Wednesday, 30 April 2014

EIHL, GB, The Future, The Present, Anything Else I Can Fit In One Post

I recently spoke with Ashley March, and she asked me what I'd do to improve team GB. Well, today wasn't what I had in mind.

For those who missed it, this is from the Elite League:

As from the upcoming season (2014-15), the number of non British-trained players will rise from 11 to 12, but the amount of work-permit players will remain at 11.
The number of non British-trained players will rise to 13 in season 2015-16 and 14 in season 2016-17, with the amount of work-permit players again remaining at 11.
Elite League chairman, Tony Smith, said: "The league agreed that there is a shortage of top-level British players, which keeps the Elite League from being outstanding across the 10 teams.
"With the demand of the indigenous British player higher than ever in all leagues, and with the potential for EU/dual-national players to develop into national-team players, it was felt this gradual increase would be beneficial to all.
"As with all things, the Elite League will monitor its development as we look forward to another successful season."
 Got it? Good.

There are so many different ways of looking at it. Hundreds.

  • The EIHL figures that there's a drop-off in quality of British players, so it's reducing the number of slots for British players - spreading them around the league - and somehow thinks this will improve the players that make it.
  • It could also stem the flow of players - they may reach the point where they're "too good" for the EPL but no Elite club will take a chance on them as they have their own British players.
  • It could also make kids growing up who'd like to take hockey up and play for their favourite team reluctant, as there's only so many spots for British players on Elite teams.
  • There's a chance it may also increase the divide between the 'haves' and 'have nots' in the Elite League - those who can afford to bring over and house extra imports, and those who can't.
There are arguments for it though:
  • It means the "Elite-Level" GB players - essentially those who make the GB squad - have to work hard for their spot, and cannot hold clubs to ransom over wages.
  • It will give regular ice time to British players who need it. Look at our own Aaron Nell this season. He's a class above in the EPL, but can barely get a shift for the Steelers.
  • If clubs ARE having to pay more for Brits, they MAY become more sustainable businesses by not having to do so.
And so has been a day of argument and debate on various social media. All, I will say, with what they perceive as what is best for UK hockey.

Braehead have got it right. According to director of hockey relations Gareth Chalmers, they are approaching GB under 20 internationals and offering them multi-year contracts to develop them as part of their organisation. From his own Twitter feed: "Junior development is something we would like to implement at the Clan, it's imperative to our future growth as a hockey club." Should other teams follow suit, this would certainly be a positive for the future.

As I see it now, with next-to-no links between the EIHL and the EPL, the league seemingly now being touted as the elite level for GB players, player development will reach a certain point and stop dead. What would be required, in my view (and do tell me I'm wrong) is a farm system, similar to the North American system.

For those not aware, NHL teams have affiliates in the AHL, and then the ECHL or the CHL. They can assign players, whether junior or unneeded seniors, to these teams in order to keep them at match fitness and playing regularly, and in the case of juniors to further their development with regular ice time.

This could be implemented, with lots of discussion and conversation. Teams could have an affiliate in the EPL, and also in the NIHL/SNL. They could sign players from youth level, and instead of giving them 1 shift a game in the Elite League, send them to their NIHL affiliate for the season, or to the EPL. Get them regular ice time. Call on them as and when required. When you feel they're ready, bring them up to the main roster. If it doesn't work out, they're on the free market to go where they wish. Players at these farm teams wouldn't solely be EIHL youth - released players could ply their trade there, and the EPL could likely continue with their current roster regulations. I applaud teams that already have NIHL teams and links with them, but more can and should be done.

At the end of the day though, in the short term the EIHL has no obligation to develop players. It would perhaps be in their best interests to, to keep the game alive and to keep interest in what they're serving up, but they don't HAVE to. Furthermore, development isn't just a problem at Elite level. If good enough players were coming up, or showed enough potential, they'd be getting games. Name a club outside Coventry in the Erhardt that has been able to do that. Like I said earlier, Aaron Nell tears the EPL apart but can barely get on the ice with the Steelers. The problems lie at the root, and we need to look at the roots before we treat the leaves.

What it should do, and hopefully will, is increase interest in the lower leagues, particularly the EPL. Has one of your team's Brits gone to a side you don't know much about? Find out about them. Go watch a game, particularly if your Elite team is away. Jeff Legue going to the Steeldogs has garnered interest in them. A few Brits heading that way could well do the same.

BTW, the decision. Do I agree with it? Not really. I can see why they've done it but I don't think its the best way forward, if I'm wearing my GB hat. I can see the logic in almost every argument though, especially as I don't have access to a club's finances.

Debate it in all the usual places, tell me why I'm wrong and all that.



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