Thursday, January 19, 2012

BCHL Announces Changes For Next Year

Some intriguing news out of BCHL headquarters today to say the least, and if you're a regular browser of blogs around the league you'll know I'm far from the first to touch on what came down tonight.

First, the full release is available on the BCHL website here.

The two big changes that seem to be real head-scratchers with my colleagues around the league are both the choice to drop from 60 to 56 games next season, and that the Prince George Spruce Kings will play in the Mainland division next year.

The shortened schedule (which also includes two games in the newly-announced BCHL Showcase, meaning each team's home dates drop from 30 to 27), is being heralded in the interest of more flexibility in scheduling weekend home dates. The Smoke Eaters have been fortunate enough to play quite infrequently on weekdays (2 of the last three Wednesdays aside). The biggest issue for me isn't so much that there are fewer home dates (which will almost surely bring about a decrease in revenue), but that it appears as though fewer teams will make their way here to the West Kootenay.

Why, you might ask? Details of the 2012-13 schedule have yet to be announced, but take into consideration the fact the Interior division will have only six teams (Merritt, Penticton, Salmon Arm, Trail, Vernon and Westside). Assuming the "half-interlock" schedule (or a modified version of it) will be put into place for next fall, that means fans in Trail could see as few as TEN of the fifteen other teams in the league, down from the eleven that will or have already made their way to Cominco Arena this season. I'd imagine it will be cumbersome enough for Smokies fans to deal with the fact that four of Trail's final eight home games this season are against Prince George (no offense Spruce Kings, but I like my Crayola box with 64 colours and not 16), let alone the repetition that could be brought into play next fall.

The showcase, I think, is a brilliant idea, if it's done right. Imagine all 16 teams descending on Prince George, Trail or Powell River for a weekend and the boost that could bring to each city's local economy. Chambers of Commerce in Nelson, Castlegar and Trail continue to laud this past summer's BC Seniors Games and the positive short, and potential long-term impacts that four-day event had on a corner of the province few people know about. My only concern is what impact it might have on the Smokies' pre-season tournament, typically held the weekend prior to September 7th-9th, and whether teams in the BCHL may opt out of participating given that the season-opening weekend would be just around the corner.

The two issues that still need to be addressed, in my mind, are the 2013 playoff format and whether the 21-man roster will continue to exist following this season. While a "top 4 in each division" scenario has been rumoured, it'll be interesting to see how it's governed given the fact that there will be three divisions in play rather than two. We could perhaps see a seeding situation much like the recently-rejected NHL conference realignment, in that regular season standing could play a role in determining who plays who once the post-season reaches a certain point.

The 21-man roster is another animal, and one the Smokies coaching staff have made quite clear they would like to see returned from whence it came. To use Trail's example, the Smokies have not dressed a full 20-man roster (sans APs) since September 24th. Even increasing the roster size by one player would add so much more flexibility for every BCHL team.

I'm hoping to connect with Smoke Eaters president Tom Gawryletz over the next few days, but my posting/airing of his take on the mid-season meetings could be delayed given this weekend's road swing.

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