Thursday, February 11, 2016

How to improve the Champions Hockey League?

Two seasons of the Champions Hockey League are now behind. In this text, I'm going to tell how I'd improve the format.

First of all, I'd reduce the number of teams. Among the 48 teams there are just too many teams that don't have a realistic chance of advancing from the group stage. I think 32 or even 16 would be fine. Or 24 if you want to keep the groups of three teams. Right now there are just too many teams that don't create interest among fans in big hockey countries; the result in those games is even more predictable than in domestic league games. Sure, it's great for the weaker hockey nations to get Europe's top clubs playing there but I'm not convinced people in those countries care about the CHL once their local team has been eliminated.

I wouldn't be worried if reducing the number of teams would lead to only big hockey nations' teams being in the CHL. CHL's task shouldn't be to grow hockey in Europe but it should aim to grow its brand in the big hockey nations, to be a highly-regarded title there. Exciting games against top-level opponents should make it more attractive for fans and improve its recognition.

For the playoffs, I'd make two changes. Firstly, don't draw teams from the same country into the same draw section unless you really need to. I mean, if there are two teams from the same country, don't draw them into the same half, or if there are up to four teams from the same country, don't draw them into the same quarter, and so on. Playing against domestic league rival in a European competition just doesn't feel right.

Secondly, I'd adopt the format used in the CHL's first incarnation; instead if aggregate scores, you get two points for win or one for a tie. I mean, Frölunda winning the first leg of its semifinal against Davos by five goals made the second leg lack excitement. Had the other format been in use, they would've still needed a tie to avoid an overtime. That old format was closer to the spirit of playoffs; you don't count aggregate goals in best-of-seven either, it doesn't matter if you won the previous game 1-0 or 5-0.

And I'd keep the two-leg format for the final, too. It's the game that creates the most interest; why not to have it played in both teams' home arenas? Neither the domestic leagues go into best-of-one for the final but they know they can get big crowds for the entire final series. If anything, I'd like the CHL final be best-of-three with the Game Three being played a day after the Game Two if needed. Though I'm not sure the TV companies would like that. And of course, I'd like to get continuous overtime in case the second leg goes into overtime.

One major European league is missing from the CHL, it's the KHL. Personally, I'm not sure if the CHL needs the KHL. It's a league that aims to be Europe's leading league. That's contradictory to what the CHL should aim to be. I wouldn't totally trust in the KHL's commitment in the CHL, so maybe it's better to develop the CHL without them.

And of course, the CHL has one major problem that it can't fix. Its position in the calendar is problematic. The national leagues' playoffs with best-of-seven series are the highlight of the season. There's nothing the CHL can do for that, its season just must finish before the national playoffs. But to create interest for its product, the CHL should get rid of the weaker teams, to have genuinely exciting matches; that way fans would truly like it and the title would become higher-regarded.