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Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Super League

Most people in North America watched the men's hockey gold medal game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics - by most I mean Canadians and anyone who drinks beer in America - and saw a glimpse of elite world-class athletes performing in an immensely important game. After Canada's "national moment" ended, the hockey players returned to their various professional teams and in the case of Switzerland their white flag factories. The NHL resumed with its thrilling Atlanta Thrashers-Tampa Bay Lightning type match-ups day after day. The overall level of play declined and not even Stanley Cup finals could match the intensity and skill of any Olympic hockey game. The All-Star game is a farce; the skills competition is alright. A team full of goal scorers is surprisingly not fun to watch despite the defense's hilarious pylon impressions. At least in the skills competition the All-Stars can actually show off their skills with real pylons. Which reminds me, there are too many players at the All-Star game. In fact, give me Alex Ovechkin, Sid Crosby, and Roberto Luongo in a game of hog until 21, win by two, and I would definitely watch that for the five to ten hours that it may take.

Perhaps the only way to muster high-level intense play is by igniting the nationalism within each player. Of course professional players make a great living playing in the NHL but who can represent their nation without giving everything they had. I know there are many international hockey competitions but they are all basically the same format and many top players opt out to rest during the NHL offseason.

Solution?

A Super League. The ASL would begin with 6 (possibly five) teams with traditional hockey powers Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia only if they joined together Belarus if they don't.These teams would play a season of 16 games weekly - a la NFL - with a heavy emphasis on long home stands and regional games. By the looks of it, there can be three quasi-divisions that will play each other eight times and then play the other teams twice each. In North America, the games in both countries are practically shared home game as they are for Sweden and Russia and Russia and mini-USSR. At the end of the 16 game season, every team makes the playoffs and the teams are ordered 1-6 by season record. Top two teams get a bye in a single elimination tournament to win the greatest trophy in the world - naming rights to be determined - and the right to hockey's international throne. Which player won't fight hard to win that for his country? You become to hockey what America is to the world: the shit (in a good way). You are the decision-maker for influential changes and get preferential treatment in competitions. This is incredibly important for the countries involved.

There would be a lower league of any country that wants to fund and enter a team (including "Team Bs" from current nations in the ASL) to compete for entry into the league. Every team in the inferior league would have a chance to play three of the ASL teams. There is a little excitement over the draw aspect of which three teams each nation must face. If a TIL team can beat one of those teams then they are allowed entry into the ASL for the year. Any team currently in the ASL that has a losing record against every team is booted down to the TIL.

Meanwhile, all of the other top hockey players are still playing in the NHL. The teams are a little thinner on talent and as a result teams will certainly contract, which should be happening anyways. Give me eight Canadian teams and eight American Teams. The talent level wouldn't be that bad if you look at all the competitive teams you could make with the Canadians who were left off the Olympic roster. NHL games would be a nice filler for hockey on weekdays and complement to the premier ASL on weekends.

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