With the NHL season done, hockey for the season is almost done. I say almost, because weirdly the ECHL and AHL seasons are still going.
But once those are done, the ECHL tonight and the AHL in the next few days, we’re left with a hockey void with no action from now until early to mid-September when NHL teams report back for training camps.
Tons of other sports like football and baseball have spring/summer, or winter versions of their sports. If you want football in the summer, there’s the Arena Football League or the Canadian Football League, while baseball has fall leagues, or winter leagues in warmer places like the Caribbean or Australia.
Hockey has no such league. Sure, there might be low-level roller hockey, and reportedly a more serious roller league starting next year, but what if you wanted to watch actual ice hockey? I think I’ve figured out a way that to have a short-season league that also has good talent and could benefit the minor leagues like the AHL, ECHL, SPHL and FHL.
So the Stanley Cup usual ends around June 13 let’s say, so a week after that is when you start your season. And with training camps opening in mid-September, you end your playoffs around a week before. So you’re looking at a season of half of June, all of July and August, then a week or two for playoffs in September, a roughly three-month season from start to finish, and figure in the regular season you play 2-3 times a week, we’ll shoot for 25 games. 25 games in the regular season, then two best-of-3 playoff series, and it’s all done in time so players can sign with teams for the full season and head to those camps.
Now you’re probably thinking at this point, “OK, that makes sense, but who are you getting to play in this thing?” And my thought to that is: College players who went undrafted or unsigned after their careers ended, junior players who aged out, and pro players who may have sat last season out for one reason or another. Think of it like The Spring League in football (they play a couple games with this same roster build), legit players who are hoping to get tape of them playing against other high-level players and get another chance to impress scouts, not camps where any jamoke who plunks down their $300 or whatever gets to be on the ice. And who knows, maybe someone desperate for summer TV content picks it up, like NHL Network or CBS Sports Network.
Make the rosters like the SPHL and FHL, you get 17 active guys, so three forward lines, three defense pairs, two goalies, plus a couple guys in reserve if injuries or signings happen. And we’re shooting for six teams, so you’d need roughly 120 guys, that doesn’t seem outlandish, because there are PLENTY of high-level players who didn’t get picked up by some team for one reason or another.
Pay them like the FHL or SPHL does, $150 a game or week, or whatever it is, so they’re getting at least something for taking the time to play in this league in the summer, in addition to the potential exposure they’re getting.
The biggest challenge to figure out is where you put six teams, the obvious place is Canada and the Northern US, places where they keep their ice in year-round, and then finding six rinks that are nearby so you aren’t traveling all over the place for this league, think, play a game and you’re close enough to where the team rides home and you sleep in your own bed that night. But if that doesn’t work, you could possibly play all the games in one site, and just have double-headers on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with each team playing two games on that weekend.
And most importantly: We make it an experimental league. All the rules the NHL won’t try, the Summer Hockey League will. You want bigger nets? Let’s try it one season. You want all the officials on the ice to be able to call penalties, let’s see how it works. Does goal-scoring increase if we play two periods with the long change instead of one? We’re about to find out. No goalie trapezoids? Sure, why not. No icing the puck on a penalty kill? Great! Full two-minute power plays even if they score? Sounds good! Try different things so that fans have another reason to tune in other than, “Hey, summer hockey!” Make it different, and maybe give the NHL a reason to see these things working in real games and maybe they realize that some of them could work for them.
So yeah, that’s my idea. A quick three-month league that checks all the boxes you would want in summer hockey. Good players, a chance for them to get noticed by scouts and teams, a chance to test out new rules, and best of all, a way for hockey fans to fill their fix in the summer when the only thing on TV is baseball.
Summer Hockey, make it happen someone with more money than me.