By James Hayes | Field Pass
1 On 1 with James Hayes | Doug Price , SPHL Commissioner
This week I chatted with the SPHL commissioner, Doug Price. We discussed the new expansion team and the current state of the league during this unique season in which only 5 teams are a part of due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Right from the start, I was anxious to know how everything had be running from the leagues point of view this season. Price's responded with;
“Yes, it wasn’t really a matter of 'if' we were going to have issue related to COVID-19. Much like the NHL or ECHL, it was really just a matter of 'when' and how hard we would be hit. I think we’ve navigated it pretty successfully. Our teams have been following return to play protocols and I think we expected more game cancellations than we actually have had.”
If you sit back and look at it compared to some of the other leagues, things have run fairly well. After a slight bump in the road early on, it has been smooth sailing. Price went on to say;
“I am really happy with the way the teams have followed the protocols and complied with the testing.”
I think it’s safe to say all of the teams have put their best effort into ensuring not only the safety of the players and staff, but the fans as well this season. I also would have to say that Mr. Price and the rest of the SPHL front office were not alone in feeling that more games would get cancelled or even postponed by this point in the year.
Everyone has applauded the NHL for the way they were able to finish their season last year in a bubble format. They split the teams in Edmonton and Toronto with no positive tests and some high quality hockey. Well, I say we can also applaud the SPHL and all it's teams for a very successful first half of the season as well.
I jumped into next season with my questions, even though it’s way too early to know how that may look. I asked if we were looking at having a full 2021-22 season with all the team’s involved. Price's response was one that I think we can all take solace in.
"We are actually collecting dates for next seasons schedule and that process (schedule building) is going to be beginning soon with all 11 teams returning. We are optimistic that things will be relatively normal by then and shooting for our normal late October start.”
We are all, at this point, looking for some hint of normalcy. Hockey starting back up next fall like it’s supposed to would be something that would suggest we are right where we want to be. Only half of the teams in the SPHL are active this season and each team is impacted differently. I was curious to know what that impact has been for teams that opted out of play.
The response wasn’t a bad one at all.
“In terms of the teams that are sitting out, the one benefit they got by opting out when they did was they knew what their fixed cost would be. They knew what it would cost not to play. Whereas you have fluctuating cost with the teams that are playing in terms of additional expenses such as COVID-19 tests this year. It was going to be tough either way. Especially with ticket sales and having to operate at a reduced capacity. Whether a team played or didn’t play, it was going to be a tough year for everybody.”
With the recent news of the Vermilion County Bobcats joining the SPHL for the 2021-22 season, there were a few questions that I wanted asked in that aspect.
What does adding this team do for the league?
"It’s going to help the teams up north. Somebody else that’s within roughly a 3-hour drive and help take away some of the trips further south. Answered Price. "Conversely it will help our other teams that would normally have to make a trip up there. That’s going to split those games amongst Vermilion County. Most of all, I think it’s really going to help with everybody’s travel.”
I think understanding that one of the biggest costs in a league like the SPHL is the travel, makes it pretty easy to see how this addition to the league can definitely loosen things up.
Naturally, the Bobcats need a roster. What are the steps for an expansion organization to field a team?
“When we’ve had expansion in the past, we’ve always had an expansion draft. How to do that for our new team is one of the topics we are discussing amongst the board and myself." Says Price. "We will have more information on that in the not too distant future, but it will be similar to past years.”
One thing on the minds of the fans are the SPHL is; are we getting closer to having a northern and southern division in the league?
“You never know. This just happened to work out and we are pretty excited about things.”
I also asked about another possible expansion team in the works. More specifically, a team possibly landing in Biloxi, MS. There have been some whispers going around since they recently renovated the arena in Biloxi, there could be a chance at the SPHL returning.
“Biloxi was one of our markets originally and I think would be a great fit. We have not been approached by any ownership group about Biloxi. If something were to come along, we would certainly take a good hard look at it with the success we have had there in the past.”
All in all, things are looking good in the SPHL this season and even looking into the next. But before we jump into the next season, we all need to just sit back and enjoy the show that is happening now.
As it sits right now in the standings, only 4 points separate fourth place from second place. Even the 5th place Birmingham Bulls are not counted out, sitting 7 points out of second place. The final playoff spot, as it stands, is currently held by the Huntsville Havoc.
The Macon Mayhem have been on a pretty impressive roll and are currently sitting comfortably in first place with a 6 point lead. With only having 5 teams in the league this year, anything can happen and we are primed for a great second half of the season.