Members of North American and International media outlets recently caught up with WHL Co-commissioner Colin Smith at an IIHF/WHL Global Summit, and collaborated on the following interview.
What feels different this year compared to the previous three seasons? It's a long road ahead, but do you get a sense that it's going to be a much tougher fight involving more than a handful of teams?
Oh, I think it's clear already that there a number of well-constructed teams who will be in it until the end. At this point of the season last year, there was only one team within 30 points of the first; this year we have seven. There are another six teams who are within 60. So, I'm not expecting a 2009 Saginaw-like runaway or even a 2010esque two-team battle. So far, I'd say the keeper salary cap has done a great job of leveling the playing field.
Talk a bit about the evolution of the WHL draft. This year was the WHL's first ever offline draft. Do you feel that it went well? Did it also present an opportunity for improvement? I've heard that certain measures have already been implemented to ensure a smoother and more efficient experience next October...any truth to this?
Considering some of the trials and tribulations we encountered in the draft testing phase, I thought it went swimmingly. The obvious flaw was that it just took too long. For next year, it's already written into the rules that the draft will only be 16 rounds, so that will cut some time right off the bat. One thing that made it take longer was attempts to draft players who were already gone. I think we can help abate that problem by making the list of available players automatically update after someone is drafted. We have the technology. In addition, we're going to have to be more stringent with the timer.
Continuous improvement seems to be the mantra for fantasy commissioners and GM's alike. Thinking back on the inaugural 2007-08 Yahoo! points league...what have been, in your mind, the most significant upgrades/changes? In other words, what is it that sets the WHL apart from standard leagues?
There's so much packed into the WHL that it's hard to pick just one thing. I would probably go with the addition of keepers and their associated salaries. I think the predetermined salaries helps keep the teams more even and makes things more interesting than just keeping your five top players. It's also nice to be able to use salaries without the grueling length of an auction draft (can you imagine that with 430 players?).
In a lot of leagues, if you're out of the running by Christmas, it's time to pack it in. Not true in the WHL. Why?
Well, obviously in a keeper league there's always next year to build for. If you tune out, you might miss that big breakout player or call-up. But we've also got the most improved race to try to keep teams invested, awarding the top pick to the team that performs the best turnaround in addition to a $50 bonus.
Two weeks in, have any individual player performances surprised you..either positively or negatively?
Well, I don't think anybody expected what we've seen from Clarke MacArthur, for one. As a Vokoun owner, the thing that's stood out to me most is the improvement of the Florida Panthers. They're consistently outshooting their opponents for a change, and have had the better of the play in every game, although they lack finishers. On the whole, though, I try not to put too much weight into five-game samples.