Sunday, 4 December 2011

A truly competitive league

The second month of the season has ticked by and it’s been a pretty eventful few weeks - from the impressive return of ‘The Next One’ to the fall out following Lucic’s hit on Miller - there’s been plenty of talking points.

One thing I was expecting to see after two months of the season was some of the ‘top’ teams moving away from the chasing pack. Instead, other than perhaps two or three teams at the bottom, everyone will still fancy their chances of making the play-offs.

In the Western Conference just six points separate first place from sixth and while the Penguins are beginning to move away in the East the rest of the pack are all just a few points apart.

Compare that to the Premier League, often dubbed ‘the most competitive league in the word’ and it becomes pretty clear it’s not very competitive at all – not at the top anyway. Manchester City are already five points clear of second place and twelve ahead of fifth.

It’s hardly surprising City find themselves so far ahead already – they just happen to be the richest team in the league and are able to attract the best players with the offer of lucrative (and ludicrous) salaries. They have numerous players earning more than £200k a week and even Joleon Lescott is reportedly on £100k a week - yes, Joleon Lescott.

It’s one of the main reasons that I’ve grown tired of watching football and it just proves how well the NHL’s salary cap works. By putting each team on a level footing the best talent is more evenly spread and it results in far more competitive games each week. It also means you don’t see the same names at the top of the tables season after season. I’m pretty sure nobody would have predicted the success the Minnesota Wild are currently enjoying – I didn’t see them tipped to be at the top of the table after 25 odd games by anyone at the start of the season.

While there are obviously many other reasons football need some kind of financial cap in place, it would undoubtedly even up the league and bring an end to the domination of the richest clubs which we’ve seen in the last decade.

The strength in depth of the NHL has also been seen in the form of last year’s two Stanley Cup finalists. Both struggled at the start of the season against quicker, sharper and better-prepared opponents. While last year’s top two in the Premier League are up there once again, it’s been a different story for my Canucks and the Boston Bruins. It’s understandable that both would suffer from hangovers at the start of this season, obviously for very different reasons, and after an awful start the Bruins have picked up massively in November and are now top of their division.

Meanwhile, the Canucks seem to have put their ‘win one, lose one’ approach to October behind them and five straight wins during November has hopefully turned their season around. We’re yet to re-discover the kind of hockey that led to last year’s President’s Trophy but that recent run of form means we are at least back in the play-off picture and should have some much needed confidence running through the dressing room.

I’m particularly looking forward to the return of Mason ‘May Ray’ Raymond this evening, having never had the opportunity to see him in action after the nasty injury he picked up last year. His return is also well timed with the news that Aaron Volpatti is out for the season with a shoulder injury. It’s obvious that is a squad game and teams need depth to call upon to continue to challenge at the top of the table.

The way the league is right now, pretty much anyone can beat anyone and the play-off places are far from decided just yet. I’m no expert but I wouldn’t bet against one or two of those teams near the bottom of the pile making a strong run for the post-season in the coming weeks and months. The chase is well and truly on.