The Elite League made a huge step forward on Monday when they confirmed new changes to next season’s League and Challenge Cup format.
Let me explain them to you. Firstly you will recall that last season we played every other team three times at home and three away but next season the league will be split into two geographic five team conferences with the Steelers joined by Belfast, Cardiff, Coventry and Nottingham. The Steelers will play each team in their own conference four times at home and four away while only playing Braehead, Dundee, Edinburgh, Fife and Hull twice at home and twice away.
We will then have conference winners and an overall league champion as well with all the points combined from all the games.
The Challenge Cup will also see a new quarter-final game with four of the five teams qualifying from the two groupings that will most likely see the Belfast Giants join the likes of Sheffield and Nottingham in their group.
For the Steelers it means more bigger games against Belfast, Nottingham, Cardiff and Coventry while playing those teams that we have found it harder to draw against less often. It makes the league more competitive and also gives hope to those who historically have found it hard to compete. Teams such as Dundee will play and win more home games in their own division and don’t tell me that home fans don’t want to see their team win because they do.
Financially it makes sense as well. Let’s take Sheffield out of the equation and stick with Dundee as an example. They have to travel less down south to Cardiff, Nottingham and Sheffield while playing more home games against other Scottish teams,so they’ll take more at the gate and spend less on travel. It make sense.
In the Challenge Cup teams like Hull and Dundee never had a chance of making it through to the semi-finals but now with the new-look competition they have a four in five chance of making it through. Fans have hope, clubs have hope and clubs can also generate more money with progression games in the cup and more competitive league games on a weekly basis.
Steelers benefit by playing those teams around us more often ... isn’t one more tight and exciting game against Nottingham and Belfast better than playing in a half empty building against Edinburgh? I think so.
Against Edinburgh or Fife at the Arena you pretty much know what kind of game it’s going to be and the result but next season you’ll never really know what the outcomer will be in battles against Coventry, Cardiff, Belfast and Nottingham. That has to be better doesn’t it?
The product on the ice will improve, the games will be better, faster, more exciting and more competitive.
The other change sees the number of imports increase from 10 to 11 though I don’t expect all clubs to take this up at the September stage.
I think with the addition of players like Colin Shields, Danny Meyers and Danny Wood Steelers will stick at 10 imports to start off with and see what develops in October and November. If the club feels more support is needed then the 11th will be drafted in.
It’s a bold move by the Elite League and a good one. The Steelers on-ice product was always going to be better next season with the additions Ryan Finnerty has made to his squad and now this has been doubled by the new-look league and cup format.
Good work all around I say.