BOTW Breakdown – Dissecting the EPIHL 2015/16 changes

We'll see a multi coloured Tomas Karpov this season but how much of overtime will he see with the new rule changes? (c) 5 Hole Photography

We’ll see a multi coloured Tomas Karpov this season but how much of overtime will he see with the new rule changes?
(c) 5 Hole Photography

After no news for so long due to teams not having anywhere to play and a new team magically appearing in the league, the league board has announced some changes to format and structure of the league. Let’s take a look at the changes from last season to this and examine them in better detail;

League and Cup Structure: With the addition to the league of the Hull Pirates (welcome aboard me hearties) the league reverts back to the structure we’re all used to of a 54 game regular season with 3 home and 3 away games against each of the other 9 teams.

This means the cup reverts back to its more traditional mode the top 4 in the cup table advancing to the semi finals. Semi finals and finals will be two legs as par normal.

This is the instant upside of the addition of our new friends from the East Riding. Whilst I have to confess to having enjoyed the games against the NIHL sides, the results and competitiveness of those games showed the gulf between EPL sides and NIHL 1 sides, even those at the upper end of the respective leagues. From the Bison watching perspective, we certainly saw some good individual performances from players like Chelmsford’s Brandon Ayliffe and Invicta’s Billy Phillips but despite a couple of scalps of EPL sides former Slough match night DJ, Mark Denholm’s description of the experiment as the “carnage cup” was relatively well founded.

We don’t know what sort of team the Pirates are going to be able to cobble together in such a short space of time so the level of competitiveness in this year’s EPL remains to be seen but we have a more sound structure and a cup competition back to being to the liking of the majority.

3 on 3 Overtime: This one I confess to being slightly bemused about rather than having any direct objections to it. For the 2014/15 season, the American Hockey League (one level below the NHL) played a 7 minute overtime period; 3 minutes of 4 on 4 skaters followed by 4 minutes of 3 on 3 before heading to the shootout. The NHL’s response to this experiment has been that the 2015/16 season will see 3 on 3 skaters in overtime for 5 minutes before heading to the shootout if the scores are tied at the end of overtime. It’s this model that has been adopted by the EPIHL.

The first problem is the lack of clarification regarding imports that should have been put in the initial press release. Given the general rules of the EPIHL, most people are making the fair assumption that this means only 1 import on the ice for the duration of overtime. I’ve seen some comments this morning grumbling about that overtime would be dull with fewer imports or that the majority of a team’s skilled players are imports which I have little sympathy for. The simple argument is why suddenly change the rules for overtime? Excitement factor or not, why muddy the waters when you’ve already played 60 minutes of hockey? If your team’s British players aren’t the most “skilful” or your team has gone down the import netminder option then that’s the coach’s choice and your team has to live with it.

From a Bison perspective, Basingstoke have some very skilful British players and an import netminder but it leaves arguably one of the most skilful players in the EPL on the bench for the duration of the extra frame. I wouldn’t object to them allowing two imports on the ice for overtime but I don’t think it happens and I think that’s fine. This also has to be one of the reasons for the Bison’s continued negotiations with Dean Skinns; if the Bison end up in an overtime situation you have a solid EPL level netminder to step in, albeit cold, for situations where the Bison get a powerplay for example and can swap Hiadlovsky for Karpov on the ice for added firepower.

If I’m honest, I’d rather have seen a format where OT goes from 4 on 4 for a couple of minutes to 3 on 3 for the final few minutes but understand why if they were going to make this change, why they did it. If it’s good enough for the NHL then it’s probably good enough for the EPIHL.

Whether it leads to more results in OT or not, I don’t know but I don’t object to the shootout as vociferously as some. As an aside, please don’t start bleating “it’s a skills contest” at me. We’re watching a sport where 6 feet tall, 200lbs men move across ice on a knife edge at around 20-30mph whilst trying to manoeuvre something the width of an orange with a stick into a net; the entire sport is a skills contest. Object to the shootout because you have no issue with a draw but the “boo hiss skills contest” card is weak and over played.

For my money, if they want to incentivise winning “in game” rather than the shootout, then move to a European style 3-2-1-0 points system where winning in regulation earns you more points than in OT or the shootout.

Playoff format aka pick your poison: This one has drawn a lot of criticism from people being called “pointless”, “crazy” and a variety of other adjectives. Some people have even accused both Red Hockey and Silverblades/Planet Ice of potentially wanting to conspire to get certain teams to finals weekend over others which is a great start to things; do you really think you’re going to convince either Doug Sheppard or Pete Russell to get their side to lay down for the other? What about Tony Hand or Tom Watkins?

Let’s also make sure we’re clear here, it’s not a free for all. The league champions get first pick of playoff opponents, then second place of what’s left, then third and that’s it. Whilst this system was trialled in rugby league’s Super League with little success (I personally think playoffs in rugby are a waste of time but that’s another story), it’s a format that’s worked well in sports like speedway and in hockey leagues in Europe like Denmark and Austria.

Is the current playoff format broken? From an administrative standpoint, no. It’s simple enough, everyone knows where they stand.

Is this a reason not to try something different? Also no.

The length of the playoffs in this country isn’t ideal. I’d rather we were playing 3 or 5 or 7 games series like other leagues in other countries manage to do. We can’t do that here for a mix of reasons both good and stupid so we have what we have. Why then, if we can agree that our format isn’t ideal, are we concerned with something that simply changes potential quarter final opponents and actually makes it a bit more interesting?

Out of all the new ideas coming out of this press release, this is the one I’ve had the least issue with, possibly because I’ve paid attention to Austrian hockey for a bit. We’re incentivising teams to keep trying in the run in because there’s something to play for. Second and third become useful because you get a right to pick. Teams towards the lower end of the table can’t tank anymore to try and avoid a potential opponent because you’re always a potential opponent. Want a local derby so your fans can pack their barn and vice versa with your record against them is 5-1 across the season? That’s your team’s right to choose if you finish high enough. I can’t see what people’s issues with this is, as long as we don’t give out £5000 cheques for coming second again as that was just silly.

Shirt colours: This is the one I just don’t understand.

Aside from causing a nightmare for clubs that had already organised own and loan shirts on a home and away basis, this is the one that seems to be the “what’s the logic behind this” decision. Whether you agree with the reasons or not you can find a reason for the structural changes, you can find a reason for the playoffs bit and the overtime but this is the one that feels like it was done on a bit of a whim. It’s the least important of the changes, don’t get me wrong, the impact is relatively minimal but it just seems weird.

In some ways, given how silent the league has been over the summer when you had major stakeholders at each other’s throats over the Manchester Phoenix issues, it’s nice that the respective people have managed to hash something out in terms of moving forward together on a few points. Now, give us those fixtures! There’s planning to do.

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