Fixing the Minor League System

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Photo taken from N2B Goal Horns’ YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BCELxhOAFw)

Yesterday, I talked about the Draft system in the NHL and how it is a broken system when it comes to the player’s rights and actual development with the team overall. However, the only real way to fix this system is to totally overhaul the minor league system as we see it today.

The idea to have a 31-31-31 system is a great idea for hockey– but are there 93 markets out there that are strong enough to keep things solidified for a decent amount of time and are there enough prospects out there to fill that team and make the pipeline system viable and valuable overall to the landscape?? You can say that there are a good amount of markets that are stable as hell, but you can’t assume that all 93 markets will be very strong if they stay across three leagues.

First, you have to make the minors mean something– especially if you change it to a point where players have to choose between their amateur status (in a world with Major Juniors is considered amateur and you have to leave there to start a pro career) and their pro career starting. You’d need a strong first step. Elements need to be taken from the SPHL– not saying that they’d be a jumping off point, but their regional presence is something that minor leagues need more of.

Second, take that regionalism and then create leagues that way. The problem with minor league hockey in the late-90s/early-00s is the fact that while there were a wide array of hockey leagues– they were all in competition with each other trying to be the Alpha League. The ECHL was in competition with the WCHL, UHL, CHL– but ultimately the ECHL won out. The AHL had to compete against the IHL, but the IHL’s owners were too enamored with competing with the NHL that they lost the plot and then the AHL won out.  The thing in this day in age– especially with a stress being put on development– is to take a page out of baseball and have multiple minor leagues in different regions, but a uniform classification for them to battle it out playoffs wise; almost like the NCAA and their conferences.

(In this scenario, amateurs are in my consideration Major Junior and NCAA, with the same rules applying that if you declare and sign a pro contract, you can’t go back to those teams– as a point I suggested with the post on Thursday. You can bet that the CHL will have plenty of push-back on that because they’re trying to run a youth-pro league off these kids; but it’s my imaginary situation– so get over reality for a bit.)

As great as the SPHL has been– they almost have to be considered independent to this whole scenario I’m putting together since I don’t believe there’s any official affiliation with the NHL and the SPHL clubs. Not only that, but I doubt there’s enough prospects for each team to sustain quality hockey across 31 Single-A teams. The SPHL is better off as its own entity anyway because they wouldn’t be held to the hard and fast rules of the NHL in their trickle down theory.

Therefore, the current ECHL is the entry-level point for players who declare and sign their pro contract. However, you can’t have the ECHL as one league anymore– you almost have to have the two conferences as two leagues under the AA banner of hockey. Hell, if they really wanted to get into it– make it three leagues under the banner and then the top teams meet in a final eight– the two top teams from each of the three leagues and overall wild card to win the AA title.

When it comes to the AHL– or AAA level– you can do what baseball does since teams are moving more westward with their teams. Especially with Loveland, Colorado coming into play next season, it just adds to that flavor. Again, you could have three leagues with an Eastern, Midwest, and Pacific leagues under that AAA banner to have all three meet akin to what I suggested with the AA league.

While minor league hockey does have its niche, the fact that people believe that one league is needed seems a little stupid, especially with how the NHL made sure to move their teams closer to them and then held the AHL hostage to make their games/travel less than the rest of the league or they threatened they would start their own league. In all honesty, they should have started their own league and started this upheaval quicker than what I’m suggesting.

Granted, some teams in some areas may want promotions, but at the same time– it’s knowing their market and knowing what they can be capable of doing in those markets with that league. An idea of relegation or promotion– which is sexy in a gimmick sense– won’t do much for stability in a cutthroat business of sports. It’s a nice idea, but when put into reality does more harm than good.

There’s a lot to enjoy about minor league hockey– but when you look at a successful and sustainable league, the regionalism of the SPHL is the front-runner for solid business model. They know their communities, they know their role in hockey, and they don’t get too ahead of themselves thinking they’re going to be the next big thing. They play to what they know and it pays off for them overall. If all minor leagues and minor league teams could see that and realize that regional hockey is a solid money maker/travel saver– then the divided leagues under the same classification could work out very well in order to save minor league hockey decades down the road.

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