Edinburgh Capitals may have to withdraw from Britain’s top ice hockey league unless “sensible compromise can be achieved”, according to co-owner Scott Neil.
The UK-wide Elite League – presently divided into two Conferences of five teams – expands to 12 next season after Milton Keynes Lightning and Guildford Flames joined from the now-defunct English Ice Hockey Premier League.
Clubs have so far failed to agree to a new structure, with Edinburgh – along with Fife Flyers and Dundee Stars – pushing for three conferences of four teams including an all-Scottish division. However, the majority of clubs, including bigger-budget teams such as Nottingham Panthers and Braehead Clan, both owned my millionaire businessman Neil Black, are in favour of two conferences of six.
No proposed league structures have been published but it is widely believed Belfast Giants would join the Gardiner Conference alongside the four Scottish clubs and Manchester Storm. Edinburgh would play their Scottish rivals six times in a league season, compared to eight currently, and would also play an additional home and away game with Belfast. Traditionally, Edinburgh’s Scottish derbies draw their biggest crowds, and the proposed changes could cost the club a substantial amount in lost revenue while increasing its travel expenditure.
The three-conference proposal would protect the eight games a season between the Scottish clubs. The other eight teams would be tackled four times, completing a 56-game regular season.
Black has described a planned board meeting to be held at East Midlands Airport today as “the absolute end date”, claiming clubs would either be “in or out”.
Capitals chief Neil was less dramatic, saying: “It’s like any other meeting. I’m hoping for a good discussion, some good thought processes and perhaps some compromises. We’ve come a long way as a league and we have to protect the clubs that are involved in it, listen and understand the different models that make up our league. We have a number of diverse clubs, each with their own issues and problems.
“I’m hopeful once we give everyone a chance to talk, a sensible compromise for the league can be achieved.”
Edinburgh have yet to publish season-ticket prices and plans for next season. The same applies to Fife and Dundee, who have both stated publicly that their participation in the Elite League next season is not guaranteed.
Neil continued: “While it would be good to have some certainty and clarity, it’s important that we get this right for all clubs. In any situation where there is new structures or formats we need to make sure it is as right as it can be for everybody. This is an important meeting but, even after today, my experience tells me we still have a lot of time to resolve any other issues. We would like to see everything settled, but I don’t think today’s meeting is absolutely critical at this time.
“Fife, Dundee, and Braehead are very important clubs for our business, not just from a financial point of view but from a logistical one too.
“We hold a very high regard for our local competition and I think that’s key for a number of the teams in the league. Club’s geographical locations mean they are more important to some league members than they are to others.
“It’s how a lot of North American sports work. They set up their structure in a geographical manner that make both commercial and logistical sense.
“We’ve been there before as the only Scottish team in the league, and all the travel it involved. We’ve tasted that and we don’t want to go back to it. It’s important to protect your players from the burdens of excessive travel.
“I want to see the safest option being utilised which protects the commercial incomes and expenditure of all clubs, as well as reducing the travel strains on the playing staff “My experience over the years is that if you don’t protect your weakest links, things will break.
“Clubs have different ideas on the structure, the format, the playing staff. There is a lot to be discussed, but we’re not panicking. We feel we have a strong case for a different approach and we’re hopeful of resolving these issues for all clubs.”