Locations of SPHL and FHL Teams in 2014-15
During my ranting and raving about how the Peoria Rivemen’s beat reporter is constantly irate when it comes to the decisions the SPHL when it comes to catering the Rivermen– who are the most distant team in the SPHL– there was one good point that Dave Eminian made is that there needs to be something done in order to make Single-A hockey a more desirable destination for NHL teams too look at when it comes to going down the line of development for these players. With more and more talent out there in the hockey landscape, there is going to come a time where Single-A hockey will definitely become a more viable option for some teams out there, as if it hasn’t happened already.
Of course, many SPHL and even Federal Hockey League teams have had the ECHL used them as a feeder in order to replenish their rosters. The big deal now is whether or not NHL teams will buy in or want to put prospects in something deemed a Single-A in fears the confidence could be broken for not being called up to the ECHL quicker.
That aside, the Single-A model could be a very solid thing to look into, so long as teams, leagues, and everyone around it do the right things. Here’s what I believe could be the right things that would make Single-A hockey a strong entity for the future and for development of players overall:
Keep It Regional….
The best thing with the SPHL is that it has carved out a niche for itself below the Mason-Dixon line. The inclusion of Peoria and Bloomington in 2013 couldn’t have been worse for the league, not so much from a travel standpoint (which is a true story); but just it takes away from the regional appeal that the SPHL had. The FHL has a very strong Northeast corridor presence, but as it starts to go towards the Midwest and Great Lakes region– that’s when they lose the plot of their locational prowess and start to strain the wallets of owners who may or may not have the money to deal with the expansion to other regions.
Minor league baseball has five leagues (three advanced) and all of them are kept within a regional basis. Single-A hockey can do that– SPHL in the South, FHL in the Northeast, then you can create a Midwest region minor league; especially with the thought that Michigan area teams are looking for minor leagues to join– which would be nice for Peoria in terms of travel, and then have a wild card league that’s regionalized; maybe Montana, Wyoming, Northern Colorado area. With this regional ideal, you can have teams keep tabs close at home or close to the ECHL team in order to have easier access to the players going up and down to develop.
…But Make It Uniformed
There’s a big difference when it comes to the SPHL and FHL. The SPHL has the “normal” point system of two points for a win of any kind, one point for an overtime or shootout loss, and no points for a loss overall. The FHL has a more European point system with three points for a regulation win, two for an overtime win, one for overtime or shootout loss, and none for a loss. Obviously, a streamlined system is going to need to put into place and of course each system has their advantages and disadvantages. Yet, if you’re going to have it more like a NHL system– then the SPHL way to do it will be the way to go for points until the NHL or other league above them change.
Mind The Roster
The AHL and ECHL have veteran rules when it comes to their rosters and usually it’s something where there aren’t too many veterans in the line-up on a nightly basis. The AHL has a little more interesting take on their veteran rules, while the ECHL is very strict on their four players labeled veterans on a roster at any time. For a Single-A dynamic, of course you want to be able to have veteran guys and rookies in a mix; but which do you limit?? With a smaller roster size it’s a bit of a trickier thing and you may actually want to limit the number of younger players so that the league doesn’t turn into a total instructional league and completely alienate the fan base you built up with recognizable veteran players.
Allow Time For A Buy-In
There were many years where the ECHL wasn’t really looked at as a viable option for prospects because it almost seemed like they were being buried there. However, with time and with the amount of good prospects being available and drafted by teams, the ECHL has flourished and the league has gotten better. That talent has trickled down to the SPHL and FHL, as the speed of those games have gotten better in the years they’ve been established. That said, it will take time to sell NHL teams to put some of their prospects in a Single-A entity, but patience will be a virtue on both sides of the coin– patience for NHL teams to see results from Single-A leagues as a key developmental course and patience by the Single-A leagues and teams when it comes to getting players and support from NHL teams.
Expanding The Brand
Off the ice, the big thing could be teams going into markets and using their NHL brand for an area that may not know a lot of about it. Conversely, it could be used by the Single-A teams to have the NHL market get to know their teams. Just look at what the Knoxville Ice Bears and Huntsville Havoc were able to do in playing in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. That game drew around 6,000 people with a mix of NHL and SPHL fans– which only builds the hockey community more-so. Just check out this YouTube video review of the event, showing off a solid atmosphere for a pre-season game.
With news of Division I hockey expanding into Arizona with Arizona State and possibly into other club elite club teams like the University at Buffalo, there’s going to be a lot more talent and could provide a lot more players for not as many teams. It would only make sense for Single-A league to expand and for the NHL too look at that as a developmental option, especially if those areas, teams, and leagues are ripe for the picking in terms of drawing attention to the game and expanding their own brand beyond the NHL crowd.