Has the COVID epidemic, quarantine, and political weaponry forced minor professional hockey operators to re-think the entire professional model entirely? In an age where small business has taken the blunt of the punishment, is it even remotely responsible to try and pull $600,000 to $1,500,000 out of any small to mid-size market?
It's time for these operators to cut their losses and consider the North American Hockey League,
Low level minor professional hockey has a track record of doing nothing but, well, fall off the tracks. In the case of the most of those leagues, their plan has been simply to keep expanding franchises with hopes that somebody figures out how to drive the train.
The North American Hockey League started in 1975 as the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League (switched to NAHL in 1984). Since that time the following leagues have started and since stopped.
All-American Hockey League #2 (2008-2011)
All-American Hockey League #1 (1986-1989)
Atlantic Coast Hockey League #2 (2002-2003)
Atlantic Coast Hockey League #1 (1981-1987)
Central Hockey League (1992-2014)
Colonial Hockey League (1991-1997)
Eastern Hockey League (1978-1981)
Eastern Professional Hockey League (2008-2009)
Mid Atlantic Hockey League (2007-2008)
North American League (1995-1996)
Northeastern Hockey League (1978-1979)
Pacific Hockey League (1977-1979)
South East Hockey League (2003-2004)
Southern Hockey League (1995-1996)
Sunshine Hockey League (1992-1995)
United Hockey League (1997-2007)
West Coast Hockey League (1995-2003)
Western Professional Hockey League (1996-2001)
Eighteen low level minor professional leagues have started and stopped (due to failure or merger) in the time-table of the NAHL's existence.
The point is simple, low level minor professional hockey is a loser because the entertainment value is limited to everything that is wrong about the game, cheap-shots and cheap thrills from baloney, and sometimes even staged, fights.
Things are so bad this season that teams are trying to duke it out before even getting onto the ice. In the past law enforcement has been forced to into investigating other incidents.
The fact remains; that the NAHL has proven to have the ability to operate, while many others have come and gone.
In that same time period, there has been only one other true free-to-play junior hockey league at the Tier 2 level, the American Frontier / American West group, and they eventually merged with the NAHL.
There is a major difference between a properly operated pro league and the product that the Federal Prospects Hockey League is putting on the ice. The American Hockey League and ECHL generally do a fantastic job of maintaining competitive balance and operational standards.
Even the Southern Professional Hockey League has proven the ability to maintain respectable standards. The FPHL continues to try and compare themselves to the SPHL and that is laughable.
The common theme of all of the listed leagues is that they are no longer in operation. The reasons are many but it comes down to the same reasons that these types of leagues don't work in Canada either.
Real hockey people want to see real hockey. If it is not the NHL, the players on the ice better have that NHL dream and play like tonight is their last opportunity to prove they belong.
That is the major difference between leagues that survive and those that don't.
Junior hockey, on the other hand, is fast, furious, and is played with a purpose. Junior players are going at it for a shot at the college or real professional level. Low-level minor professional players are in the game for little more than rent and beer money. It is a sad affair when the 19-year-old swing-shift manager at McDonald's is bringing home more money than many of 30-year-old "pro" hockey players.
So why do these leagues keep popping up? Because there seems to be an endless supply of wannabe hockey team owners trying to massage their own egos. Old professional players are somehow able to convince these marks with stories of the good old days when 5,000 people would line up to watch a bunch of has-been and never-will-be's skate and fight in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, or Texas.
What those old guys fail to realize is all they were doing was replacing the chicken fights that had been outlawed earlier in the decade. The game was a novelty. Back then, players were willing to lace up and play for $200 a week, free beer, and a cot in somebody's flop-house. Nowadays there are unions, workers comp fraud, and a sagging economy.
The FPHL is desperately trying to get into larger, and more expensive, buildings. The issue with that is the fact that the on-ice product is substandard at best and any NAHL team would embarrass most teams in that league. I'd take the Kenai River Brown Bears over an FHL team and even spot the Feds a few goals if the game could be played at 9:00 AM on any Sunday morning. This year's Aberdeen Wings could have their way with just about any SPHL team as well. Especially if the pros have to play real hockey with real on-ice officials and rules.