Have you ever turned on your TV throughout the month of July and seen that the NBA has a summer league and wondered why the NHL doesn’t do the same? Sure, the NHL has development camps, but that isn’t televised, and it’s difficult to navigate sometimes. Right now, the NBA has its annual summer league at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s a summer league where the brightest young talents in the NBA’s G-League (the NBA’s equivalent to the AHL) play in a short summer tournament for a trophy at stake. This is begging the question, can a summer league work for the NHL as well?
This idea recently took center stage as Carlo Colaiacovo tweeted on July 7th that the NHL should create a summer league like the NBA does to grow the game. While other teams play in smaller tournaments, usually, they are team ran affairs and are never set in stone.
When the IHL folded and then merged with the AHL back in 2001, there used to be two developmental leagues. It is also important to note that technology is far more advanced than it used to be; having sheets of ice in the July and August months and making sure they are not slushy after one use isn’t far-fetched. If the popularity behind it presents itself and the owners think it’s a solid financial opportunity, we might see a developmental camp and a short summer league in the summer months.
There is one major thing to consider in this possible venture; the NHL would have to find one or multiple venues that can host multiple games at a time and dozens per day. The NBA has their summer league in Las Vegas, and they have consistently used a venue with multiple courts and attract fans to each game. The NHL could easily find a Canadian city with a venue large enough to host lots of fans and ice multiple rinks to host dozens of games per day.
Now, when I think of this possible summer league for the NHL, you can make it a true developmental experience for each team. Below are my ideas for an NHL summer league.
Firstly, continue with the five-on-five for three 20-minute periods, the rules are the same, and the schedule is short and sweet. It doesn’t have to be long; you don’t have to play each team once; an eight-game schedule would suffice. Play four games in the eastern conference and then four more in the western conference. The top-two teams in each division would then play a single-elimination playoff series in their divisional matchups. This would be followed by a single-elimination series for conference matchups and then an NHL summer league trophy single-elimination series final.
Secondly, you can have a few veteran players or players with a couple of years of NHL experience playing in the summer league. This may help the younger prospects develop into solid NHL players, given the mentorship they can receive from the veteran players. The veteran guys don’t have to play all eight games, but they can be incredibly helpful with mentoring and developing their potential teammates.
Thirdly, this would be an incredible opportunity for the NHL to find newer NHL referees. This also gives teams plenty of opportunities to look at assistant coaches or coaches in their AHL/ECHL affiliates. Teams can also find new staff members in this short development camp and have an assistant general manager and an assistant coach develop the rosters for each summer league season. The opportunities and potential are endless in this possible venture.
Fourthly, this can give the team an idea of what their possible future looks like. This can also help the AHL teams mold their teams far better, however, I would argue that you can shorten the season a bit at the AHL level if you bring in an NHL summer league.
Lastly, the viewership that can be reached is limitless. Imagine if the NHL had a summer league after Connor McDavid was drafted in 2015. We knew McDavid was as advertised, but imagine seeing him dominate the competition before becoming a full-time NHL superstar. While there is Da Beauty League, the NHL doesn’t give much attention or support to the players that go to play in the DBL. You can also find many NHL players and prospects playing in recreational leagues throughout the summer months. If the players want to play hockey year-round, why limit them to just the regular season and playoffs?
While I cannot condense my entire brain of ideas into one simple article, the benefits of a potential NHL summer massively outweigh the negatives. The players live and breathe the sport, so why would we limit them to not playing as much hockey as they’d want to?