The Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) have rubberstamped alterations to the league’s structure from next season following the additions of Guildford Flames and Milton Keynes Lighting that sees the league increase from 10 teams to 12.
Replacing the Erhardt and Gardiner Conferences, the decision to increase the number of conferences to three conferences of four was ratified at the league meeting at the end of April. It ends any lingering speculation surrounding the future of the Edinburgh Capitals who, along with fellow Scottish sides Dundee Stars and Fife Flyers, had grown concerned about the implications of a two conference structure. Rumours had begun to circulate that the Capitals were prepared to walk away if a compromise could not be reached, but Edinburgh co-owner Scott Neil, speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News, expressed his delight at the outcome.
“We’re certainly happy that there was a consensus to keep all 12 teams involved. Some clubs have had to make sacrifices and, from my point of view, they’ve made these sacrifices for the good of the league and all those within it.
“It’s a positive step forward, and I don’t think it’s just the Scottish clubs that will benefit. For some, it’s not a perfect scenario, but for us it certainly gives us the chance to keep competing at this level.”
The new set-up will feature an exclusively Scottish conference comprised of Braehead Clan, Fife Flyers, Dundee Stars and the Edinburgh Capitals with teams competing over an expanded league campaign of 56 games, up from 52 last season. Continuing the theme of eight games against conference opponents, the Capitals will face four games against the rest of the league as had been the case in previous seasons.
For Edinburgh, the compromise staves off the prospect of increased travel costs that would have come from a six team, two conference structure. The new additions, Guildford and Milton Keynes, will line up alongside Manchester Storm and Coventry Blaze, while the standout conference is undoubtedly the one featuring Belfast, Sheffield, Cardiff and Nottingham – arguably the top four sides in the league.
Preparations for next season can now begin in earnest for Edinburgh who will look to put the disappointment of missing the play-offs for a fourth straight season behind them. The club have yet to give word on whether player/coach Michal Dobron will be back for a second season, while all but two of the club’s imports, Michael D’Orazio and Taylor MacDougall, have come to the end of their one-year contracts.
It certainly promises to be an interesting summer for the Capitals as they seek to arrest any lingering memories of their shortcomings in previous seasons. Time will tell how many of this year’s roster return for another crack at the Elite League, in what promises to be one of the most unpredictable campaigns in years.
Neil and the Capitals’ front office will face the task of assembling a squad, on a shoestring, on par with the 2016/17 Edinburgh side – no mean feat given this year’s side were widely said to have been one of the best Capitals squads ever to take to the ice.
Change is not limited to the Scottish capital though. Belfast parted company with player/coach Derrick Walser, while Braehead dispensed with Ryan Finnerty following their play-off quarter-final exit.
Nottingham, meanwhile, are undertaking open-heart surgery of their roster following a disappointing domestic season. Captain Brad Moran, forward Chris Lawrence and netminder Miika Wiikman have already departed.
Sheffield, play-off champions following their win over Cardiff Devils, have seen Anders Franzon, Geoff Walker and Luke Ferrara depart, but have tied down the likes of Guillaume Desbiens, Mathieu Roy, Ervins Mustukovs and Colton Fretter to deals.
The aforementioned changes though have been met with mixed opinions, but it is a compromise that ensures that a structure has been adopted that works for all 12 sides. That cannot be a bad thing for the EIHL, or British ice hockey.
Image courtesy of RobberRobins via Wikimedia Commons