Wednesdays are typically the day we are handed the new CHL rankings, so let’s have a quick chat about them.
For followers of the WHL, the rankings have been good news. Four teams – Winnipeg Ice, Edmonton Oil Kings, Everett Silvertips, and Kamloops Blazers – have consistently been at or near the top of the rankings. We’ve even seen appearances from the Red Deer Rebels, Kelowna Rockets, and Portland Winterhawks. So at face value, good news.
However, let’s look at this a little deeper. How accurate are these rankings? In the WHL, Eastern Conference teams are playing only Eastern Conference teams. And Western Conference teams are only playing Western Conference teams. As such, while we may know that Winnipeg is better than Edmonton or that Everett is better than Kamloops. How do we truly know that Winnipeg or Edmonton are better than teams like Everett or Kamloops? They haven’t played each other.
Let’s take a deeper look at this. How do we truly know that a WHL team is better than an OHL and QMJHL? Or vice versa? They don’t play each other, so a lot of this is pure speculation. We can debate it, but our arguments would have no practical backing.
Furthermore, what is the actual benefit of being a top-ranked team in the CHL? You don’t get a bye into a Memorial Cup spot. While the Vanier Cup (Canadian university football) and similar hockey leagues award rankings, the CHL does not.
So, this leads to the question. Should we drop the CHL rankings system? Absolutely not. We need to find a way for them to matter. We need them to be part of the actual hockey conversation. We need to be able to have a genuine debate. So, how do we do it?
It’s time for the CHL to start looking at inter-league play. WHL teams should play OHL teams and QMJHL teams, and they should not be exhibition games. They should count in the standings. It could be similar to what the NFL does, where top teams play top teams, and bottom teams play bottom teams.
We will get the benefits of the rankings; however, let’s stop to look at the potential benefits of this.
1) It would help with the development of the players. The three leagues play very different styles, and this would provide yet another way for players to grow and learn.
2) There would be exciting games that would generate fan interest. Just imagine Matthew Savoie and the Winnipeg Ice taking on Shane Wright and the Kingston Frontenacs? Or Lukas Cormier from Charlottetown facing Logan Stankoven and the Kamloops Blazers? This would provide the opportunity to create more interest across the country. These are games with the potential to be nationally televised, and people would watch. There would be a curiosity factor at play.
Now, let’s get back to the rankings part of this because these games could add to something I’ve advocated before. I believe that it is time for the CHL to look at the “March Madness” single-elimination tournament for the Memorial Cup. More teams would play for it, and it could have a Final Four type of ending. That is where these rankings matter because the upper echelon teams will have played each other to settle who potentially would have a higher ranking. This would then allow for some interesting online and podcast debate about who is better. It creates conversation.
The CHL could use some more conversation.
So then, when it’s Wednesday, and we see the CHL rankings, and we see the WHL or whichever league dominate, there could be more interest in it. More than face values.