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Dumb NHL game improvements; Gary Bettman’s cheap hockey fan pop (Trending Topics)

Ryan Lambert
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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

So in the midst of all this hullabaloo about the state of negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA, there has also been a meeting for players in Toronto. The point of the meeting, if you've not heard, is to try to stamp out things that are problems in the game. Things like embellishment, obstruction and the size of goalie pads.

All of these issues are, as they so often end up being at this time of year, ultimately about the amount of goals scored in the game. We have to have more goals. Goals are the thing people like to see in hockey.

Never mind the fact that attendance leaguewide has increased in each of the last two seasons, and in all but one since the end of the lockout (it dropped between 2008-09 and 2009-10, by about 588,000 altogether). Last season saw the second-highest attendance total of any year since the 2005-06 campaign. This despite goalscoring dropping in every season but one since that time.

But the long-standing theory is that goals equal attendance equals profits equals something the owners can deny the players when the next CBA expires. I mean, umm, goals equal attendance equals profits equals game growing equals good thing. Right.

Thus, as you might imagine, people who have ideas about how to improve the game mainly want to make sure that more pucks can go in the nets.

Shrinking the size of goaltenders' equipment is, unarguably, a great way to go about doing this. If goalies don't take up as much of the net, then pucks can necessarily have an easier time sneaking by them and through them.

Okay, that makes sense.

But, as Colin Campbell — who, by the way, doesn't necessarily look good being involved in a camp focused on stamping out embellishers given his email history — points out, there's only so much you can do to reduce the size of goalies pads because they're getting little frozen discs of vulcanized rubber shot at them at 100 miles an hour. So at some point their pads need to have a minimum size to keep them from getting killed out there.

So what if we can't shrink goaltenders' equipment? Let's do what the league did in 2005-06: Just start calling more penalties. There is no better way on earth to artificially juice offense than by simply increasing the number of penalties called.

Remember all the insane power play opportunities teams got in 2005-06? There were 14,390 of them. An average of almost 480 per team, or 5.8 per team per game. That's not straight penalties, four-on-four play, etc., either. That's just straight power plays.

What about last year? Teams got a combined 8,133 power plays, 6,257 fewer than they did in the season after the lockout. The team with the most power plays this year (Philadelphia, at 335) had 76 fewer than the team with the least in 2005-06 (Florida, at 411). The average number of power plays per team now is just over 271, a decline of 209 over the course of a season, and 2.5 per team per game, having fallen to just 3.3. Not surprisingly, as penalties have slipped about 40 percent, the number of goals scored dropped 0.7 per game over seven seasons

So the solution is to start calling more penalties, specifically for diving — and essentially by flop-shaming teams and players by posting a list of all Known Divers league-wide, every night, in every room, all season.

The problems with such a list are myriad, especially because the referees in the league more or less refuse to call it pretty much ever (there were only 33 penalties assessed for diving last season) so it's harder to officially label someone as such.

And even if that plan did a better job of outing the divers (we're looking at you Alex Semin!!!!!!), what would be the result. Guys getting away with more borderline plays on a player defined as such because the referees know he dives, and his opponents will be able to therefore better target him for all sorts of infractions?

If diving is a problem, it's not as big of one as everyone chooses to believe. So sorting it out with lists is dumb, and only creates more problems.

The other, and much dumber, thing players want to cut down on is reportedly the amount of interference on the forecheck. It slows the game down, say critics of the sport today. We have no way of knowing, incidentally, whether these people may or may not be the same ones who also want to slow the game down because it's too fast and people are getting concussions.

If defensemen aren't allowed to slow down forechecking forwards, then someone's going to get run into at a thousand miles an hour and have to be scraped off the ice and locked in a dark room for a few months; but hey, goals are Very Important.

This crackdown would, again, ostensibly be carried out by calling more penalties. Dave Tippett told The Hockey News that players "adapt" to new rules well enough because they are extremely good at the sport of hockey, and while that's probably true, it's pretty tough to see how stopping obstruction on the forecheck by calling more penalties doesn't slow the game down considerably. What with all the whistles and complaining and skating over to the penalty box and power play and penalty kill units coming out and setting up for face offs. Remember that after the last lockout, players were getting whistled for bringing their sticks parallel to the ice in the general vicinity of an opponent, to the point of absurdity.

So under the new rules, what's to prevent forwards from simply skating into defensemen and falling down — a.k.a. diving — when on the forecheck to artificially draw a penalty?

If they're good enough to hide hooks and holds all over the ice, why wouldn't they be good enough to fake this as well?

Oh, calling more dives would address that too, maybe. If they call it. Which they won't.

The League and its players are clearly trying to get fans to buy into the idea that the relative goodness of a hockey game you watch, and the sport as a whole, is directly tied to the number of goals scored. This, we know from experience, is a fallacy.

Would you have rather seen any one of the Fleury-and-Bryzgalov-driven gong shows of goaltending and defense from the Penguins/Flyers series last spring; or the Stanley Cup Final, four games of which finished 2-1, or 3-1 with an empty netter? No one was complaining about the number of goals or a lack of drama when the first two games of the Final went to overtime.

They're trying to push the, ahem, beauty of a post-lockout NHL on you again, instead of focusing on the real problems in this game and this league.

Diving? Bad! Goals? Good! Critical thinking? Stop rocking the boat.

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The first casualties of the NHL labor war

Millionaires and billionaires are fighting and that means we almost certainly won't have hockey for a couple months or more. We all — excluding super-rich NHL owners who don't care what you think as long as they can leech every possible cent from your checking account— agree that the lockout would be a bad thing, but for some the situation is considerably more dire.

Not the owners, of course. They're getting their $200 million from NBC regardless of whether there's a single NHL game this winter, allowing them a sort of parachute to hold them over while they try to bully the players into accepting their terms. And it's not the players, either, since they'll be getting escrow checks on Oct. 15, which should tide them over for a bit regardless of their work situations in other leagues.

And it's not even the fans, who will surely find other ways to distract themselves, such as by throwing their attentions headlong into the AHL, major juniors, NCAA, foreign leagues and perhaps even other sports like the NFL, while all this gets sorted out.

Nope, the real problem is that people who work for the teams are gonna get shafted because greedy owners don't give a rat's ass about anything but their bottom line, not that they have any duty to do so, I guess. To wit, the Calgary Flames have already revealed that they're going to be cutting the salaries for some (read: most) of their 175 full-time employees in the event of a lockout.

"What we would attempt to do is affect as few people as possible and as minimally as possible," team president Ken King told the Calgary Sun. "The plan is quite generous in that some people it won't affect at all."

Oh yes, extraordinarily generous. Let me just go out on a limb here and guess that one of the people who the plan won't affect has the initials K.K.

Hey by the way do the Flames get a cut of that $200 million TV deal? Just wondering.

The Flames famously made draconian cuts to their front office staffers' salaries during the last lockout — 40 percent in all. King assures that those kinds of cuts won't happen this time. In fact, the team is throwing around such largesse these days that those who don't want to take a paycut will be able to leave their jobs and then come back when the war is over. And with the job market in Calgary going so well right now, why wouldn't they?

As for the 1,200 or so the team employs for game nights? Good luck with everything, gang.

The reality is, though, that the Flames, despite being pretty villainous and two-faced about all this — literally taking some of the money people were set to earn and likely counting on for reasons beyond their control is a bad thing — aren't going to take it as far as other teams likely will. As Eric Francis points out, layoffs weren't uncommon around the league in the last lockout, and won't be this time around either.

"It's not the best situation, but few, if any, will say it's unfair when it's unveiled," said King.

Yes, I'm sure that the people losing income they depend upon to live and maybe falling behind on things like their mortgages so that warhawk owners like Calgary's Murray Edwards (approximate net worth $2.2 billion U.S.) can get a break on Jarome Iginla's $7 million salary through a 24 percent rollback or whatever.

That's totally fair. Everyone will definitely see it that way.

Stop saying stuff like this, Gary Bettman

Here's a real thing Gary Bettman said yesterday. I swear this quote isn't made up.

"We recovered well last time [there was a lockout] because we have the world's greatest fans."

Listen, I often talk about how people unfairly target Bettman for criticism and attacks, as though the hands of Edwards, Jeremy Jacobs, Ed Snider and so forth aren't shoved up the back of his shirt, making him say the things he says.

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But in this case, how gross. How appallingly transparent and terribly-calculated. Did he think anyone would actually buy that line of thinking?

(Well, one group definitely will: The dullards who say the fans are at fault for embracing the game so quickly after the last lockout.)

Professional entertainers, most notably latter-days Mick Foley — when his work in the ring wasn't quite as death-defying, and when he was getting bigger applause for pulling a sock out of his pants than he was for getting thrown off cages — know all about this kind of garbage. Is that really what we're going with here? Cheap pops?

The press conference equivalent of "It's a real treat to be back here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada!" is actually what the owners are falling back on in an attempt to win the PR war over this unfriendly situation?

It would be pretty easy to be disgusted if we didn't already expect so little from ownership, who have made no attempts whatsoever to bargain in good faith. But still, this is scraping the absolute bottom of the dingiest barrel in least-vistied corner of the shabbiest warehouse's sub-sub-sub-basement. Yuck.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on limitations: "Sometimes I feel bad for Amish people because they can't get our tweets."

If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.

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