An excerpt from Slate.com:
Much of the time I save by ignoring the NHL every year is spent following British soccer. I’ve come to love its system of promotion and relegation. The English Premiership, where teams like Manchester United and Liverpool play, is the big leagues. There are several other leagues below it. At the end of each season, the three worst Premiership teams are kicked down to the league immediately below them. The best two teams from that lower league move up; the third team gets promoted after winning a thrilling playoff series.
The first order of business: Getting down to your fighting weight. Convene a crack independent panel of hockey people and economists (say, Wayne Gretzky, Alan Greenspan, Alan Thicke, and Neal Peart) to come up with the optimal number of NHL franchises. Some sports economists suggest that a 20-team NHL would be making money hand over fist. I’ll use that figure until Thicke and co. come back with their findings. But how do you ditch teams without looking like you’re waving the white flag? You contract through relegation.
Tomorrow, issue a press release that says you will eliminate the five teams with the worst records at the end of the 2008-09 season. Then, don’t answer media phone calls for a couple of days. After you’ve milked your moment in the PTI/SportsCenter/talk-radio sun, watch as teams scramble for players. This process will be grossly unfair: The wealthy teams will buy up the talent and the struggling teams will get scraps. Sure, a few teams will spend way above their ability to pay. They’ll do it, though, because their very survival will be on the line.
Once the regular season begins, hockey’s TV ratings will pass those of the NBA. While pro basketball’s worst teams lose on purpose to secure a better position in the draft lottery, the dregs of your league will leave their blood on the ice. Picture it: “Tonight on Versus, it all comes down to one game for the Atlanta Thrashers. Beat the Colorado Avalanche or say goodbye to the NHL.” I’d watch that, and I’m not even sure I get Versus.