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This is part two of a three-part series. Last time we looked back on the format of the NLA and NLB since 1980. This part will analyze the benefits and drawbacks of the different modi. 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.

By Ryan McGregor

In part one, I outlined specific issues that are influenced by the different modi used in the past, and asked you, the reader, to think about which modus leads to the best outcomes. This week, we will go through each modus, one by one, and contemplate how it affects each issue, and give it a(n) (extremely) subjective score. Please take everything I write with a handful of salt; a grain of salt will be insufficient. To keep a clear overview, we will only analyze one format if there were similar ones in other years. In addition, we will look at a format that has been discussed intently over the last few years.

To recap from part one, here are the 5 issues we will be analyzing:

- 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?

- Atractiveness 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 Ambrì-Piotta in the playouts

2016/17 - Status Quo

2016/17 - Status Quo

Key Features:


- Both leagues have 12 teams; the top 8 make playoffs


- In the league qualification, the playout loser plays the NLB Champion


These are our leagues as we now know them. The NLA is quite competitive; the top 2-3 teams are usually ahead of the pack, but there are still 6-9 teams who are playoff contenders. However, we’ve gotten used to the last 2-3 teams being considerably worse than the rest of the league. The NLB has much less parity; there are 3-4 top teams, 3-4 mid teams, and 4-5 farm teams. It is usually clear before the halfway point who will qualify for the playoffs. The league qualification is a best-of-7 series between the NLA playout loser and the NLB Champion. Now to the individual issues:

- Development of young players

  • There is currently no clear path for talented, young players. Once finishing juniors, they have the option to be a better player on a farm team, a good player on a top NLB team or a role player in the NLA. If you are an offensive player, it is difficult to establish that role anywhere but on a farm team, because you have to wait your turn behind older players. However, playing on a farm team means you will not play meaningful hockey, since those teams usually fall behind in the standings very quickly.
  • Score: 4/6

- Attractiveness of the NLA

  • The NLA is balanced quite well, and most teams can beat each other on any given night. The rinks are filled and the only minor issue is that the bottom 2-4 teams can become separated from the middle of the pack quite quickly, making mid-season games less interesting.
  • Score: 5.5/6

- Attractiveness of the NLB

  • What was said of the NLA cannot be said of the NLB. I really doubt there is a league with as many blowouts as the NLB. In a 48-game season, about 10-20 of the games are entertaining, yet even more are almost painful to watch.
  • Score: 3/6

- Attractiveness of the League Qualification

  • It is an entertaining series when it takes place and the NLB contender is good, but unfortunately this doesn’t happen every year.
  • Score: 5/6

- Quality of hockey

  • As seen in the Champions Hockey League, our top Swiss teams have been doing very well and the top games in the NLA are a pleasure to watch.
  • Score: 5/6

- Financial sustainability

  • It is common knowledge that SC Bern is the only team that is truly financially sustainable. It is also interesting that NLA salaries are much higher compared to what Swiss players would earn in other leagues. Good for the players? Yes. Is it sustainable? Only time will tell.
  • Score: 4/6

- Fear for NLA teams / Hope for NLB teams

  • NLA teams already have a higher budget and better players, but playing the league qualification with 3 imports (as of 2017/18) sways the series even more in favor of the NLA team. I’m not sure where NLA teams think NLB teams will find unsigned imports in early February – especially imports with NLA qualities.
  • Score: 3/6
At this point I would once again like to ask you to think about all the options that lay before us. Nothing would make my day more than someone getting mad at the views I expressed in this article. As I said in the beginning, this is simply my subjective opinion of the state of Swiss hockey, and any readers agreeing or disagreeing with me would be a great step towards more transparent Swiss hockey.

Ryan graduated from Harvard in 2015 and is currently a forward for the SC Rapperswil-Jona Lakers.

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