Different hockey world envisioned

By the time you read this column, perhaps the NHL and the NHLPA have made enough progress in their contract talks that an agreement to end the 53-day lockout is near.
Or, more than likely at this point, everything is still status quo between both sides and fans will remain frustrated over the fact there’s still no professional hockey action taking place.
No matter what happens over the next couple of days, though, both sides eventually will come to an agreement and supporters slowly will flock back to their favourite team’s arena or local watering hole to show their support.
All in all, other than a few changes when it comes to revenue sharing and contracts, it’ll be one big happy family—at least until the next collective bargaining agreement has to be set in stone.
But instead of everything returning to normal once again, why not reinvent the wheel when it comes to the professional hockey landscape?
Let’s say that instead of rewarding teams with a high draft pick for their ineptitude each season, let’s have the lowest of the low bumped down to the AHL and move the Calder Cup champs up to the big leagues.
Or, if you want to make things really dramatic, you can break up the league structure altogether and just have different tiers in each province, where any town can have a shot at maybe one day winning the crown as best team in the province and then later in the country.
Now, you may have noticed this method sounds quite similar to what it’s currently like in club soccer in Europe, which is something I would love to see. I mean, could you imagine a competition where a team from Fort Frances would go up against Toronto for the provincial crown?
When you think about it, it’s actually kind of similar to what the quest for the Stanley Cup was like nearly a century ago, when it was a challenge tournament.
Due to the franchise system in the North American pro game, however, that will never happen sadly. But there is a chance of one thing occurring that will change the face of the NHL in the near future.
And that’s the rise of European leagues, most notably the KHL.
Right now, it’s mainly the young Russian talents, like Washington Capitals’ prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, who have decided to stay home and play instead of travelling abroad, or “journeymen” whose time in the NHL are drawing to an end.
But there may be a point that a young player in North America might find the chance of earning more money in Russia than in the NHL as a rookie would be something that’s tempting to them, especially with the guaranteed contracts that all first-year players must sign before suiting up for a team like Columbus.
Or, maybe it’ll be an established veteran who decides that the draw of Europe intrigues them more than playing in the NHL, which is what Alex Ovechkin has stated might happen depending on what the new CBA will be like.
Granted, that might seem a little big far-fetched, especially for those who believe the NHL is the be-all and end-all when it comes to pro hockey leagues.
However, did anyone think Bobby Hull would sign with the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA for a million dollars back in 1972?
Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t expect to wake up in the morning to find out that Sidney Crosby has signed up to play for Dynamo Moscow for the next five years, or that super-prospect Connor McDavid will begin his professional career in Sweden instead of going to the NHL.
But when it comes to the world of hockey, and sports in general, you can never say never.
• • •
On a personal note, I was very excited to find out Monday night that the OHL is on the verge of returning to North Bay next season, as the Brampton Battalion will be moving to the Gateway City on the condition that 2,000 season tickets are sold for three years and that it is approved by the league board of governors.
Having attended school in the city for three years, the remnants of the old Centennials were everywhere throughout the Memorial Gardens, most notably with the banner of their 1994 championship team still hanging in the rafters.
With the Centennials having moved to Saginaw, Mich. a decade ago, there always was the rumour that major junior hockey would come back while I was in town, but nothing ever came of it.
But just like with the Jets returning to Winnipeg last season, North Bay is back in the OHL mix once again—and I, for one, already am planning to travel there to soak in the atmosphere.

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