August 19, 2008
Judging from the reaction to my "5 ways to change the NHL," readers got stuck on who loses a franchise -- regardless of the fact it's tongue-and-cheek -- and didn't even hear why contraction is a good idea.
And it IS a good idea.
No one got more defensive than Washington Capitals chairman and majority owner Ted Leonsis, but more on that later.
First off, let's get one thing straight. There's no way in the world the NHL is going to shut down franchises, I know this. Instead, I'm quite certain the League will expand again, and probably sooner rather than later.
Why? It's not because the board of governors believe the game will be better with 32, 34 or 36 teams. It's not because they feel sorry to be saying "no" so long to Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Hamilton, Ont., Portland, etc. The League will expand because it's all about money. Always has been, always will be.
That being said, just stop and think for a moment how much better the League would be with fewer teams. I envision a better league with as many as 24 franchises. There are some who believe the league made a mistake by expanding from its Original Six. I'm not kidding.
Because of the number of teams, it takes too long to play a regular season of 82 games. Players are asked to play without enough time to rest and recover, the current offseason is too short, and really, the only thing that really works with the current format is the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But even when the Finals creep into June, you know there's going to be bad ice, and that, too, is a result of too many teams, too long of a season.
You, Ted, no one can argue with how 24 teams playing a balanced 78-game schedule would allow for more skill on each roster, better quality games, more time to rest between games, fewer injuries overall and the opportunity for a more importance placed in divisional races where now it's all about where teams stack up in the conference. And there's no change to the Stanley Cup playoffs because why mess with a good -- no, a great thing.
As far as Leonsis, who took the opportunity to write about my suggestions in his blog, I'm not surprised he would be offended by the suggestion of League contraction. Although I highly doubt he would have said boo if Washington wasn't on my "list."
All of his points, those besides the personal attacks (who said I'm a freelance writer?) came down to money, which is his expertise considering the success he's had as a businessman. That's all fine and good, and might help to explain, too, why his team raised tickets prices for the upcoming season, some seats by as much as 10 percent.
It wasn't long ago Washington was struggling at the gate, and struggling mightily with season-ticket sales. But the Caps have arguably the best young all-around player in the game, Alexander Ovechkin. He is getting paid handsomely for his goal-scoring abilities and his all-out effort on a nightly basis, rare in today's game. You can thank Leonsis for that decision; one I would say, besides being a gamble, was a brilliant choice.
But what I would like to hear from Leonsis -- since maybe we have his attention and maybe he's one of the few owners in the league brave and smart enough to really say what he thinks -- is what are your five ideas for change?
If you can't get into specifics, that's understood. But paint some broad strokes. Not everything is perfect in today's game. Certainly the new CBA seems to be working. The product on the ice is better than it was before the lockout thanks to stricter enforcement of the existing rules.
Still, things are far from perfect. The game doesn't have the same exposure or profile as other pro sports even though it's faster-paced than any team sport.
So, Ted, from an owners' perspective, what could improve? Let's hear it. And as we can all agree, that would certainly be more interesting and entertaining than reading about me.
Ross McKeon is the NHL editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Ross a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.