Last week, Peoria Journal-Star writer and long-time Rivermen scribe Dave Eminian brought up an idea of where the SPHL is going next with other minor league growing and growing, mostly with the ECHL/CHL merger that happened in October. Eminian said that there has been some discussion about where the league is going and that there are some owners that aren’t too keen on progress of the league.
Word is coaches, and some officials in the league, want to talk informally about the real issue on the table — that the SPHL has an opportunity to improve the quality of its players and the reputation of the league in a post-merger era.
There seems to be an old guard that is content to pull the league down to its gladiator roots, while another faction favors pushing the league up to a legitimate player developer in the NHL pipeline.
Also in the story, Eminian says that there are many teams who are stocking their teams with enforcers and not keeping up with the speed that the league is getting into, which could be keeping teams using the SPHL as their single-A affiliate, despite the SPHL having a by-law restricting teams from officially affiliating with any NHL team. The Rivermen have an agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks, but mostly on the marketing side of things and nothing to do with players on the ice.
However, the most interesting part of this article is the tidbit of news that Eminian dropped saying that in addition to Macon coming in next year; the SPHL is looking at Richmond, Biloxi, and Greenville. Oh, and apparently the SPHL is looking at Port Huron, Flint, and Dayton….which is just odd considering the SOUTHERN league would get more northern, which would help the travelling of Peoria.
First of all, Greenville already has an ECHL team– which unless they drop down from there to the SPHL, that won’t be happening. Secondly– Richmond has been in the SPHL before, but couldn’t gain any interest for one reason or another, while Biloxi should be back, but have to hope for stable ownership. Of course, the SPHL should be looking towards their league name, unless they want to be like the ECHL and just become an acronym for their league name. The regions they are looking at in the south are great markets with some history to them in minor league hockey. Maybe looking at a Roanoke or another South Carolina city to help expand on the coastline and help Fayetteville out with travel would be the best course of action for the immediate future of the league.
The point of contention I have is the rumor that Port Huron, Flint, and Dayton are in the discussion for expansion into the SPHL. Port Huron is a focus of the Federal Hockey League apparently, Dayton is already in the FHL, and Flint does have a strong minor league heritage. If anything, those teams, with Peoria, should form their own section of single-A hockey and the next thing we could see is the SPHL and FHL merging into some kind of regional single-A entity and advancing their ties to the NHL from there– but that’s another story for another time.
For me, the thing that Peoria really needs to do is try to find a way back into the ECHL. Especially with the Central Division forming the way it did– the travel time would be fantastic for the Rivermen and they can stop having their scribes complaining about the travel time, lack of rivalry, and all the other stuff since coming into the SPHL. Why Eminian has such a complex since the AHL team was lost because the Vancouver Canucks wanted to move their team to the Northeast, I’ll never know. The SPHL was willing to give out a franchise to the Peoria area and it seems that still isn’t good enough for Eminian–despite allowing him to stay employed and covering hockey. And in all honesty, the idea of the SPHL giving a membership to Peoria was horrible from the on-set because it isn’t the regional niche that they had carved out for themselves in their decade of existence. Shows the charm and hospitality that the Southern folk have.
Logistically, however, the SPHL just doesn’t work. Forget what Eminian says– their closest rival is over 550 miles away in the Knoxville Ice Bears and due to that, a lot of weekend sets are planned at home and on the road because the travel is a little too much overall. Plus, like I mentioned before, the SPHL isn’t part of the rung to the NHL, as it is primarily the nice in-between from college players into the ECHL and then beyond. Maybe, just maybe, the SPHL doesn’t want to be apart of the whole pipeline to the NHL as it would bring about some more overhead that some teams may not be able to deal with. If the SPHL is comfortable in their niche and comfortable with their small amount of teams– then why is there a need to rush to push the SPHL into a position they may not be ready for and may not be able to survive through.
If this is just a single opinion by a writer, then maybe the team needs to step in and tell him to calm down a bit because he really shouldn’t expect the world– especially when dropping from the AHL to the SPHL in a season’s time. If this is something that entire organization feels– then maybe they need to really look into another league to join, especially if it’s going to create more anger towards the league from everyone around. Yes, the Rivermen do have a lot of ECHL call-ups and do run a solid organization off the ice; however– if they don’t realize they’re not in the higher minor leagues anymore, then it’s a problem. Not only that, but Eminian will continue to complain about things not being skewed Peoria’s way– despite them being the new team in the league.