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The hockey season is a long one, and it’s even longer when your team sucks. By the time the regular season ends in April, fans of bad teams are finally relinquished from their prisons, but lucky for them they get to watch the rest of the good teams compete in the coveted playoffs. By the time the playoffs end and a champion is crowned it is either late May or early June. This means around 10 months of hockey if you count preseason in September. 10 months of anything is a long time and everyone will gladly take a break from it, and that is exactly what hockey fans do. June is a time to forget about the NHL and just enjoy the summer without hearing any hockey news. However, by the time Canada day rolls around (July 1st), hockey is on everyone’s mind again thanks to Free Agency kicking off. So once again, from late June to early July, hockey is on everyone’s mind and all the troubles that come with that arrive as well. But, eventually Free Agency dies down and we enter what we call “The Dog Days of Summer”. The time where no other major sport is on except baseball. This time is perfect for hockey fans as there is literally nothing they can find about the NHL so they are forced to take that break. However, as the summer starts to end NHL fans start itching for hockey again but they are forced to wait until Pre-Season. However, what if that wasn’t the case? What if we have something in August that kicks off the NHL hype for fans and starts that transitioning back into hockey mode. Something like a Summer League?
The NBA who follows an almost identical schedule to the NHL has a 10 day period during the summer, which they call the “NBA Summer League” where teams can compete in a March Madness style tournament. The point of the League is to try out new prospects and players that usually never crack the roster during the season. The Summer League is a huge event that draws many eyes. It is so big that it has TV deals and sponsorships. The NBA can do this easily as the risk of serious injury is lower in Basketball, however, in Hockey this would never work as no team would want to risk players playing in a pointless league. So what if we change it from Ice Hockey Summer league to something a little more Summery? Something like…. Ball / Road Hockey?
What if instead of having an Ice Hockey Tournament we had an NHL Ball Hockey tournament that spanned the whole month of August but only played during the weekends. It could work as follows: games will be played under the Canadian Ball Hockey Association rules and will be 3, 10 minute periods with 5 minute intermissions.
1st Weekend: Each NHL Team hosts it’s own little tournament of 6v6 (Including Goalie) to determine which players will be representing their team. Most likely these players will be prospects but if some regular team players want to play they are free to do so. Teams can make this mini tournament public and have fans pay to watch and then give all money made to charity.
2nd Weekend: The Tournament will start. Like March Madness, teams play in certain cities based off geographical regions in a single game knockout style. Since there are 31 teams in the NHL, the Stanley Cup Champions will get a bye to the next round. Matchups will be determined based off previous season standings. On the Sunday the 15 winners from the Saturday and the Stanley Cup Champion will then play another single victory match in the same City.
EX: Games played in Toronto: Ottawa vs Toronto & Montreal vs Buffalo (Saturday) and then Ottawa vs Buffalo (Sunday)
Games played in Tampa: Tampa vs Detroit & Boston vs Florida (Saturday) and then Tampa vs Boston (Sunday)
3rd Weekend: The 8 winners from the previous weekend will then play in the next round in another single game knockout. The game will be played in the higher seeded team based off previous season standings.
EX: Ottawa vs Buffalo would be played in Buffalo
4th Weekend: This will be the final weekend with the Semis and The Finals all being played. This weekend will be played in the city who will be hosting the All-Star game. This will be a way for that city to kick off All Star Celebrations early and to really show the NHL Season is right around the corner. The winning team will be awarded some Cash amount which will be donated to the team’s charity.
- This is the map that was used to make the first-round matchups based off Geographical locations. Since it is based off Geographical locations there will be cross division matchups. However, there will be no cross Conference matchups. Therefore, Chicago and Detroit will never play each other in the first round. As well, since there are 31 teams, the Stanley Cup Champion (In this case the Blues) will get a first round bye meaning that there will be two teams who will not be placed in a group of 4. These two teams in this example will be Arizona and Colorado, but every season it will change based on who is the Stanley Cup Champion. As one can see, the East was easier to make as all the cities are very close. However, for the West it was a lot tougher as cities are much more spread out. This presents some issues with traveling.
- There are some obvious issues with this idea. For one, attendance and TV viewership. Since multiple games will be played in a city there will have to be a venue space used. In the bigger cities such as New York and Toronto it would be a huge hassle to close off streets for this. This means they would have to be played in the actual arenas. This means that the “road hockey atmosphere” and look will be taken away from the tournament and means people would have to pay to go watch the games. Also, what would happen if the home team gets eliminated right away. Will Toronto fans come and watch Ottawa vs Montreal? Probably not. A solution for this would be to put the opening rounds in smaller cities such as Ottawa where they can find some parking lot or large enough place to host the games outdoors. As for TV, this could be a perfect way for the NHL Network to advertise their product. They can make the NHL Network a free trial base for the whole tournament and this will allow customers to get to know the product and hopefully purchase it once the season rolls around.
- Another issue would be traveling expenses. Will teams be willing to pay for the players to go to the cities especially with the team sizes only being 6 players? My solution for this is for the NHL to make each weekend an event. Make it as a way to get people excited for the NHL, especially in the US Cities that don’t really follow the NHL. Have concerts, have player meet and greets, bring the mascots. Make it a whole day event so people who are there in person will have things to do there. If you make this a promotional event I am sure the NHL can cover the expenses.
- This brings me to my final point. Just like in the NBA Summer League, this isn’t an actual competitive league. There is no major trophy and there is no crazy rivalry. This tournament idea is meant to get fans excited for the NHL once again during the time of summer when nothing is going on. It is a promotional event which will showcase mostly prospects, but at the same time it is an event so make it worthwhile. Make it a fun NHL event that people will want to go to year after year.
This is just a rough idea that came to me one day in bed so obviously there are many kinks that would need to be worked out. But, if you have ideas to add on or have loopholes let me know in the comments and maybe together, we can create a possibly cool event that the NHL can one day try!
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