I thought I’d change gears from the gloom and doom discussion around here and post a different topic – what changes the NHL could/should do. To me, there isn’t a bigger business in the country that is as obtuse as the NHL. While people’s budgets are shrinking and the competition for entertainment dollars increases, the National Hockey League barely stays afloat in the national discussion for relevance (the media darling Penguins and big city Rangers game 7 playoff match captured 2 million viewers (http://www.sportsmediawatch.com/2014/05 ... d-finales/
) while a ho-hum average WWE fake wrestling broadcast more than doubled it up with 4.5 million viewers(http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1981 ... lly-matter
)). As an enthusiastic hockey fan and supporter, I am continually dismayed by the NHL’s handling of the sport – they are the game’s care takers and it is their responsibility to ensure the highest quality product. With that in mind, I give my suggestions on how to improve the game:
1) Scoring MUST increase: Does the NHL not pay any attention to the year-over-year increase in the NFL’s popularity? I have to admit I would have thought the country was virtually saturated as far as NFL growth was concerned – boy was I wrong (http://mmqb.si.com/2014/01/08/nfl-tv-ra ... -playoffs/
)! While my friends and I have grumbled a little bit about the balance shifting too much in football, the message from them is clear. More scoring = more excitement. Hockey on the other hand is approaching the clutch-and-grab days that brought goal totals back to levels not seen since a half century earlier (http://www.quanthockey.com/TS/TS_GoalsPerGame.php
). Here are 2 (from what I’ve seen) never discussed options that could be implemented at a moments notice:
• Line changes – new player cannot step on the ice until leaving player is off: How many times have we seen firewagon line changes where briefly extra men are on? How about times when a player jumps on at the defensive side when a leaving player hops on from the offensive area only to negate their opponent’s odd man rush? This little tweak would open up the game more and actually force the players to execute this little thought of aspect better. It would also be easier for a casual fan to understand than the current system.
• Switch benches – long change in periods 1 and 3 instead of just 2: When a team is hemmed in their own zone during the 2nd period it becomes very easy for the attacking team to switch out players. In the effort to increase scoring, why don’t we do this 40 minutes a game instead of 20? Combined with the above this could be a dramatic alteration to the sport.
2) Bigger goals: Yes I said it and no my reason is not primarily due to lack of scoring (but it is related). As one who loves the history of the sport and considers himself a purest – I finally reconciled to myself that this must happen – but the reason may be different than what most would expect. I’ve watched a lot of games and I believe the NHL officiating is sub-par. Between bad calls or non-calls, I feel that NHL officials decide the fate of a game more now than ever. Due to this, I believe the goals must become larger in order to increase scoring and allow a team to offset a bad call that costs them a goal (and maybe the game). While one can argue this destroys hockey’s history and does not allow player to player comparisons over different eras – my rebuttal would say such has already happened due to larger goal pads (larger goalies too), full 2 minute powerplays and 3-on-3 play. References are already gone. Hire MIT geniuses to determine the average open area during the 80’s and adjust the NHL goal by that much. I’d even go as far to say that this number should be baselined and every 5 years be re-audited.
3) Use the misconduct penalty: Back to the NFL – look what happens after (most) whistles when the play is over – nothing. Looking at hockey, every whistle starts an out-of-play melee that (especially in the playoffs) includes fists and sticks – all activity that takes energy away from the game and away from the product. Players need to learn to respect one another and the game itself. When the whistle blows, as in football, it is time to simmer down and get ready for the next play. If not – throw that player in the sin-bin for 10 minutes without question (I don’t care if it is a hand wash). Similarly make diving a misconduct and don’t feel afraid to call it. Viewers want to see heroes defying the physical nature of the game, not actors pretending to get hit so they get an advantage (see point #2 above). I don’t care if half the bench is in the box for a misconduct and since it doesn’t impact the numbers of on-ice skaters, referees should not feel they are deciding the game.
These are just a couple of my thoughts – what are yours? Every year I hope in the offseason some young intelligent newcomer in the NHL makes a brilliant suggestion or two that could help. I fear even if that happens, the NHL execs are so blind they don’t even see a problem.