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Five ways the NHL can make it right with fans after lockout hell

Greg Wyshynski
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How will the NHL make it right with its fans when the lockout ends?

The most common answer is “probably nothing” because they know a large majority of the paying customers will return to the arena, even if they might purchase less swag and fewer concessions. The best we can expect is another “Thank You Fans!” on the ice and, if we’re lucky, some “GAME ON!” hats.

But what if the NHL was to make the effort: To soothe the angry fans and reengage the angry ones?

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com offered 10 ways for the NHL to recover from the lockout, and it’s an interesting read. There are some slam-dunk ideas and some, uh, more challenging ones like European expansion. (‘Hey, travel will be a total bitch but at least they know what icing is!!!’)

Playing off his list – worth your time for a read here – here are five ways the NHL can make it right with fans after the lockout ends, whenever it ends.

1. Free Center Ice and GameCenter Live

It’s on LeBrun’s list too, but it’s pretty much been the mandatory minimum the NHL could do for a shortened season. If they totally scrub 2012-13, we’d imagine they’d offer a deep (50-percent?) discount for 2013-14 (assuming it happens). We’d be rather shocked if this doesn’t happen, actually.

2. Free Tickets For Children

What does a family restaurant do when it first opens or when business lags? It opens a brothel in the storage room, of course.

But, failing that, it usually offers some variation of “KIDS EAT FREE” at dinner during the week.

We see no reason why the NHL can’t adopt this idea, in the short term.

If your child is older than 2 years old, he or she must have a ticket and a seat at an NHL game. So let’s set the range from 2-to-10-year-old, and go with something like this: When the lockout ends, designate half of the team’s remaining home games (a.k.a. midweek games that might not draw as much) as “Kids Watch Free” events. Open 3,000 seats for the promotion. Buy an adult ticket, get a chance to receive one or two “child’s tickets” free of charge – a special ticket that can only allow entry for a child between 2-and-10 years old.

It’s not exactly an alien concept for minor league hockey; the NHL could take a lesson or two in fan relations from the farm teams. Besides, “do it for the kids” is PR 101.

3. Three On Three OT

I agree with LeBrun here, even if the NHL has acknowledged the concept needs a bit more testing before it can be utilized. From ESPN.com:

Let’s bring in Ken Holland’s idea regarding three-on-three overtime as a way to freshen up the overtime/shootout format. You still play four-on-four for five minutes, but if there’s still no goal scored, you also play a three-on-three, five-minute period. If there’s still no goal, then you get your shootout. Three-on-three, wide open would be exciting to watch. Plus by lowering the number of shootouts, given that the three-on-three would end more games, you preserve the novelty of the shootout so it doesn't become a tired exercise. Right now there are too many shootouts deciding games.

The inspiration for this rule change might seem a little redundant: Wasn’t the shootout supposed to be a gift to fans, who would crave its excitement and never tire of its predictable artificiality? Are we saying that, like, passing and defensemen playing their position might offer something more exhilarating?

The NHL benefited greatly from the slew of rules changes and tweaks after the 2004-05 season was cancelled. There are few things the NHL can do this time ‘round that would create a similar buzz. The 3-on-3 OT would help. Which brings us to …

4. Three Points For a Regulation Win

All we’ve been hearing about regarding a 48-game season is how it’s a mad dash to the finish that results in some heart-stopping hockey not normally seen in the regular season.

OK, so let’s turn up the burner: Make every regulation win worth three points, every OT win worth two points and every OT loss worth a charity point.

(In an ideal standings format, we’d see 3 for a regulation win, 2 for 4/4 or 3/3 OT and then one for a shootout win, with the loser getting nothing and liking it. But that would make it rather difficult to maintain the appearance of parity.)

Three points for a regulation win puts the onus on the first 60 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey rather than the variations of it in overtime. How is this a bad thing?

5. Have One On Us, Hockey Fans

Free Beer.

OK, now that we’ve got your attention, let’s spell it out: F-R-E-E B-E-E-R.

Send us vouchers via email. Give us coupons as we walk through the turnstile. Make it a happy hour before the game and through the first period. Who cares? Just bribe us. With beer. It because beer makes it better.

But because you really, really pissed us off, NHL: Domestic AND import. Oh, and wine for our non-beer drinkin’ dates too. These are our demands …

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