August 25, 2008
Every weekday in August, Puck Daddy presents "5 Ways I'd Change the NHL," in which a cross-section of sports media and hockey personalities offer solutions, suggestions and absurdities to remake the League to their liking. We're thrilled to have James Mirtle, sports writer for the Globe & Mail and editor of his own pioneering hockey blog, contributing his list today ...
By James Mirtle
1. Fill the seats. Any time the issue of overpriced tickets is raised, the explanation offered is always "supply and demand" -- and that holds water in markets that sell out 41 home dates a year. But one of the biggest problems in the NHL is that so many teams have wide swaths of empty seats, so much so that twelve teams averaged under 90-per-cent capacity last season. Mandate that all teams have to fill their buildings, either by lowering ticket prices or using innovative gimmicks like the ‘Student Rush' program the Pittsburgh Penguins had for years, and get people in the seats in Long Island, Florida and Phoenix.
2. Give the Toronto Maple Leafs a regional rival. There's no question in my mind that the greatest untapped market for NHL hockey is right in downtown Toronto, where buying a ticket anywhere close to face value is never an option regardless of how lousy the home side is. Forget territorial rights -- this is one change that could dramatically increase the interest in hockey in its largest market (in terms of the size of the fan base) by giving an Original Six team a huge new rivalry akin to what we see in baseball with the Yankees-Mets and White Sox-Cubs.
3. Expand the net. Add a very subtle increase to the size of the goals to account for how much larger netminders are these days and make the position more about acrobatics and reflexes than nonchalantly cutting off angles. Last season was the sixth-lowest scoring campaign in the past 50 years -- and goal scoring is trending downward.
4. Lower the salary floor. Forcing rebuilding teams to spend close to $41-million this season frankly doesn't make a lot of sense. The salary floor is set at exactly $16-million less than the ceiling, meaning that even if the cap rises another $10-million, small markets will have to keep pace with those at the top. Lunacy.
5. Reduce the number of games. It's a pipe dream, but a 70- or 72-game schedule would be ideal. Start the season on Oct. 1, have it end in mid-May and watch as the number of injuries decline and the level of play rises.
James Mirtle will continue his losing streak in the much-heralded "Mirtle vs. Wyshynski" debates next season. Coming up on Tuesday: Kevin Kaduk, editor of Y! Sports baseball blog Big League Stew.