One of the biggest issues facing fans of the National Hockey League is excitement during the regular season. As a fan of The Premiership in English Football, I see a lot of things they do right to make the regular season and indeed every game exciting. For those North Americans who do not follow it, I will point out some unique things they do. During the "regular season" in most European leagues a champion is crowned based on the total number of points accumulated in a season. No playoffs. In the Premiership, the top four teams qualify for the "Champions League" which is a tournament that goes on throughout the season. The next team, fifth place qualifies for Europa League, which is a second tier tournament similar to the Champions League, a second team qualifies as well, but it's complicated as to how.
These two tournaments start out as a round robin, with the two top teams advancing to the knock out stage. In that stage, you are in a home and home series and the winner scores the most goals in both games, which is called aggregate. Back to the league, the bottom three teams get relegated to the lower division, with the top three coming up from that lower division. There are also a number of tournaments during the season for English Clubs from the top three divisions including the FA cup and Carling Cup. In all European football leagues and tournaments, except for final games, it's three points for a win, one point for a tie.
The average NHL fan looks at this as a complicated, difficult to navigate system with no playoffs to determine a champion. Boring! A fair assessment until you look at the meaning for each regular season game. With full disclosure, I am a Liverpool fan. I get up sometimes as early as 5 a.m. Mountain time to go out with our local Liverpool supporters club and watch the matches. Every game this season meant a lot. We have our natural rivals, crosstown Everton and the team the entire league loves to hate, Manchester United. Early in the season, with a poor start, we were in the relegation zone (bottom three teams), then moved up the table, sold and signed some new players mid-season and ended the season well, almost qualifying for the Europa League right up to the last game of the season.
What if the NHL, were more like European Football? Lets start with the notion that the Stanley Cup playoffs are the most exciting in all of sports and leave it as it is, for now. The first change I would love to see the NHL consider is three points for a win, one for a tie in the regular season. No overtime or shootout in the regular season. The amount of tie games has not decreased in a meaningful way under this system and when I go to an NHL midweek game that is tied, many people leave prior to the overtime and shootout. You get the bonus point to win outright in regulation, not to lose in overtime or shootout. This one change would dramatically increase the intensity of a regular season game. I think many NHL fans would agree with this, so on to the next more controversial notion.
Lets consider relegation of the bottom teams and promotion of the second division or in this case, the AHL. This notion will take a lot of change and quite possibly never happen, but the thought is an exciting one. In 2010-2011 Colorado, Edmonton, Florida and NY Islanders (three of four former Stanley Cup Champions) had the least amount of points, so lets say they get relegated. In 2010-2011 AHL Wilkes Barre/Scranton, Milwaukee, Portland, Maine and Hershey had the most points and would be promoted in their place. Imagine how exciting it would be for the entire league to see the NY Islanders go into Manchester, New Hampshire, or the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins playing the Hershey Bears in a 6,000 seat arena. Some great stories and match ups to create interest in the regular season. There are ways the league can maximize revenues and they only need to look to the Premiership for the answers.
The mid-season tournament is something that is more realistic. Lets say all, NHL and AHL teams qualify for the tournament. The draw is done with a ball draw like they do in English football, one ball per team. Some exciting match ups take place and there is a chance that the underdog can win and move on. Again, some fascinating match ups and North American wide excitement. This trophy would be much less prestigious than the Stanley Cup, so it's likely a team that isn't a big Stanley Cup contender would take this title, creating excitement for those middle of the pack teams and giving the fans a reason to care.
These suggestions are simply in the interest of the fans. With the fans paying for merchandise and buying tickets wouldn't that be in the best interests of the league?