August 31, 2008
Well, that was fun. Big thanks to all who participated in our "5 Ways I'd Change the NHL" series, both here on Puck Daddy and across the hockey blogosphere. We'll have one more "5 ways" post this week that will link up all of the authors that appeared here over the last month in one big compendium of links. Finally, it's my turn. Enjoy.
1. The Predators Hockey Club. One of my mentors, essayist and troubadour James J. Patterson, once had a stroke of genius when the NFL's Raiders were bouncing between Oakland and Los Angeles: Truly make them America's team. The "U.S.A. Raiders" would play all over the country, with their home games sold off to Oakland, LA and other cities that don't currently have football franchises -- both in the U.S. and around the world.
So here in the NHL, we've got this team in Nashville. It does OK, but it's far from stable. And we've got this arena in Kansas City. It's really pretty, but it doesn't have a professional sports occupant. So here's what we do: We turn the Nashville Predators into the Predators Hockey Club -- playing 15 home dates each in KC and Nashville, and selling off the other home games to cities across the globe.
Yes, around the globe. I'm not put off by the Ducks' whining about London. If Tokyo wants to bid for NHL hockey, the Predators will gladly oblige.
"Well, who gives a flying turd about the Predators in other American cities?" Thought you might ask that. The games that would be sold to places like Houston and Seattle and Oklahoma City and New Orleans would be the games that feature the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins and other marquee teams. They're the drawing cards. At least at first.
The only way this works is if Predators H.C. eventually becomes the draw, which means their style and attitude both become a little punk rock. Immediately, the Predators' colors are changed to silver and black, and the logo becomes something cool ... like a skull with two huge guns behind it or some crap. And they'll have to goon it up to the point where the Hansons would blush. They would be the nWo of hockey: An insurgency that comes to your town and fills your building with fans eager to root against the home team.
And they'd be a hell of a lot more compelling than the Predators have been and the Kansas City Anschutzes would be.
2. Embrace the NASCAR graphics. After the glow puck crashed and burned, the technology was still able to be salvaged and used effectively -- in NASCAR, no less.
Watching a NASCAR race on television, the graphics make the sport (and I use that term loosely) accessible to someone who doesn't know a restrictor plate from a Dale Earnhardt collectable plate. They give you all the stats and numbers you need during the race; most of all, they tell you where the drivers are in a crowded field. Thanks to HDTV, they add to the aesthetics rather than detract from them.
I'm not saying NHL games should be cluttered with arrows and info bubbles on television. But once in a while, a graphic that flashes up during play to inform the viewer who has the puck, how long they've been on the ice and their stats for the game would be fantastic. And it would do more to educate new fans than 15 minutes explaining what the hell icing is.
3. Decrease the Willie O'Ree travel budget. If hockey is going to grow in the U.S. into a sport that doesn't need an annual game in an outdoor stadium to attract mainstream interest, crossing and shattering its demographic restraints is essential.
The NHL has made earnest (though somewhat hackneyed) attempts at attracting more female fans. Its outreach to minority hockey fans has included the funding of street hockey programs in inner cities and utilizing Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, as an ambassador since the mid-1990s. O'Ree has a hell of a story to tell, and has told it to over 40,000 young fans and even on sitcoms like "Everybody Hates Chris."
Here's the problem: At 72 years old, he's grandpa talking about the war. It's like Major League Baseball sending Orlando Cepeda to some junior high school in Herndon, Virginia to encourage more young Latinos to play "beisbol" when all they want to hear is A-Rod telling them the same thing. Sometimes the messenger is as important as the message. And that's where the NHL needs to be better.
It's two-pronged issue: Players don't want to put themselves ahead of the team, and players are uncomfortable putting themselves out there as minorities after fighting for years to be "one of the boys." But it's essential this next generation of NHL players are in communities as much as O'Ree has been, giving kids a chance to meet a player that they can actually see playing on television or in an arena. Someone whose sports card they'd collect, or whose jersey they'd purchase. In other words: Someone other than Kevin Weekes.
4. Make goalie stats worth a damn. Hockey stats are jacked. Assists include secondary helpers that include a five-foot nudge from a goalie. Plus/minus tells you jack and squat about quality of play. But the real travesty is in goaltender stats.
There's nothing in their stat lines that indicates quality of shots or chances, which really determine whether a goalie has won a game, lost a game or benefitted greatly from a superior defense in front of them. Until we move past the wins/GAA/save percentage model, there's really no point in comparing goalie numbers. Wanna spark a debate because Marty Turco had a .909 SV% and Josh Harding had a .908? No thanks ... I'll just go piss in the wind for a while. Same difference.
5. Contract the Rangers. Oh, sorry ... thought this was "5 ways I'd change the NHL to soothe the still-simmering bitterness of a New Jersey Devils fan that grew up getting rhetorical wedgies from Rangers fans during K-through-12 in Central NJ." My mistake. Here you go:
5. Take the helmets off in the shootout. I hate the shootout. As some of you know, I consider it the worst idea in sports history.
Thirty years ago, the notion of dumbing down the NHL might have seemed as impossible as keeping blood off the Flyers' knuckles. Now, we help determine who makes or misses the Stanley Cup playoffs with a made-for-TV skills competition that doesn't feature a single defenseman playing his position or a single pass attempted or completed. The only way this could be a stupider waste of time is if the NHL renamed the shootout "Epic Movie."
But if we're stuck with this mockery, then go full-whore: Take the helmets off, so the SportsCenter highlights of unabated offense are more telegenic. Let's see Alexander Ovechkin's total game face before he skates in on the keeper.
At the very least, some Jeter-lover might spy Vinny Lecavalier on ESPNews and decide to give puck bunnyism a chance.