The question arises every year as to which is more “valuable”, the League or the Play-offs? Obviously in the case of two separate winners the one that wins each one will say them! But here’s my take on it.
To win the Play-offs you have to win your very last game of the season and therefore you end a winner. In the EPL days you could win the Play-offs by winning just 3 games which to me made a bit of a farce of the post season! Obviously you played your quarter final home and away and if you won one leg by a big enough margin you could afford to lose the other leg and still qualify. Once you got to Coventry you had to win two more games meaning you could lift what some see as the most valuable trophy in sport by winning just three times!
Now in the NHL the Stanley Cup is the trophy every player aspires to lift. But to win it you have to firstly qualify in your regular season conference table and then go through best of seven series in each round before getting to the conference final which you have to win. You then have one more best of seven series, the final, before lifting the trophy. It’s arguably the most difficult trophy in sport to win.
The winner of the regular league goes away with the President’s Trophy. You’ve proven yourself to be the best team over a long, tough regular season. There’s long road trips to do, tough home stints and it’s a long season. But ….. there’s the Stanley Cup to chase after over all those best of seven series. Add in the tight schedule of each round and the potential long journeys back and forth too. Think of this, to win just a single Stanley Cup finals round you have to win one more game than the minimum to win the entire 2016/17 EPL play-offs!
This year in the NIHL the Play-offs is slightly different. There’s an extra round to do as with the North/South divide there’s a South Play Off and a North Play-off and then there’ll be an overall Play-Off Champion which makes it a bit trickier to win as you have to win that one big showpiece final after having won your own conference final.
But to me the most valuable prize is the league. Last year it was the best team over 54 games, this year it’s the best team over 32. Because of the extra team in the Northern Conference it’s hard to just say Sheffield won the regular season because they got more points as they got more points by virtue of having more games to play in which to accumulate points. There’s quite a jump between the top 3 ex EPL teams and the next team in the North, whereas in the South London forced an ex-EPL team out of the top echelon in the final standings. Because of the way it’s all worked it’s hard to say there’s a harder or easier conference.
All that said I still believe as the league is the toughest prize to win it is the most valuable. You have to consistently be the best over the course of a long period. From September to March there’s various competitions thrown in to side track from the league but you have to remain consistent and focussed and be better! There’s eight (or nine up North) other teams to face to win that prize over the course of seven months and only then when you’ve earned more points than the other eight (or nine) can you call yourself league champion.
Right now it’s all about focussing on winning the final available trophy of the season. The Play-offs are intense, just one bad shift can cost you a place in the next round! It’s the final throw of the season, the chance for the underdog to really come through. The pressure is almost more on the top teams than the bottom teams.
I’m guessing next year there’ll be few, if any, changes in the organisation of NIHL1 but moving forward I’d like to see some changes. There are nineteen teams currently in NIHL1 North and South but who knows what will happen next year. Cardiff Fire have had a tough season in the South, the Dragons have had slightly better success in the North but not much better. Hopefully we’ll retain the teams we have this year and hopefully as time progresses the gap between top and bottom will become narrower.
The one change I’d like to see is to get rid of one of the cup competitions, either the National Cup or the Autumn Cup, I’m not fussed which one, and to get games between the Moralee and Briton conferences as part of the league next season. I’d have to take time to work out the feasible logistics in terms of fitting this in the schedule but it would be nice to see South teams play North teams in the league then you’d be able to have Moralee and Briton League winners as well as an overall league winner too.
Obviously the majority of your games would be against your own conference but it we were to do it with this year’s conferences, plus one in the South, it could fit into a 56 game season which is just two more league games than we played last season. With the loss of one of the cup competitions it’s entirely possible to work and would I believe make for a more varied and more entertaining season and make a better structure for the second tier.
For now the priority has to be stability. Growing the fortunes and strengthening the lower teams in each conference to make the conferences more competitive. We need to look to progress the sport and I think combining the two conferences and making an overall league too would be a good way forward but not at the expense of the stability of either conference or any team.