It is already happening. You have the IIHF who brings together the Olympics and World Under 20 (and other) Hockey Championships regularly. Scouts are in any country with a rink and a kid with promise. And doubling almost annually, more Hockey is played in Europe to open each NHL season.
So for a moment, suspend your disbelief. Take stock in what is possible and not all of the reasons an historic undertaking might not be done. In effect, hit the gas and jump OVER the speed bumps instead of slowing down or stopping.
Now picture the transformation of the NHL into the Global Hockey League – the GHL – in terms of Operations, Personnel and Logistics required to make such an organization as this turn from simple idea into reality. This blog begins with Operations to set the parameters of the new GHL and is followed by a further blog on Personnel and Logistics.
GHL Operational Organization
There would be no way to have a GHL without transforming from the top down. So here are the layers:
1. GHL Headquarters. This should reside in the current NHL offices in New York City. There would be an immediate desire to balloon the current NHL office into a voluminous size. But the real additions required are only the people and items required to cover operations, personnel and logistics requirements for an additional 10 teams on the European continent. (I discuss some of those items below and in greater detail in the follow on posting.) Past a potential need for interpreters in NYC then, what you need is a...
2. Headquarters GHL – Europe. This is the expansion office with the ability to cover all of the same GHL operational requirements as the NY office over the respective European time zones and in 10 different languages/dialects. A second version of everything in GHL Headquarters, NY, is needed here. So an office and appropriate staff equal to somewhere between one-third and three-fourths of the current NHL staff is required
3. A GHL Players Association should be nestled nearby each Headquarters, with all parties working together for the good of the game. I am not intimating here that any side does not. I AM saying the changes required for this League would require a re-write of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with some give and take on both sides I will discuss later on.
4. Team (Re)Organization. In a nutshell, we need four conferences, each with two divisions of five teams. That is because the GHL carries the same 30, current NHL teams PLUS a, immediate, simultaneous expansion of 10 European teams. It also requires some rewickering of current NHL divisions in order to place teams in more geographically centric groupings. Here are the new GHL Conferences and Divisions:
EURO DIVISION 1: Russia (Moscow MEGASPORT ARENA; Finland (Helsinki HARTWALL AREENA); Germany (Berlin O2 WORLD ARENA); Sweden (Stockholm GLOBE ARENA); Norway (Oslo SPEKTRUM)
EURO DIVISION 2: Czech Republic (Prague O2 ARENA); Slovakia (Bratislava APOLLO ARENA); France (Paris [PALAIS OMNISPORTS de PARIS-BERCY or NEW ARENA]); Great Britain (London O2 ARENA); Switzerland (Geneva PATINOIRE des VERNETS)
ATLANTIC DIVISION 1: Montreal; Boston; NY Rangers; NY Islanders; New Jersey
ATLANTIC DIVISION 2: Ottawa; Toronto; Buffalo; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia
CENTRAL DIVISION 1: Washington; Carolina; Detroit; Chicago; Columbus
CENTRAL DIVISION 2: Dallas; Nashville; Atlanta; Tampa Bay; Florida
WESTERN DIVISION 1: Minnesota; St. Louis; Colorado; Edmonton; Calgary
WESTERN DIVISION 2: Vancouver; San Jose; Los Angeles; Anaheim; Phoenix
I know, I know – the Division names are not sexy. Presuming as much as I already do here, however, I would leave the naming convention to GHL management (although I would personally like to see Conferences and Divisions with an historical, Hockey naming convention). Teams grouped as listed provide a smaller regional ‘goose egg’ on the map. Wherever possible, traditional rivalries are maintained such as Rangers/Islanders/Devils, Bruins/Canadiens, Penguins/Flyers, Red Wings/Blackhawks, Oilers/Flames, Sharks/Kings/Ducks, Sweden/Finland, Great Britain/France, Germany/Russia and the like.) Regrettably, not all could be maintained, but this will be partially addressed in the schedule section below.
The first hurdle to jump over is concern about time zone differences between European and North American cities. After all, we all want to see our favorite team play live whenever we can. As I type this, it is Daylight Savings Time where I live and a check of the difference between Moscow – the farthest East team – and NYC is seven hours (10 hours on the West Coast). So a 7pm start in Moscow is at noon in NY and 9am in Los Angeles. Some week day, inconveniently timed games would have to be accepted on the schedule or the season would drag on for the whole year and operating costs for travel would be through the roof. For the sake of timeliness and normal business operating hours for Europe, the Deputy Commissioner Europe and his staff would have to administer operations on that continent. Bt there are daily cross-over hours of operation which would assist in synchronizing efforts between the continents. If, for example, Geneva, Switzerland was the choice for Headquarters GHL – Europe, daily video teleconferencing from NYC at 9am would meet with the Geneva staff at 4pm. No doubt, the GHL would run on a 24 hour clock like the military (and Europe) for standardization. The League would also most likely speak in terms of local time for events as operations revolve around game times. And individuals would do their own, personal time zone translation. (Trust me, go overseas and try to talk back home more than once and you will automatically train yourself to do the calculations.) All in all though, time zones would be more of a minor inconvenience than a show stopper.
With an overall structure in place, you are by now asking how the teams would play their schedule. Here is the recommendation:
Within your own division, all opponents six times (total of 24 games)
Within the other division in your conference, all opponents four times (20 games); this makes up for SOME of the rivalries split out of a current, common NHL division
All other teams one game each, rotating home and away in alternate years (30 games)
TOTAL GAMES = 74
“…Now hold on a minute!,” some would say.” That’s four less games per building. If the average ticket is $50 and the average person spends another $50 on concessions and souvenirs, times 16,000 in an average building, that all equals $6.4 million per team in lost revenues. What’s the bill payer here? Player salaries?”
NOW I have some really angry readers on my hands. But it should not be a shocking announcement since the current salary cap is tied to a percentage of total revenues and regular season revenues will go down. Simultaneously, the costs associated with running regular season operations will go down with the loss of those eight games as well. And you also have to consider: that you would have the immediate impact of European television contracts (especially when Hockey is popular and there will be one, for-all-intents-and-purposes, national team in each country); that the current NHL is growing in popularity in the United States; and that ever-improving marketing could emphasize both regional and intercontinental rivalries to the tune of increased revenues. An appropriate form of team revenue sharing as is currently the management model in the NHL would need to underscore the entire enterprise as is the case today under some GHL formulary. Overall, however, revenues have the potential to increase dramatically assisting both teams’ and players’ bottom lines.
Round 1: The top two teams in each Division play a best-of-seven series. (A consolation round for final seeding for the Entry Draft could be held between the number three and four seeds if desired, again, another potential revenue stream. This would also off-set the smaller percentage of teams entering the playoffs than is currently the case.)
Round 2: The Divisional winners from each Conference play a best-of-seven series for the Conference championship.
Round 3: Intercontinental travel begins in this round. The Conference Europe champion plays the Atlantic Conference champion, and the Central and Western Conference champions square off in a third best-of-seven series to see who plays in the GHL finals.
Round 4: The two Inter-Conference champions play a final best-of-seven series for the Stanley Cup.
This is no change from the current playoff system where 16 teams begin the process and whittle themselves down to the last two teams standing. (If a consolation round is added to each Division, then an additional 16 teams play in the same first round in order to solidify Entry Draft seedings. More on this later.) The difference that makes an intercontinental Stanley Cup even harder to win here, however, is that you potentially have Moscow playing Los Angeles for the cup with a time zone difference of 10 hours. Any way you slice it, if The Cup is contested between the continents, the winner will truly be of the hardiest, last-man-standing stock. Say goodbye to dynasties…
My hat is off to the NHL scheduling staff who puts 1230 regular season, square-pegged games into calendar-rounded holes each year. I spent all !@#$ day manually working on a spreadsheet to cover what it would take to pull off the 74 game regular season schedule. With the magic number of 74 regular season games calculated, here are some of the particulars of the scheduling process I came up with:
1. You HAVE to start the schedule by laying down all of the intercontinental games first. That’s 15 games at home AND on the road for each of the 10 European teams, or 600 games in the schedule counting opponents.
a. I did this initially on the cheap, figuring out a model that allowed for three days of travel/acclimatization on the front end of a five game turn, and four days on the back end in order to clear team jet lag. The five games in the middle of these seven were played like any five games you can find on the NHL schedule. But I ALWAYS included a back-to-back set on a Saturday and Sunday (if not two) which would allow for matinees in North America. (A 7pm MOSCOW start on Saturday is at noon in NYC, just as the noon puck drop in NY is television prime time in MOSCOW.) I also never placed more than three games in any seven-day period. This means a fan is most often only engaging a GameCenter Live replay once or twice during the week to see their favorite team. Once I had that scheduling model block, I laid it into the spreadsheet. I then added a marker for the home team area only in the range where those five games are played by the intercontinental visitor. This told me what was left for games within the Conference. Overseas turns ran between 14 and 17 days in length (the latter when the Thanksgiving Holiday break falls in the middle of the schedule). The regular season, if played in 2011/12, would therefore begin on Saturday, 1 October and end on Wednesday, 12 April with approximately 154 – 158 scheduling days (about 2.4 days per game) not played as intercontinental competition for teams.
b. The European teams have the most travel to absorb as they all come to North America three times while only half of the remaining North American teams in the other divisions visit once in a given season.
c. Finally, as I have been flogging in posts for the last two years, divisional rivalry series should take place where at least three of the six games played within the Division are done in succession as the only games in a week-long stretch. Played over five weeks wherever possible (and I find it impossible to do so for European teams), it lends a Playoff-like atmosphere to the regional matchups within the Divisions even before the Playoffs arrive.
2. The Playoff schedule ran: 15 – 28 April for Round 1; 2 – 15 May for Round 2; 19 May – 1 June for Round 3; and 5 – 18 June for the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. Those are all contingent on at least one pair of games going to a Game 7 in each Round, or the schedule will be compacted. Rounds 3 and 4 take the longest as you must account for intercontinental travel between contests. To make intercontinental matchups work more economically on the calendar, they are played (by the team with home ice advantage) two at home, three away and then the final two at home. Games 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 are played back-to-back with three days’ travel/acclimatization time between. One-to-two days off occur before Game 5 (if required), and three more days’ travel time brings you to Game 6 with a day off before Game 7 (if they are necessary).
3. I scheduled the All-Star Skills Competition and Game on 20 – 21 June, the annual Awards show on 22 June and the Entry Draft on 23 and 24 June. (The latter two are already done at season’s end. But it is a mental leap to play the All Star ‘break’ after the playoffs. Not doing so, however, disrupts the European travel schedule which drives the rest of the game lineup.) You end the season with about 2.5 months of free agency/recovery time before two weeks of training camp bring you into the 2012/13 season.
4. To make the travel schedule work, I determined the GHL needs an Air Force. Actually, they need four of their own, private, modified jumbo jets to keep four teams in the air between the continents almost all season long. Part of the ballet that is the schedule included picking up four, additional teams going across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe as European teams completed their five-game turns (and the reverse) for the sake of economy. So much of the time over the Atlantic you have two teams on board one aircraft simultaneously. How to keep the peace? You modify the planes and to meet your requirements. The how of paying for the planes and their support and upkeep follows in the Logistics section of this blog.
So now we have a 74-game schedule ready for final touches and need 40 ice surfaces to play upon. To finalize this operational section (although there are a myriad of un-touched upon nuances to making this whole thing work), that ice surface is in question. There are several courses of action here:
1. Play on the current NHL-sized rink as was just done in the Olympics in Vancouver.
2. Play to international rink dimensions.
3. Play on NHL-sized ice in North America and on international ice in Europe.
4. Use whatever is the IIHF standard for the Under 20 Championships each year.
I would assume two different standards depending on which continent you are on would not be the GHL standard due to the level of difficulty it infuses in the game. At the same time, however, you could see that Chicago playing Swiss teams in the pre-season before the 2009 NHL Premier on international ice did not present a problem they could not overcome. I also think the fourth option is less likely to be adopted if the IIHF U20 standard changes based on where the tourneys are played. It therefore remains to be seen if the GHL would go with NHL dimensions as the European continent is consumed into the NHL, the most likely scenario as conversion to international ice requires re-construction in 30 rinks and shrinking to NHL ice modifies 10 sheets of ice and adds (paying) seats with fans.
This blog has discussed (some of) the key operational aspects of making a Global Hockey League work by expanding simultaneously into 10 European markets. The move would require standing up a sister Headquarters to the current NHL offices in a European city to be determined to administer to all things GHL in Europe. Synchronizing business operations with the clock, the new 74-game regular season schedule, the GHL “Air Force’ and other changes would be the order of the day (and night) in the newly expanded League.
Equally important, however, are the ramifications of this new League to player personnel and the logistics required to support the tasks at hand. The next blog in GHL series will discuss several aspects that impact these two areas. That will be followed later by a discussion of the logistics required to run this ship and an overall summary of the GHL concept…
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