Re-Alignment More Than a AHL Issue
It has been a remarkable year for the Braehead Clan and no matter how the final two weeks of the season turn out it will still be a season that has marked a coming of age of the franchise. But is also leaves the question of what to do about the EIHL conference structure.
When the conference structure was introduced it was to aid the new franchises in Scotland by giving them more games against local sides and cut travel for all sides. It was done to aid teams development with the more established sides in one conference and the less so at the EIHL level in the other. That was controversial enough but not unheard of after all the NHL did the same with its Western Conference in the late 60â€™s.
But the success of the Clan particular this season but also last season in making the playoff weekend along side fellow Gardiner conference companions the Fife Flyers means the EIHL must re-examine the composition of the conferences.
Re-alignment would not be an issue if it were not that the Hull Stingrays play in the Gardiner Conference alongside the 4 Scottish sides despite being closer to Coventry, Sheffield and Nottingham of the Erdhart Conference. You need to draw the line somewhere I agree but Belfast is closer to Braehead than Hull and has a short ferry crossing to Scotland. Belfast is also a strong and established side at the EIHL level.
Swapping Hull and Belfast makes sense. On a playing level it makes the conferences more even in terms of season long play. It makes travel easier for fans both to Belfast with the crossing from Scotland and for Hull. It also benefits the Braehead Clan with more games against what is a statistically a historically stronger side than its fellow conference rivals making games tighter and more entertaining. It evens out the Erhardt Conference as well. In the past seasons both Cardiff and Coventry have struggled and having a historically less successful side in the Hull Stingrays it will make the conference more competitive.
Ultimately the winner is the EIHL with a tighter title, playoff and conference race with increased travel for fans. It also makes it easier to admit a London franchise which has been mooted in recent months and another Scottish side. This is the right time but the EIHL needs to look beyond the interests of only the arena teams.