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Maybe the absolute worst thing about the NHL is how hypocritical it is about nearly everything it does.
It wants to protect players, but not really and certainly not if guys are playing Honest Hockey and happen to give them a concussion as a consequence. It's a game rooted in tradition, going all the way back to when people played on a pond, but there's a two-minute minor for putting the puck over the glass and also the definitions of what constitutes a stick infraction seems to change on a yearly basis on the whims of the league's decision-makers. That kind of thing.
And every year, we seem to get the most vibrant display of this wild disparity between what makes sense for the NHL to adopt, and the things it will actually do at the annual general managers' meetings.
This year, there are a number of things up for discussion that seem to have a little more traction than they did in 2012, most notably grandfathering in mandatory visors. And it probably wouldn't be that way except for Marc Staal catching a puck in the eye a few weeks back. But the fact remains that they're actually talking about this like it's a thing that might happen.
It makes perfect sense, so of course the NHL is taking the path of most resistance to the process.
The GMs are generally in favor of the idea, since they don't want their players getting avoidable eye injuries and ruining the season (as is currently going on with the Rangers. But they also don't want to actually go around telling the Board of Governors to start mandating that players wear visors.
So instead, they're putting it up to a vote of the NHLPA, which, if it passes there — which it almost certainly will not, even though the vast majority of the league now wears them, because they'd prefer it be left up to the individual — will then go through to the competition committee, before at last settling with the BOG, who might or might not choose to put the rule into place.
Somewhat hilariously, Nick Cotsonika reported that this is because the NHL wants to work with the union on the issue, rather than force such a rule change down the players' throat. This just a few months after the league all but got out the jaws of life in dealing with the NHLPA, the better to cram a number of draconian CBA overhauls into players' gullets. The kinder, gentler NHL of late March 2013 seems rather at odds with the one just a few months ago; but then again, mandating visors isn't getting an extra dime out of every hot dog sold, so you can see the reticence to waltz around dictating terms.
Another issue at which the players and GMs seem to be at odds is hybrid icing, because this is another common-sense issue that seems unlikely to happen. The reasons for instituting an icing that happens at, say, the hash marks, rather than the goal line, makes plays safer because it significantly reduces the risk that a defenseman gets demolished along the endboards by an overzealous forward, or an accident causes another Kurtis Foster-type incident. Players don't want it because it brings more ambiguity into the game (oh no!) and also eliminates the race for the puck.
Here's Mathieu Schneider on that prospective change:
"You want to avoid the unintended consequences of what may happen when you change a rule like that."
Unintended consequences like gruesome injuries? Oh wait, he means blown icing calls. Right. This is presumably because the reason people buy tickets is for the one in every 40 or 50 icing calls on which a forward wins a puck; nothing says exciting like a guy getting pinned to the end boards while everyone else comes back from the far end of the ice to try to help out.
The other stuff that gets discussed every year, like shrinking goalie equipment and doing more to discourage embellishment are the lazy man's window dressing, and both typically get kicked down the road as stuff that needs to be looked at more closely because none of it is simple. The part about the difficulty undertaking such a task is, I suppose, probably true, but they also don't get to the heart of what the actual issues the league wants to fix are.
Shrinking goalie equipment has everything to do with simply increasing offense, because if they ever actually make the nets bigger someone (probably me) is going to lose their mind. In lieu of doing that, there's navel-gazing about "well jeez can we shrink goalies' gear instead?" that eventually, inevitably goes nowhere. While each goaltender obviously still has his own preferences about the equipment he wears, we're also no longer living in a world where some guys look like normal human beings and others are more akin to Violet Beauregarde after eating the three-course meal gum.
Let's make no mistake here: the days of J.S. Giguere's pillow pads pads are long gone, and goalie equipment isn't a problem. Colin Campbell says such a rule change isn't easy, but it also isn't relevant. Having a pointless discussion about it? That's something in which the league and players appear very interested annually.
Embellishment is another thing that people act like is this giant problem, but is actually not. Guys have been flopping in hockey and basketball and soccer and even good ol' fashioned American football for centuries now in an attempt to deceive officials into giving them a favorable call. What can the league do about it? Nothing. Well, nothing practical that works in the real world.
The idea of having a published List of Divers who get suspended after their third strike is a great one that will never happen because the NHLPA will have negative appetite for opening its members up to that kind of mockery and scrutiny.
And remember that thing about you don't want subjectivity creeping too much into the game? Yeah, that's literally all a diving call is, especially for officials on the ice who don't have the benefit of a replay but only get to go off what happens in real time. This is especially true for the supposed emphasis on guys showing defenders their numbers along the boards to draw boarding calls.
That particular issue presents a sticky situation for officials.
First, it should be noted that they're usually pretty good about not calling that when it's obvious, and it usually is (though one supposes that, just as players eventually get better at finessing most other things in this game, they'll be able to do the same about turning their backs to the play at the last possible second).
But moreover, how do you enforce it? Giving a two-minute embellishment minor to a guy as he's being tended to by trainers doesn't seem the most prudent thing in the world, especially because, again, we're dealing with perhaps the most subjective issue in the sport today.
Going after these guys when games are over, and slapping them with fines or other supplementary discipline, doesn't work either because some guys who turn their backs to the play end up getting legitimately hurt, and Brendan Shanahan can't go about making a suspension video for a guy who's sitting out with concussion-like symptoms.
So this, too, is an issue that the league can't address in the way it should, and therefore won't do it at all, though one supposes that's for the best.
Rules changes are not inherently a bad thing. Whether they relate to visors or hybrid icing or increasing scoring or getting the scourge of diving out of the game, the factor that make these efforts good or bad is how expediently and effectively they're carried out.
So far, the NHL is 0-fer.
And I really don't expect much of that to change any time soon.
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