This is part one of a three-part series. This week we will look back on the different modi the NLA and NLB have used since 1980. Part two will focus on the benefits and drawbacks of the different modi, while part three will be an analysis of my “dream” modus. If enough discussion is sparked from this series, we will post a “bonus” part four analyzing the viewpoints of different parties from around Switzerland.

Over the decades, the format of the NLA and NLB has been in a constant flux. Sure, for those of you with a shorter memory, it appears not much has changed since 2000/01, when the NLA increased to 12 teams and the loser of the relegation round played a best-of-seven league qualification series against the NLB champion. This has been engrained as the status quo. But the more seasoned fans know that nothing is permanent, even in our beloved hockey leagues. Just as Heraclitus said, “change is the only constant,” we should expect the NLA and NLB to evolve over time. There have been many interesting formats over the years, with varying sizes of both leagues and different ways to determine the relegation and promotion of the worst NLA teams and best NLB teams.

One of these changes is coming soon, as in September the NLA voted to increase the number of imports and, after a rebuttal from the NLB, just this month decided that three is the magic number for the 2017/18 season. Even though this is a relatively small change, it is nevertheless a significant change, as it feels as though the NLB is slowly being locked off from the NLA. Browsing through the formats used over the last 40 years, one can see that we have never had such nonpermeable leagues before. Increasing the number of imports simply feels like one more hurdle to step over.

I’ll stop myself before I sink into an analysis of the current situation, since that is the point of part two of this series. This week, we will look at how the format of the National League has evolved since 1980. The idea is that this lookback will evoke thoughts or conversations about other possibilities for our professional hockey leagues.

It is fascinating how many different formats the NLA and NLB have used over the last four decades. Initially, I wanted this series to be one article, analyzing the information and prescribing possible solutions. However, I then realized that it would take away from the creative thinking process of seeing this information fully unbiased. If you’re passionate about Swiss hockey, take the time to look over this information and form your own opinion on what might be the right solution for the NLA and NLB. Think about how the league format affects the following issues:

 

  • Development of young players
    • Do we have the right platform for players to progress from talented 16-year-old to 24-year-old stars?
    • Does this format help our young players become internationally competitive?
  • Attractiveness of the format
    • Does the format keep things interesting through the end of the season?
    • Is there a mid-season “lull” between games 15 and 35 where not much happens? Is this an issue?
  • Quality of hockey
    • Is the on-ice product entertaining?
    • Is the gap too large between the best and worst teams?
  • Financial sustainability
    • Salaries?
    • Revenue?
  • Fear for NLA teams / Hope for NLB teams
    • Do Swiss fans need this hope/fear to fill rinks and keep fans interested?
      • e.g. everyone knows the atmosphere in Ambri-Piotta in the playouts

Think about how the following formats we have used in the past affect the issues outlined above (Or just marvel at how cool our leagues used to be!):

1980/81 

NLA:

  • 8 teams
  • Top 6 teams make final round
  • Bottom 2 teams enter league qualification

NLB:

  • 16 teams
  • 8 East / 8 West
  • East and West champion go into league qualification

League Qualification:

  • Home and away round robin (6 games)
  • Top 2 teams qualify for NLA

 

1981/82 – 1882/83

  • Same format as 1980/81, except that 2 teams from the East and West group in the NLB play in the league qualification.
    • 6 teams in the league qualification, 2 qualify for NLA

 

1983/84

NLA:

  • Bottom 4 teams play a round robin
    • Last place team is directly relegated

NLB

  • Top 4 teams from the East and West groups play an 8-team “final” round
    • Champion of the final round directly qualifies for the NLA

 

1984/85

NLA

  • Top 6 teams qualify for the final round
  • Bottom 2 teams enter a league qualification round robin

NLB

  • 14 teams play a round robin
  • Top 6 enter league qualification round robin

League Qualification

  • 8 teams (2 from NLA, 6 from NLB) play a round robin
  • Top 4 go to the NLA (NLA increases size from 8 to 10 teams for the 1985/86 season)

 

1985/86 – 1987/88

  • This was the first season with playoffs

NLA

  • 10 teams, top 4 qualify for playoffs, bottom 2 teams are relegated (note: in 1986 EHC Arosa choose to relegate itself)

NLB

  • 10 teams, top 4 qualify for playoffs, both finalists qualify for NLA

1988/89 – 1991/92

NLA

  • Top 8 teams qualify for playoffs
  • Bottom 2 teams enter league qualification

NLB

  • Top 4 teams enter league qualification

League Qualification

  • 6 teams play a home and away round robin
    • Top 2 qualify for NLA

1992/93

NLA

  • Top 8 teams make playoffs, bottom 2 enter league qualification

NLB

  • Top 6 teams enter league qualification

League Qualification

  • The 8 teams in the league qualification play a best-of-seven elimination playoffs
    • NLA 10th plays NLB 3rd 
    • NLB 1st plays NLB 6th
      • Winners play each other in a best-of-5 series
    • NLA 9th plays NLB 5th
    • NLB 2nd plays NLB 4th   
      • Winners play each other in a best-of-5 series
    • The two teams to win two series each qualify for the NLA

1993/94 – 1994/95

NLA

  • Bottom 2 teams play best-of-5 playouts
    • Direct relegation

NLB

  • Direct promotion of playoff champion

 

1995/96

NLA

  • Bottom 2 teams play best-of-7 playouts
  • Loser enters league qualification

NLB

  • Winners of both semi-finals enter league qualification

League Qualification

  • The three teams play a home and away round robin
  • Winner of this round qualifies for the NLA

1996/97

  • SC Herisau qualified from the NLB to the NLA
  • There was no relegation round, since the NLA wanted to increase the league to 11 teams

1997/98

  • NLA to be reduced to 10 teams again

NLA

  • Bottom 3 teams play a round robin, #2 and #3 both enter the league qualification

NLB

  • Playoff champion qualifies for the league qualification

League Qualification

  • The 3 teams play another round robin, the winner of this round robin qualifies for the NLA

1998/99

NLA

  • Bottom 2 teams play a best-of-7 playout

NLB

  • NLB Champion enters league qualification

League Qualification

  • Best-of-7 series
    • Winner qualifies for NLA

1999/2000

  • NLA decides to increase to 12 teams
  • Both finalists from the NLB are promoted

2000/2001 – 2001/02 & 2004/05 – 2012/13 

NLA

  • Bottom 4 teams play two rounds of best-of-7 playouts
  • Loser enters league qualification

NLB

  • NLB Champion enters league qualification

League Qualification

  • Best-of-7 series to determine who gets the last spot in the NLA

2002/03

  • The playouts were cancelled by the league due to issues with a Fribourg-Gotteron player not having the right license
  • NLB champion EHC Basel automatically qualified and the 2003/04 season was played with 13 teams

2003/04

NLA

  • The bottom 5 teams played a round robin to determine who entered the league qualification
  • To reduce the league to 12 teams again, the 5th placed team was relegated automatically
  • The 4th place team played the NLB champion in a best-of-7 series to determine who got the 12th spot in the NLA

2013/14 – 2016/17

  • NLA playout slightly changes: Teams ranked 9-12 play 6 more games in a home and away round robin
  • The bottom 2 teams then play a best-of-7 series to determine who enters the league qualification against the NLB champion

 

 

Ryan McGregor

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