can actually belong in the NHL. This kind of system benefits those who try, and throws a fist at those who don't. I'd love to see the day when the Florida Panthers challenge the Detroit Red Wings for organizational depth and success. It makes everyone battle, and the competition even that much fiercer. And at the end of the day, we say to tanking, the Tank it For Daigle, or the Tank it For Tavares, never again.