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VHL 30 in 30 #30: Evolution


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This series is slowly but surely coming to an end and though it has taken a bit longer than expected, it has been fun to look at what has happened in the VHL over the past ten seasons and how it will all impact the future. A lot of the focus has been on individual teams, players, trends, or events, but the fact that the league has kept going and in good health is because of the overall product consistently improving and remaining a point of interest for its members. There were times when it seemed the league would die, mainly due to inactivity and then a large amount of drama in the mid S10s but the VHL proved the thesis 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' and evolved even more rapidly since. During the past decade and a bit the league has opened its horizons while consolidating what it already had and currently it may well be in its healthiest state ever.

Thirty seasons in five years, that was what this final episode was originally going to be called but as we now approach a mark of around thirty-five seasons in six years, that title seems to be quite outdated. Nevertheless, those numbers speak volumes for the VHL's longevity and consistency. There are not that many internet communities that have passed the five-year anniversary, especially if you consider the smaller size of the VHL. That is what makes the league unique but also it is an original concept in itself and in terms of its own life (32 “years” of it now), the VHL has a lot of history in terms of players, rivalries, events, completely individual to itself. For some, that history is important and something to look back on while engaging in history being made right now. Others have put the past behind them quickly and a great proportion of members barely know the details of what happened before their join date, but most importantly, they (we) all work to create an environment for something to look back in the future. If once upon a time 20 seasons seemed so far away and untouchable, now it appears to be inevitable that league will eventually hit 50 and continue going strong after. There has been a drastic change in mentality from the origins of the league and its doubtful that the founding members ever saw this far ahead into a bigger, brighter future.

"The league is very different, drastically so. The whole culture has changed since its beginnings, as one would expect when something is approaching its sixth anniversary. It was, at times, a grind to get through those first ten seasons or so. There was a lot of arguing, trolling, and immaturity around the boards. I think we all grew up just a little bit, which helped the community of the VHL. It is hard to put into words just how much the culture has evolved over time; it’s something you had to have experienced yourself." - David Knight

"When I started out the league was made up of a few guys that all knew each other or were from the same area. The amount of Ontario based members was huge and probably made up about 60% of the league. Now members range all across North America and even some in Europe/Australia. A lot of parity in terms of locations which is great for our community. The work needed for each of your players is now a lot harder, because of the bar that's been set by the "pioneers"." - Joey Kendrick

"When the VHL first started, it was just a sim league; now, this is an established forum that has explored all the outlets to retain and recruit members. The amount of positions created in the league is more than what we had back when it all began, as well as the organization and effort that people are willing to put in. The people that are in charge are different and reasonably so. The league started out with a set of Commissioners, and throughout time here, the opportunity to guide this league has been in the hands of several prominent members. In the beginning, the point tasks were simple; you did writing and you did graphics. Now, podcasts have become increasingly popular, and at one time or another, completing a wiki article about something league related was also explored. Over the past 5+ years the league has transformed dramatically in a variety of ways, but as well, in many instances the league has remained stalemate in some of it's procedures and ethics. To document all the vast differences from the beginning to now would be especially detailed and rather long. In keeping things brief, a few of the obvious differences were noted." - Brett Slobodzian

Commissioner Brett Slobodzian oversaw the transfer of the VHL to a more modern league

It's one thing to hear these things coming from some of the original members of the league, people that have been here for the whole process from the very inaugural draft. However, the league didn't mould into its current state within ten seasons of existence, in fact it went through some turbulent times in Seasons 13-17 (2010) and through perseverance it has adapted further to put those drama-filled days behind as well. That has largely been a success since most current members of the league don't know, remember, and/or reminisce on those dark days in the league's history. For the members that joined the VHL during that time (and their numbers were plentiful since that was the start of the generation of the Season 18 draft), seeing the league change drastically from then onwards has offered a different perception on how much the VHL has altered.

"The league seemed to be a lot more disciplined, a lot more conservative when I first joined.  Everything happened, everything worked, we moved on with the league.  I think because of the continuously rising member count we have become more creative.  More jobs to get points, more reasons to be active, more opportunities to have fun. We aren't just on the site to see how our player is doing.  The off-topic section has really boomed over the past few seasons, for instance.  A lot of members Skype with each other and do podcasts on a weekly basis.  The league as a whole, simply put, is more integrated now that ever before." - Bryan Svec

"The league is quite a bit different from when I first arrived.  Obviously there's been many fundamental changes over the years, such as Welfare, Player Store, certain rules, even the salary cap went up early on.  The community has also changed a great deal.  We've seen many great old members leave, we've seen many great new people join us, and some people have even done both.  As a community, the culture has changed greatly as well.  We put more of an emphasis on welcoming new members and making them feel like they belong than we did when I first arrived on scene.  There's also much less tolerance for hate and bitching among the people.  And of course we don't even live in the same place as we did when I first joined.  In sum, the VHL is different fundamentally, visually, and culturally.  Very different indeed." - Jardy Bunclewirth

Over the years, the leadership of the league has changed. Coincidentally, the darkest times in the league's history (which, it should be noted, were not complete chaos and bickering and may have been better than the original decade but in terms of members' outlook and how the league has moved on since, those seasons look quite terrible) fell on the “buffer period” when Brett Slobodzian and Sterling Labatte had taken over for a few seasons after the resignation of founder Scotty Campbell. The blame by no means falls on the two commissioners of the time for the league experiencing some downtime, quite on the contrary they did a lot to stop the VHL's demise and afterwards, with Slobodzian stepping down and Labatte moving to a smaller role in the league, a long period of stability ensued with David Knight presiding over the day-to-day operations and young (in VHL tenure) member Jardy Bunclewirth joining him in the front office.

David Knight: symbol of the league's new-found stability

There were critics of the regime for the past almost 15 seasons and 2+ years of real time, but the men in charge did their job diligently and made further progress in how the league operated. A key criticism was the 'blue team' sometimes being out of touch with what was going on in the league but the fact of the matter is that for essentially all of the 'David Knight era' there has been no need for an overly watchful eye over the league. The member base has matured in its own right and settles many disputes on its own, with nothing getting out of hand for long periods of time. Of course, there have been some continued arguments but for the most part, there has been no need for the commissioners to step in and affect the pure communication factor of the league.

"There are a lot of notable ways that the VHL has evolved over its time, but one of the more unheralded ones would be the growth of the members age-wise. When I first joined, and even before the VHL, Crosby1Fan, Shawn Howard or Steven Stamkos as we all know him now to be, was an 11-year old kid; now, he's approaching 18-years old. The maturity of a lot of the members have differed over time and with some it hasn't, but we've all witnessed a member or two that started out in junior high and are now graduated and attending University or some form of post secondary education." - Brett Slobodzian

"The league is continuously evolving, regardless of how far back in time you look. That is the wonderful thing about it. We have a whole new sea of fresh faces as the core of our member group now. I’m sure if you look another decade or so into the future, we’ll have other new faces leading the charge there. This is what makes it so much fun to be a part of this ever-changing community. You meet so many different kinds of people. The community is at the core of the VHL and is what drives the league forward." - David Knight

Rivalries are no longer something that chases members away but rather a welcomed source of activity. Even in their absence, activity appears to be at an all-time high and fresh blood has continued to enter the VHL. In the past few entry drafts, for the first time since Season 3 first-generation members were drafted first overall and some drafts expected to be weak classes have boomed thanks to the influx of newly-recruited or comeback members. The making of the league has not changed drastically, the same principles that brought it to life in Season 1 are still used today, but new ideas were brought in and what the league is today is a part of a large amount of members' visions rather than the idea and execution of a select few individuals.

The VHL moved sites during 2011 and has only grown since on its own, self-dependent platform. Many added features have made it more exciting to use and increased its professionalism and overall appearance. The VHL magazine has continued to run strong while remaining a strong job source (along with numerous other job opportunities). Now on the horizon is also the VHLM magazine (with an individual name, 'On the Rise', no less) and many other features which have simply made the VHL a better place and more engaging for its ever-growing member base. There is every reason to be optimistic about the league's future, even past the 30-season and 5.5-year mark.

"The VHL was once just a sim league, now people are investing in its success through the donation method. When the league moved from the Invisionfree forum to the now SMF forum, it received mixed reactions, but after being on this forum for the past while, there are some days where the site can be a headache, but for the most part, there's no way we can revert back. We've moved forward with this league, which is a strong sign of our evolution as a whole. The VHL's magazine, now approaching its 143rd edition, has been a grand addition to the league and even though the columnists have changed over time, its quality, promptness and those heading the project have remained the same." - Brett Slobodzian

"The league has become significantly more decentralized than how it was when I first joined.  That is really good for the league's longevity.  More people now than ever are taking responsibility and fulfilling it.  We can hold more people accountable to a smaller amount of work.  The days of holding someone hostage for not living on the site are long over.  I think we can credit a lot of this to the VHLM's growth, the fantasy zone and the additional new franchises." - Bryan Svec

The VHL has become a lot more friendly, if still a bit prickly at times

From abstract themes we move on to more physical changes brought in since the past decade over a bit, dubbed earlier as the 'David Knight era'. The VHL magazine is a holdover from Slobodzian's time is more to do with the Funk brothers' willingness to produce it than anything else. The site move was a large change but it didn't necessarily change the way the league operates, which some more subtle changed have done. There have been changes to awards and how awards are voted for (even a new one in the Dustin Funk Trophy brought in), there were changes to the carry-over percentages and starting TPE limits to avoid what was becoming a growing advantage for re-creates over first-gen members, with the latter also being helped with more TPE being made available through the three doubles weeks for any new member to start among other sources of points. The fantasy zone quietly came into existence and is now an enjoyable area for many VHL members, its importance seen when it went on a one-season hiatus fairly recently to the dismay of its regulars. More bonuses are being handed out, recently the welfare and pension facility was added to avoid some members over-working and losing interest due to the sometimes strenuous point tasks, and the player store was revamped to make it and contract money more relevant and to become another source of TPE.

Some of these changes have created a so-called 'TPE inflation' where numbers earned even by the average league member is equal to or larger than many of the hardest workers during the VHL's first 20 seasons. Adapting to this, the financial system was revamped to accommodate for higher TPE amounts and to stop teams from building overly dominant rosters thanks to a lucky draft or rebuild/firesale. For some this remains an area of concern and there are still seasons where parity is lacking in the league, but the league has clearly evolved in that effect and made strides to make team management a more strategic task. The draft lottery was revamped to avoid tanking and overall, the league looks much more like a finished product, helped of course by a new site and professional self-designed logos. There are areas of concern but through paying attention to the members' suggestions and having a general environment of mutual respect among everyone, the VHL has been able to alter some parts of its day-to-day running to improve the league as a whole.

"I made a bunch of small rule changes, just to help with the day-to-day flow of the league. Like anything, you notice a problem and fix it – that’s an important job we as commissioners play. I’m sure most of the league wouldn’t be able to remember two or three of those types of rule changes, but it doesn’t matter. They are engrained in the lifeblood of the league. One of the big changes I believe that had a big impact on the league was a new approach of running the league. It was very turbulent times in the summer of 2010, just after I was appointed commissioner. A simple change in the philosophy of how to control everyone in the league was vital in ensuring the league kept on running. It was a challenge for me, but with support from Sterling and Brooks we were able to implement that. Also, the forum switch was a big change we saw. Once again, it was in the summer (this time 2011) and caused a lot of stress for everyone involved. We fought through it, and managed to start on a fresh board." - David Knight

"The VHL is more proactive with change than it's ever been.  The wants of the members have been better taken heed of, and the leadership of the VHL is always willing to look into changing for the best interests of the league.  As soon as Fuhrer Victor took over, there was like, a billion minor changes made immediately.  And we're always looking to make the right tweaks and changes to perfect this great league of ours.  Every new day is the best the league has ever been, and that is something that will continue moving forward." - Jardy Bunclewirth

"Overall, the VHL is a well-oiled machine. It has its negatives and areas which could be addressed (some mentioned here), but for the most part, everything is at a point where it works and is suitable for most of the members here. The one thing that has occurred over the last little while has been the incorporation of some of the members' ideas, which back in the day, would often be left by the way-side." - Brett Slobodzian

Terence Fong has received some much-deserved credit for greatly improving the VHLM

Of course, there have also been a couple of large changes. One was the VHLM make-over, detailed in episode 21 of this series where the minor, developmental league of the VHL underwent some drastic changes under long-time commissioner Terence Fong to become a more independent and exciting organization, as well as better at keeping the interest of new players. In the second half of the decade the situation in the VHLM grew a bit more stale and the euphoria from the modifications fell rapidly. Nevertheless, the VHLM is still a much improved part of the VHL today and with a recent re-organisation of the team forums, the addition of an independent fantasy zone, the upcoming addition of a VHLM magazine, and the gradual re-branding of the minor league's logos, it is clear that this key stage of any player's career is not being ignored.

"I feel like one of the biggest and most important changes the VHL has made was the overhaul to the VHLM.  Nowadays I feel like minor league GMs and players take for granted how much freedom they have with their VHLM experience that simply did not exist before.  There was a time that getting someone to GM a VHLM team was about as pleasant as pulling teeth.  It was hard to get people who wanted the job, and it was even harder finding people who were right for it.  Now you can argue that becoming a VHLM GM is the most important stepping stone in becoming a VHL GM.  As for the new players, there is a much better chance they have a positive entry experience to the VHL under the "new" VHLM system.  Everything is much more meaningful than it used to be.  Obviously the VHLM still isn't where we want it to be, but the changes Terence Fong made was a giant first step." - Jardy Bunclewirth

"The VHLM is no longer linked to VHL teams. It just makes it a lot easier to have jobs for different guys and not have to worry about the VHLM's players as much while they are down there, knowing they are looked after by a General Manager of their own. I think the league as a whole has gone through a makeover "cosmetically" and that has helped our brand. We aren't just a forum with text and html codes anymore, we are a VHL brand. The fact our logos are created by in community members and not stolen from other leagues is big." - Joey Kendrick

"The VHLM was an area that desperately needed attention. If you weren't in the VHLM, you don't have a reason to pay attention to it. Slowly, but surely, the VHLM has developed a good reputation and has undergone a few transformations, as all farm systems tend to do. When it all began, teams, if they weren't named, were called Farm Team 1 for instance. Now and under the leadership of tfong, Kendrick and Diamond_Ace to name a few, have put the VHLM on the proverbial VHL map, where it's equality has grown and flourished to the point now where we've expanded there as well, are starting to produce created logos to where the rules and foundations set in place make the VHLM a solid developmental league." - Brett Slobodzian

The VHL helped Quebec bring back professional hockey

Last, but definitely not least, is the big change, the real deal, and without a doubt a huge change in philosophy from almost 30 seasons of prior VHL hockey. Expansion was always the league's huge pipe dream but we stuck with eight teams for longer than any other sim league even existed before finally deciding to take the major leap with the addition of two new teams. During Season 30, expansion was the hottest topic of discussion and its execution and impact so far has not disappointed. The Quebec City Meute and Cologne Express have not blown anyone out of the water but have not been completely terrible either with Cologne in the middle of the pack for two seasons now and Quebec heading for a playoff spot by default in a weak North American Conference. The two GMs' players, Kameron Taylor and Alexander Valiq, have provided high-quality play as leaders of their teams while slowly building up teams that should continue to provide healthy competition and hopefully win their first Continental Cups in the fourth decade.

"Expansion was always spoken about, but was never put into action for the simple fact that the amount of members/players for each team wasn't viable from the start. Since our member database has increased exponentially since our efforts in the recruitment field have increased, we have finally been able to tap into that expansion realm that escaped this league. Speaking of our recruitment efforts, the league has done a great job in collecting funds from our member database to aid in the efforts to attract newer members." - Brett Slobodzian

"Naturally, I think down the road we’ll see that expansion will have made a huge change in the league, perhaps even being the most notable of all changes. In the seasons leading up to expansion, everyone perceived it just to be a pipe dream however we were excited when we were able to make it happen." - David Knight

Expansion, VHLM changes, minor amendments, a growing member base and incredibly healthy league have created a positive outlook in the VHL for the past 10+ seasons. We are not devoid of some bickering and some dislikes between various members, old and new, but the situation has improved so much that these shortcomings can be ignored. Additionally, without debates (and it can be said that arguments in the VHL have truly involved into debates) the league will lose a good chunk of its activity and if that doesn't happen there is no reason to not expect ten more seasons and ten more seasons after that, and so on. Of course, there is still room for improvement and that is something to look to to ensure the VHL remains ahead of its competition and up to date with what goes on in the world. We have definitely established that any single one of the league's key members is replaceable and a mass exodus appears more and more unlikely as time goes by but becoming stale is definitely not ideal. With that, the expectation should be on the VHL to remain proactive and continue to win over members and then listen to their opinions on what the ideal league future should hold.

The latest and most professional VHL logo yet seems like a fitting last image for this series

"Despite my praise of Fong's work earlier, the VHLM is still pretty shitty.  Right now it seems as though it sort of peaked around the same time the big changes were made, while Jason Glasser was still Ottawa's GM and guys like Daniel Braxton and Mitch Higgins were still noobs.  There was a great deal of activity in the minor league then, and it has dropped significantly since.  I feel like the onus is on the veteran members to stay engaged in the VHLM to make the new guys feel more comfortable discussing and getting excited about their time in the minor leagues.  I wish is that the VHLM will one day no longer be seen as a hindrance, but just the first of many fun, exciting steps in a player's VHL journey." - Jardy Bunclewirth

"I think there are just small areas such as keeping our draftees active. I hate seeing guys register, create a player, do one practice facility and then never return. I'd love to see them engaged and given an outlook to progress better. I also think we should use social media better (like Facebook or Twitter) to grab the attention of people. I myself have sent out around 50 messages on Facebook to people from groups associated with hockey regarding our league. A couple have poked their head in thus far and it can only increase!" - Joey Kendrick

"There are always going to be improvements to be made, we’re not perfect by a long stretch. Issues exist that have always been prevalent such as lack of parity between top and bottom teams, making player money matter, attracting fresh faces to our community, a more sophisticated cash flow system for teams, etc. The list can go on and on. Sometimes, though, you have to take a step back and realize that the VHL is entirely unique and it is hard to emulate real-life hockey leagues. I think once you understand the nuances of the VHL and just how unique it is, only then can you temper your expectations. Some things are just not feasible within the confines of our league, unfortunately, but that does not necessarily mean we cannot at least try." - David Knight

"It's difficult to pin-point set examples because they usually occur on a instance by instance basis, but lately, the voting system has been somewhat flawed in that the popularity vote seems to weigh heavily over actual facts/stats to back up one's argument. It all boils down to who the members seem to like more. As the VHL has grown both member and team-wise, the salary cap could use some looking at. A team can build through the draft, but before the players and teams are good enough, the teams find themselves having to blow things up because of the bracket increases, something of which could also be looked at as we evolve. Currently, VHL players are earning more and more TPE as opposed to before. Brackets are more easily obtainable and are being done more quickly. A more favourable bracket system would allow teams to remain competitive and would avoid the annual 5th season blow-up." - Brett Slobodzian

That concludes this 30 in 30 series. It was more of a 10 in 10 or 7 in 10 and 3 in 30 but regardless, it has been well worth it. The task was originally spread between three people, only one article was done by someone other than me and hopefully next time someone new steps up like there were replacements for Zero, the creator of the original 20 in 20 series. Now, these ten articles shall be stored in the Hall of Fame available for anyone to read and hopefully they were worthy of the readers' time. Around ten more seasons and two more years are now in the VHL history books while new chapters are being written now, by you. Who will be the next great player, team, event, or rivalry? That is for the next ten or twenty seasons to decide and at the pace this league is going, there should definitely be someone at that side of the future to recap everything that happens in between.

End of Part 30
Special thanks to David Knight, Brett Slobodzian, Jardy Bunclewirth, Joey Kendrick, Bryan Svec, and again everyone else who gave quotes during this series


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