When I first started following soccer, I enjoyed the UEFA Champions League more than any other domestic league or even international tournament. Originally, I think I was intrigued by the novelty of club teams from different countries playing against each other, something that you don’t see in any of the four major sports in the United States. Later, as I became more knowledgeable about the game, I realized that the Champions League provides the highest level of competition there is in European soccer. Even though the top club and top international teams have comparable talent levels, the club teams practice together and develop a chemistry that can’t be matched by an international team, simply due to the amount of time spent together. It’s easily one of the most interesting leagues/events in sports.
With that said, I’ve always wondered why the NHL didn’t try to replicate the Champions League with some of the stronger European hockey leagues. Of the four major sports in the US, it has always been the best suited to do so. The NBA, NFL, and MLB just don’t have enough international leagues to compete with that are on a comparable talent level. Even though the NHL is clearly the world’s best hockey league, the KHL is gaining ground and the SM-liiga of Finland and the Elitserien of Sweden possess teams capable of competing with NHL teams.
For proof, you don’t have to look any further than the 2008 and 2009 Victoria Cup (which is now defunct). In 2008, the New York Rangers defeated Metallurg Magnitogorsk 4-3 and the 2009 game saw the ZSC Lions squeak by the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1. With international teams being capable of playing competitive games against NHL teams, it’s a ripe time to start a Champions League of hockey. (Side note: In the 2008-2009 season, there was a Champions Hockey League that featured seven different European countries. The NHL, however, did not participate and the league folded after one season.) By helping to start — or revamp the old CHL — the NHL could not only grow its brand worldwide, but it could also greatly increase its revenue. And what professional sports league doesn’t want more revenue?
Still, no matter how much money there is to be made, there are some major issues standing in the way, which likely has kept the Champions Hockey League from happening. Apparently, however, the NHL has found a way to resolve those issues, as both SB Nation and Chris Botta of the Sports Business Journal reported that the league was looking to begin a “Champions Cup” by 2016.
As I see it, the three major issues that the NHL was and is still facing in the creation of a Champions Cup are timing, traveling, and overshadowing the Stanley Cup. Fortunately for the NHL, there’s a way to solve all three of these issues.
There’s just no getting around it. A Champions Cup or Champions Hockey League would involve a ton of travel, especially for the NHL clubs. In addition, traveling across the Atlantic at the beginning of the week to play a few Champions League games, only to have to turn around and head back for some regular season games back in the US would be brutal and a competitive disadvantage for teams in the Champions League.
So what? The best soccer teams deal with this kind of schedule, right? Well, yes and no. Although Champions League games are normally held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and clubs head back home to play domestic games on the weekend, they’re not traveling as far as an NHL team would be. Also, hockey teams are expected to play as many as four games in a week, while soccer teams, at the most, will play twice in any given week.
In order to resolve the travel issue, the NHL should adopt a tournament format for the Champions League/Cup. By adopting a tournament style as opposed to a full league schedule like soccer uses, the NHL could hold the tournament in a single location over a week or two. Every season, the tournament could be held in a different location, which would give each participating league a chance to feature the tournament. In addition, it would cut down on travel costs and be less taxing on the teams participating in it.
With the travel issue solved, timing becomes the next obstacle standing in the way of a Champions Cup. This season, the NHL will take almost a month long break for the Winter Olympics, something it’s clearly reluctant to do. If the league is reluctant to take a break every four years, it’s hard to see how it would be willing to take a significant break in the middle of every season.
To avoid a break mid-season, the NHL should conduct the Champions Cup during its preseason. For the past few seasons, the league has sent teams to Europe to play exhibition games. Instead of meaningless exhibition games, why not just send the teams participating in the Champions Cup? Unless, of course, an American or Canadian city is hosting the tournament that year, in which case the teams would head to that city.
The Champions Cup should also be held toward the end of the preseason. This way, NHL teams could hold their training camps in the city the tournament is being held in during the time they would regularly have their camps. By giving them time for a normal camp, NHL teams wouldn’t be at a competitive disadvantage during the tournament and could use the tournament as a springboard into the regular season. Let’s face it, the NHL preseason is boring. By including a Champions Cup tournament, the NHL could create some excitement and lend some importance to the most lackluster aspect of its schedule.
OVERSHADOWING THE STANLEY CUP
The final major problem that the NHL faces is creating an event that would overshadow the Stanley Cup. Without a doubt, the Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in sports and the NHL would be making a mistake if it helped create an event that took anything away from the Stanley Cup playoffs. In soccer, for example, plenty of teams covet winning the UEFA Champions League over their own domestic leagues. This is something the NHL definitely doesn’t want to emulate.
Luckily, we’ve already solved this problem. By having the tournament in the preseason, the NHL ensures that future generations of hockey players will always value the Stanley Cup over the Champions Cup. If the NHL really wanted to make sure this never happened, it could just create a trophy for the Champions Cup as lame as the Victoria Cup trophy.
So there you have it, all of the major problems standing in the way of a Champions Cup have been solved. Of course, there are still some areas to be worked out including the tournament format, leagues included, and how teams would qualify for the Champions Cup. All of these, however, should be easily resolvable now that the major obstacles are out of the way.
You’re welcome, NHL.
Previously from Charlie Crespo:
♦ Frankenbride; or, The Contemporary Prometheus
♦ Viral Video of the Week: ESPN is Clearly Excited to Have the NFL Back
♦ On Trying to Find a Sleeping Bag in Shanghai
♦ Flopping Has Finally Infiltrated the NFL
♦ Science Says You’re Happy With a 40-Hour Work Week