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Why Not Have An NHL Summer League?

If you’re a hockey fan, there’s not too many months on the calendar in which there’s little to talk about.  Even the early stages of the offseason are active, as the NHL’s awards show, the draft, the first few days of free agency, prospect camps, and trades dominate the talk of the hockey world.  However, once the opening few days of the offseason free agent frenzy die down, the buzz around the hockey world not only goes away, it practically falls off a cliff.  Even the news of the occasional trade or restricted free agent signing of a player that is eligible for arbitration is so few and far between that it doesn’t help cure a hockey fan’s summertime blues.

So why not create a summer league for the NHL?

Yes, there are development camps across the league in which teams invite their draft picks and prospects.  But why not have an actual league for those draft picks, up-and-coming prospects, other young players, and maybe even guys that are still struggling to keep their careers going and earn one last shot at the NHL?  Seriously, what could it hurt?

It’s another way for these guys to stay focused and in game-shape, and it gives them actual game competition against other prospects from across the league while receiving instruction from coaches in the organization they’re already familiar with.  It’ll help boost chemistry and morale among an organization’s prospects, and it’ll help them adjust to life as a professional hockey player, especially if they’re a brand new draft pick.  Just imagine if you had a Lightning team featuring the likes of Adam Erne, Brayden Point, Brett Howden, Mitchell Stephens, and Anthony Cirelli going head-to-head with prospects from the in-state rival Panthers?  Or the talented crop of youngsters in Toronto, led by 2016’s top overall pick, Auston Matthews, as well as William Nylander and Mitch Marner?  How about seeing how they match up against the likes of Winnipeg’s Patrick Laine, the second overall pick in last month’s draft?

Sure, there are prospect tournaments like the Traverse City prospects tourney that a handful of teams participate in.  But a summer league would keep the NHL’s news cycle active and give hockey fans and media some actual hockey to watch.  The NBA has had a summer league for years, and it keeps the NBA in the news and gets fans excited about young, up-and-coming players and prospects as they play actual games against one another.  Meanwhile, once the free agency cycle in the NHL ends, most people tend to forget about the league in July and August unless something really big happens.  What’s wrong with keeping things active for a few weeks in those months until training camp begins?  Or promoting your league and keeping it relevant in what is otherwise a down time in the NHL?

Yes, I know I’m being selfish by wanting to watch some real hockey in the summer.  But what else am I supposed to do as both a reporter and a sports fan?  Watch the Rays continue to sink to new levels of futility?  Mope around the house for a month and say, “I wish the Bucs’ training camp would start, I need football now”?  As much as I also enjoy football, the talk of training camp just makes me realize there’s still another month-and-a-half before football season actually starts.  I guess I could do some fantasy football research, but I can only do so much of that before I get bored and realize I need to get out of the house.

The cure for the hockey fan’s summertime blues is some summer league hockey.  Make it happen, NHL.

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