NHL Question

With the impending hockey strike I was wondering: What would it take for the NHL to go the way of soccer in England and include relegation within the league. What I’m asking is, would it be possible for let’s say the worst three teams in the NHL to be relegated to the AHL and the top three AHL teams to be promoted into the NHL, etc season after season. There is obvious obstacles preventing this, eg the different conferences, recalling players, ownership, the draft, changing the entire structure of the league. Although, I figure this would help teams like Washington and Pittsburgh to rebuild their franchises without spending the money to be the NHL. So is it at all possible, and could it help teams in rebuilding modes? Would anybody actually propose this change at any time?

Also, as an aside, why is the players’ union so against a salary cap? Especially, when the league genuinely appears to be in such a horrible monetary position?

It should be noted here that the “N” in NHL refers to Canada, not the United States. It isn’t really important to the discussion, but it wouldn’t work anyway, because Canadian teams would have to be relegated to a Canadian league.

You can’t run a lower league not knowing whether a team will be joining you from the league above next season…

Huh? There are Canadian teams in the AHL, have been for a long time. However there were no Canadian teams in the ‘I’.

Spezza, your idea won’t work. There are a few reasons that I can think of, but I’ll just go with the big ones.

  1. The AHL currently serves as the top rung of the farm system for the NHL. Take that away and player development is shot all to hell.

  2. One way and two way contracts. Many of the players in the NHL have 2 way contracts which means if they get sent to the farm team (usually in the AHL) they make less money than they did at the NHL, for them it isn’t an issue. However, more likely than not, every team has a player or several that are on 1 way contracts - that means the player gets his NHL salary even if he is in the minors. This becomes a problem when you get to the next point.

  3. Ticket prices. This is one of the problems in the NHL right now. Since the league doesn’t have the TV contract that the NBA or NFL have, most of the teams revenue comes from season tickets. Now, you can get away (although some disagree) with charging $100+ for your top seat when you are facing top notch competition (Flyers, Wings, Avs, Stars etc.) Those ticket prices help to pay the players. Now, if you are paying $100 bucks to see the Avs, that is one thing but who is going to pay $100 to watch the Manitoba Moose? Remember, teams still have to pay the guys on the one way contracts.

I think that this will probably be a long work stoppage. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one full season was missed. FWIW, I think that there needs to be a salary cap and revenue sharing and the NHLPA doesn’t want either. The league has to hope that the players will cave before the owners do. My guess is that the league will try and give the players the option between a salary cap, contraction or amending the rules so that 4 on 4 play is the standard. The players will respond by saying that the status quo is fine.

I think you answered your own question with “changing the entire structure of the league.” Owners, who may have payed a couple of hundred million dollars for a franchise, are not going to agree to relegation easily. Players on relegated teams aren’t going to be thrilled with AHL pay rates. And if they still get paid NHL money, then there’s no way the owners will go for it.

I have no idea how all this works in the world of European football, maybe I someone who knows can check in and we can adapt it to hockey and save the NHL.

Huh? NHL teams include teams from Canada & USA. AHL (American hockey league) temas do, too. Players are called up/sent down/ traded all the time (ever hear of NAFTA? :smiley: )

I’m afraid I don’t have anything to add to the whole NHL vs. AHL discussion, but since the OP did bring up the salary cap issue I’d like to reiterate the request for input on that. I posted a message requesting opinions on this about a week ago and got no response. Personally I’d just like to see a general pro/con analysis of the salary cap, and why owners tend to prefer it while players detest it (and, in the case of the NHLPA, are willing to sit out an entire season or more to protest it). Come on, y’all, this is a general inter-sports question. You don’t have to know anything about hockey to offer your two cents.

The owners prefer a salary cap for a few reasons. First, the players have to agree to limit their own salaries, so that absolves them from any accusations of collusion, which is how stuff like that used to go down. Second, the cap causes an owner to be more profitable over the long run because it allows him to control spending on players without really doing so. To explain that, most caps have exceptions here and there so you can get the big player you need, and exceeding the cap is usually just a fine (a large one, to be sure), so the owner will never be without the players he wants and at the same time he has the ability to keep salaries down, so he gets the best of both worlds. Third, if everyone is honest and sticks to the cap, then parity is virtually assured. See the NFL for an example of what parity does to a sport. It makes the games better.

The players hate a salary cap for one simple reason: They all think that they are now or someday will be worthy of a 10-year, $250 million dollar contract like A-Rod got from Texas. It’s an ego thing. On top of that, they know that if they ask for too much they’ll be traded elsewhere, released, or be forced to sit out a season, and that has the potential to ruin their careers (imagine being traded to the Penguins right now from a good team).

What the players forgot, though, is that the owners are exactly that. The players are not partners, they’re employees, and nobody’s heart is bleeding for a $3 million a year athlete. The players are going to lose this one, I think.

While I haven’t the strength to bang my head against the wall on this discussion yet again (though never actually here, so I may be back to rant later), I wanted ot offer up a neat little site I found that explains a lot: www.nhlcbanews.com.

The reason you can’t have relegation in American sport leagues has to do with the structure of such leagues.

In professional football as it is played in almost all the world, a “league” is not the same thing as it is in America (sorry, Canada, but the NHL is American now, but I do concede that the CFL follows the same “American” organizational set-up). In the rest of the world, football is played by “clubs.” These are organizations of people who get together for the purpose of playing football. Sometimes, the club is an athletic club, which participates in other sports besides football. The national organization which governs the sport of football in the country sets up a competition, in which the clubs participate. Usually, such competitions are stratified by ability, so that each division of the competition has somewhere between 18 and 24 teams. But it is important to note that the clubs are not part of an integrated whole. “Serie A” in Italy is not an organization made up of the 18 teams which participate in it; it is the top flight of the annual competition run by the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio, the Italian Football Federation.

In contrast, the American league is an entity unto itself, from which the teams obtain franchises, much the same way that Joe Blow Restauranteurs, Inc. obtains a franchise to run a Big Boy, or a McDonald’s. Joe Blow ponies up the franchise fee, and gets for his investment the secret and the machinery to make the world famous Big Boy™, or, if he is smart, the somewhat more world famous Big Mac™. On the other hand, with $500M, you might convince the NFL to let you obtain a franchise for Los Angeles, for which payment you would receive the headache of fielding a team of spoiled brats who get paid exhorbitant sums of money to play. But you would get the right to rub elbows with Lamar Hunt. Of course, there is a difference; while McDonald’s exists as a separate entity from the franchises it licenses, the franchises of American professional sports leagues run the entity from which they obtain the franchise. Thus, Lamar Hunt is an “owner” of the NFL, as well as of the Kansas City Chiefs.

This difference explains why “relegation” works in worldwide football, and won’t work in American professional sport leagues (hockey and baseball are the only two really set up with enough depth in ability levels and clubs devoted to playing to make the system work anyway, not including our own anemic attempt to organize professional soccer). When the Football Association says to the lowest three teams in the First Division, “Sorry, lads, but you need to play Wrexham next season, not Crystal Palace; be good boys and do well and we’ll let you play up the next season after that, now run along…” and offers to the top three teams in the Second Division the chance to make fools of themselves at a higher level, while feverishly raking in the gate receipts for having played better teams in the antiquated grounds inhabited by most Second Division teams, there isn’t much the teams can do. After all, it’s the Football Association’s competition, and it doesn’t belong to the clubs. But if MLB attempted to tell the Tigers, “Um, Mr. Ilitch, your team is pathetic, why don’t you try the International Association for a year while we let the Columbus Clippers have a go at being a major league team,” the whole thing wouldn’t work, because the Tigers have invested in the League, and to move them “down” would involve paying off that investment, obtaining an investment from the Clippers, etc. For good or bad, MLB is stuck with the Tigers.

I might note that American “football” (meaning soccer, not gridiron football) went one step further. Major League Soccer does not have “franchises” in the typical sense of that word in American sports. Instead, the owners invest in the league itself, for which investment they are awarded the right to control the destiny of one or more teams which the league creates. Lamar Hunt doesn’t own the Kansas City Wizards; he is an owner of MLS, and gets to operate the Wizards. This explains why the league has failed for four years to allow in the eminently successful Rochester Raging Rhinos, who have been perennially successful at the next lower level (the “A-League”), and who consistently draw as many or more fans than many of the MLS clubs, to join MLS. Technically speaking, the Rhinos can’t join the league; at best the owners of the Rhinos could pool their money, buy into MLS, and receive for their investment the right to control a team called the Rhinos, based in Rochester.

What is the point to relegation? It accomplishes two things. First of all, it allows the organizers of a national competition a way to make sure that clubs that do a poor job of investing in competent play get removed from the flight they are in, to be replaced by teams who have proven they can excel at the next lower level. Sometimes, indeed often, the promotion of a team to a higher level lasts only a year, and the relegated team is right back up. But sometimes a club’s dynamics change, perhaps because of a new majority owner who invests in the needed players, perhaps because a new ground allows a larger gate, allowing more investment in quality players, or perhaps because a team’s manager accomplishes more with his team than anyone else has. Excellence is allowed to rise, ineptitude is forced to its own level in a reverse Peter Principle.

Second, it provides drama near the end of the season, as teams attmepting to avoid relegation battle it out. Some of the best late season games in any football league involve the last four or five teams, as they try desperately to stay just beyond the range of demotion. Indeed, there is usually much more interest in that battle than there is at the top of the table; most championships are decided well before the end of the season, because there is no playoff system, and the top dog at the end is the winner. Of course, at lower levels, there is interest at both ends of the table, as both promotion and relegation are possible.

It should be noted that the structure of football internationally may soon change. Already, in many countries, the top teams have begun to modify the structure of competition, in order to maximize their marketing potential. In England, the top flight of football is called the Premier League, and is not run directly by the Football Association, although it retains most of the same rules, including relegation to, and promotion from, the misleadingly named First Division. A more close parallel to American leagues was almost created by Europe’s top teams, who threatened to form a Europe-wide league of top teams competing without the sanction of the UEFA, which runs competitions among the previous year’s winners of each country’s champions and top finishers. UEFA were forced to modify their competition in such a way that certain teams (e.g. Manchester United, Barcelona FC, etc.) were granted almost a permanent status in the “Champion’s League.” It likely won’t be too much longer before the teams finally break away from the model of competing in someone else’s playground, and create an American type of league.

Nice response, but I will take on this one part. IMO, NFL players, at least most of them, are not overpaid. At least not in the same manner as NBA and MLB players. Due to the enormous TV contracts that the NFL gets and the salary cap that they have in place, every team starts roughly $20 million in the black before they sell one ticket or one T-shirt. Also as an aside, Lamar Hunt is also a big player in the soccer league.

I chose Lamar Hunt on purpose, to illustrate the differences between the American game and overseas. Indeed, he is big in MLS, in even a greater way than in the NFL. His investment in MLS allows him to be the controlling investor in charge of more than one team! Between them, he and Phillip Anschutz control almost 3/4ths of the league!!. At the present time it is not exactly clear to me who has what, but from the official MLS web site, I count Mr. Anschutz as having control of five teams (Chicago, D.C. United, NY/NJ, LA and San Jose) and Mr. Hunt as having control of three teams (Columbus, Dallas and K.C.). New England is owned by the Krafts, and Colorado is owned by Stan Kroenke, who also owns the Rams, the Nuggets and the Avalanche.

And people wonder why I don’t bother watching MLS soccer…

Baseball relegation would run into the problem of player contracts also. A AAA team has a working arrangement with a Major League team. So it’s quite possible (if not somewhat likely) that a team’s own AAA affiliate could be the team that is getting promoted while its parent is getting relegated.

This would be because a AAA team had good prospects and the Major League team did not want to call them up in order to avoid giving the players MLB service time, which counts toward the time the players can become free agents.

Baseball also has the problem of being split into two leagues with geographic arrangements. What if the team being relegated is Detroit and the team being promoted is Las Vegas (Dodgers’ AAA franchise)? Do you just plop Las Vegas down into the AL Central? Or do you rearrange the entire divisional arrangement?

Also MLB’s schedule is done very far in advance so it would be tough to plan how to schedule road trips for teams if Detroit and Milwaukee were out of MLB and replaced by Las Vegas and Edmonton.

I think both the NHL and MLB would also run into problems with lease agreements on their venues. I doubt that a team is going to want spend as much on rent for a big facility if it is only going to host minor league action

I think the relegation question has been answered pretty well, in short, the owners wouldn’t go for it.

Although, I figure this would help teams like Washington and Pittsburgh to rebuild their franchises without spending the money to be the NHL.


Washington is already taking the steps it needs to rebuild. It doesn’t need much more help. Within the past few months it has dumped all of its high-salary players and loaded up on young talent and draft picks. They’ll most certainly suck for a year or two (assuming the next year or two are played), but after that they should have a relatively cheap, young, good team. Add a few high-priced veterans and you’ve got a mid-priced competitive team. Which is a hell of a lot better than they’ve had this year (an overpriced sucky team).

Because the players don’t want to get ripped off like NFL players. A cap could work, but you also need revenue sharing and some kind of adjustment system for the cap so that the players don’t end up getting ripped off.

Owners like Leonsis are a perfect example of both the problem and the solution. Leonsis figured he could buy a stanley cup if he just brought in enough high-priced talent. That didn’t work, and the capitals lost a lot of money. It appears that he learned his lesson. The solution is to pay for the talent only where it will help you, and only to the point where you can still make money.

The Minnesota Twins are a perfect example of this system – they build a team the old fashioned way, bring in cheap young prospects and develop them, saving money along the way. Once they get good enough, they may bring in more talent or sign a few of their home-grown freeagents, perhaps overspending a bit (drawing upon the money saved in the “cheap” years) and go for a championship or two. When the salary costs get too painful and the team isn’t winning, shed the salaries and start over.

Why punish the players with salary caps when the problem is with the owners lack of fiscal discipline?