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VHL 40 in 40 #33: Young Blood

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Young Blood

The continuity and longevity of the VHL owes much to the steady influx of new members into the league. The amount of active members has always drifted around the 90-100 mark, yet as a member who joined in Season 10, I can say that perhaps a dozen or so current members were around before myself. It's just a personal example but the perfect case of showing how anyone in the VHL can be replaced, so long as there are ready replacements available. This is only possible through continued recruitment in the league, an aspect which has gained particularly positive attention in the VHL's fourth decade.

There have never been any illusions about the quality of drafts in the Victory Hockey League. One full round of actives is considered average, anything further truly strong, any VHL players drafted in the late second round or after are automatic steals. This was the case in an eight-team league and the fact the situation has barely altered since expansion is a testament to the foresight of the commissioners in Season 30, who saw the league was truly capable of sustaining two more teams based on slight upward trajectory of drafts.

Indeed, while you can say there were no truly terrible drafts since Season 30, the result of that in a ten-team VHL has been merely sustainability of the talent pool and not growth. For that, consistently deep drafts are required and for these drafts, alterations to the recruitment process were necessary. Suggestions for more successful recruitment have been made for as long as the VHL exists and even a designated recruitment crew isn't a particularly new addition to the league, yet only in the fourth decade did the factors combine to create an effective action plan. A large part of that is due to Sterling Labatte, former commissioner and simmer who is the current head of the recruitment crew – what seemed like a temporary position initially due to a lack of interest for others has become permanent and that has been for the best. Sterling has provided vision and direction for the members of the crew, while ensuring any stragglers are replaced by more enthusiastic options. On top of that, he's used his influence in the Board of Governors and his pseudo-admin role to turn ideas into action, a major failing of this concept in the past. As a result, there have been tangible recruitment drives with visible results and rewards and incentive for those members who can recruit (Kendrick, Green, Boom, STZ, and many others, including recent recruits) to do so in larger amounts than ever before. Despite that, it's still a work in progress despite recruitment definitely reaching an all-time high in recent seasons.

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A bland Google image of recruitment

“Rewards are important for a successful drive. While we all want a healthy league with an influx of new prospects (and mostly successful first generation players), people generally do not wish to put in the effort if it won't give them a reward. Recruitment drives like the last showed this. The Season 38 drive had some VHL related rewards and it showed some increase in recruitment done. Season 39 had a copy of NHL15 and the recruitment seemed to skyrocket. While I don't think it's a good idea to always do it like this, it does show people are looking to be rewarded for their effort.” - Remy LeBeau

“I feel like a combination of quality recruiting members, a solid incentive program and a revamped recruitment crew has helped our recruitment drives. While we certainly could still do more, since moving to the new site we have put emphasis on making the experience for new members as easy as possible.” - Ryan Power

The approaching Season 41 draft looks to be the third straight edition strong in both top-end quality (from re-creating members and the strongest first-gens or the ones who joined at the best time) and depth, with active players being selected late into round two and even, as in the superb Season 40 entry draft, in round three, with the true sleepers now available even lower down, in rounds which previous drafts didn't have. It's easy to get carried away with the hype of Season 40, but as alluded to earlier, the VHL doesn't tend to have misleading notions over draft strengths and yet S40 still stuck out as an all-time best. With the exception of the first four-five seasons, the league hasn't seen anything like it since Season 18 and that draft was not, number-wise, actually as deep, it was just excellently timed to include a lot of recreates who went on to make great players. Season 18 contained some exciting first-gens, obvious examples being Tarik Saeijs (frescoelmo) and Mathias Chouinard (Spangle) as well as the returning Damien Walec with Joey Clarence, but it is telling that the rest of the drafts of that era (S16-S23) were average to bad. In terms of new members, the likes of Jardy Bunclewirth, Cam Fowler, Phil Gerrard, and Adam Schultz were the exception rather than the rule, usually one notable first-gen per draft.

These recent drafts have been different. Altering the definition of first-gen slightly to include members returning from 20- or 30-season absences, drafts starting from Season 37 have all included multiple “new” members and more often that not, they have made the drafts good, rather than just made them better. Neither Season 39 or Season 40, or 41 for that matter, were anticipated to be strong based on the players retiring and recreating, yet here we are, talking about some of the best drafts in VHL history. Koji Yamazaki, Lukas Nykvist, Sachimo Zoidberg, Oskars Harumpf, the infamous Jody 3 Moons and many more, including the slightly older Don Draper, are just some examples of the sheer quantity of first-gens entering the league. They are what keeps the VHL from becoming stale and provide the true excitement for the draft, due to this being their own first experience. As it stands, the trend looks set to continue in Season 41 and by this point, it does not seem like a timely coincidence.

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Jardy Bunclewirth was once an example of a rare breed of star players: first-gens. Now they're everywhere.

“Recruitment is one of those weird things that even when you make a lot of great changes your work is never done. It always needs to be monitored, tinkered with, and analysed. I do think that the VHL has done a pretty solid job of getting things going since the new site. But yet it always feels like we still have so much we could be doing. I've always found though that one of the key issues in the recruitment the VHL struggles with is retention. Whether that has something to do specifically with the format and rules of our league, how niche something like a sim league actually is, or something to do with the process and experience for new members I couldn't tell you. But we consistently get a flood of new members during recruitment drives and recruiting efforts often come up with a lot of new faces seeing the VHL. If we would be able to tackle retention at a higher rate, the prospect of expanding again wouldn't see as far fetched.” - Ryan Power

Yet for all the members the league gains, the league loses quite a few too. While many don't make it past the initial hurdles and disappear after a week or two, there are the more disappointing cases when first-gens disappear after showing much early promise or when older members leave for a host of reasons, despite the availability of pension or welfare to keep going without putting as much work in. The VHL has not mastered recruitment by any means, but it is at last at a high and purposeful level. Retention, on the other hand, remains a blind spot, a source of debate and a mystery no one seems entirely able to solve. The league has come a long way from when I and many others joined in terms of welcoming members, but some issues clearly run deeper than that. Whether the ever-changing VHLM structure is at fault, or perhaps an inability (or a perceived inability) to integrate with the community, or some not quite active enough locker rooms, there are clearly still some problems over why some people don't stick around.

It's always a bit stranger, though in truth quite predictable and reasonable, to see older members leave after three-four or even more players. It would seem with the available free TPE which can be claimed just by making a handful of posts a month that there is no excuse for people to leave, but often that is not enough. With the rare exception of personal issues, it is generally time spent on the VHL which is the issue for veterans and an inability to keep going strong in the future. One victim of sim league old age, Bryan Svec, creator of one of the first big first-gens Tarik Saeijs no less, has recently made an intriguing suggestion about letting old members create what is, in essence, a high quality CPU player with 300 or 400 TPE. An alternative view would be of these players being similar to current depth-filling inactive players in the league, except with a member to check in and socialise and not disappearing entirely. It's a possible solution, though ultimately not hugely relevant in the grand scheme of recruitment and drafts.

“The visibility of the league, greater than ever, is a function of our league's tireless work ethic. Our members strive to make the VHL better, year in and year out. We are constantly finding new members who come about the VHL in ways that weren't even feasible even a month ago.” - Bryan Svec

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Portland, Oregon: where Bryan Svec comes up with ideas

What this proposal would do, however, is potentially add more players to the league and with that already happening during the second half of this past decade, there have been slowly growing rumblings that more changes might need to be enforced to fit all these players in the VHL. The $32 million salary cap ceiling has been criticised by some members and teams already and while it is tough to justify increasing it at a time where the difference between contenders and lottery teams is still astronomical, it may be what the future holds for the VHL, at least until most teams can fill out two full lines of players. If that was to happen, then the more far-fetched dreams of a second expansion might start to become reality.

“We still have teams with hardly any players or goaltenders, so I don't think expansion would be a good option. Larger rosters only will be possible if the salary cap goes up, which will likely be a good option seeing it hasn't changed a bit since the introduction of welfare, an addition that has kept a lot of people active, but hasn't had an influence yet on a change for the salary cap. I think this would be the first thing to be changed around.” - Remy LeBeau

“Higher salary cap is certainly a change that could happen. I don't know if expansion again would be quite necessary unless that influx was by a large enough number. The VHL shouldn't explore a larger roster option without a sim adjustment, as more than 2 lines even now always ends up being wonky. I think you could see a weird situation with 9 or 10 competing teams at one time if we had an influx of quality good members.” - Ryan Power

In truth, expansion didn't seem viable as late as in Season 29 and for some critics, might still be considered a mistake. For a fact, it wasn't a mistake but the efficiency and success of expansion has set the bar so high that contemplating a move to 12 teams really is a pipe dream at best at the moment. Considering how early on in VHL history expansion was being floated around as an idea and how comparably late it was implemented, it may be a few decades yet before such a drastic change and in any case would require many more strong drafts starting now. Three seasons now appear to be setting a trend but can draft success be sustained for longer? Top-end talent is generally present in any draft for the lottery selections and then a possible couple more picks, but it is what comes after which truly makes a draft. Getting such depth in quality as was seen in Season 40 and to a lesser extent Seasons 37 and 39 and possibly 41, is the more difficult task and it doesn't seem like it has yet been quantified how exactly it's been done. The coming decade will truly show how far recruitment has come in the league and more importantly, what other changes can be implemented to take it to the next level.

“It's tough to say. Were the S39 and S40 drafts both going to remain "good" later on? Who all will stay active? So many good drafts are marked by recreates who generally stick around. However we are getting more and more depth drafts with quality first gens, it's just a matter of how many of them stick around. I do think that it is more than a blip on the radar, and we will see more frequent high quality drafts however.” - Ryan Power

“I think these drafts were just a spike and that things will go back to normal soon. Recruiters that try to recruit people they know might be running out of options as well, leaving only players that are targeted by mass recruitment, which are less likely to stay.” - Remy LeBeau

Whatever the case, the mechanisms are in place and the VHL machine is set to roll on as strong as ever. Without trying to sound too clichéd, it is evident that the VHL is as far from crisis as ever and doom and gloom is not in its future. The DDOS attack of Season 35 and the move to the current website was evidence of the league's ability to survive under pressure, which makes everyday life that much more straightforward. There is a room to improve, but we have already witnessed improvement, and the outlook is extremely positive. Having spent 30 seasons here myself and intending to do more, I can only wish the same for members who have joined in the past several seasons and as it stands, there is no obvious reason why that can't happen.

End of Part 33
Special thanks to Ryan Power, Remy LeBeau, and Bryan Svec

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