September 04, 2008
"Honest debate and constructive critical analysis matters so much to the long-term good of the sport." That was Adam Proteau in his The Hockey News blog today, and it's also the basis of our "5 ways I'd change the NHL" guest writer series. (Along with providing some entertainment through the puck doldrums of August and playing everybody's favorite game, "Which fan base can I piss off more by proposing the contraction of their team?")
Looking back at the 115 (or so) suggestions, some general trends are established. Puckheads want fewer regular season games and larger ice surfaces. We want a different format for the current overtime system, whether it's increasing the value of a regulation victory or dumping the charity point or banning the shootout. We want changes on television, whether it's a return to ESPN or improved coverage of the game from a technical standpoint.
And looking back at the thousands of comments left on these blog posts, another interesting trend appears: Puck Daddy readers mentioned the firing or resignation of NHL Commission Gary Bettman more than our writers did.
Here's the theory: That the writers were limited to five ideas, and that "Bettman must go" is now implied in any progressive chatter about the NHL. If not from a policy perspective, than from a symbolic one: The night we see another man or woman identified as the NHL commissioner handing out the Stanley Cup sans deafening boos will be the night hockey fans feel undeniable optimism again, if just for a moment.
Here are all the (long delayed) links to all of our "5 ways I'd change the NHL" columns, along with one exceptional excerpt from each. Thanks again to all who participated, and to the bloggers and writers who felt compelled to join in on the fun around the Web. It was an honor.
Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times: Tell Gary Bettman, "You know what? You served your purpose but you've now outlived it. Here's a nice pension. Time to step aside and let Bill Daly run things."
Will Leitch, Deadspin: Considering the success of the New Years Day game in Buffalo, all games should be played outdoors. If you can't figure out a way to make that work, Phoenix, well, why do you have a team anyway?
Craig Custance, The Sporting News: Bring hockey back to ESPN ... By the way, did you know Erin Andrews got her start in television doing hockey in Tampa? She doesn't mention it a lot now, because it's probably in her contract not to, but she really enjoyed her time in hockey. Should we really be preventing her from working in a sport she loves?
Matt Bradley, Washington Capitals: I automatically get to play on Alex Ovechkin's line every game. I've talked to Coach Boudreau about this before, but it hasn't gotten anywhere. If I'm in charge, I'd make it a league rule and take the decision out of his hands. Let's add 10 years to my contract while we're at it so Ovie doesn't have to worry about changing linemates as he's hitting his prime.
Mike Ross, XM Home Ice: Free exhibition games ... What better way to hook a fan than to give them their first taste for free and then turn them into paying customers.
Ross Bernstein, author: Make the enforcers "flip their lids" when they drop the gloves. There are way too many hand injuries suffered by these guys from hitting helmets -- especially the code breakers who dip their heads during combat. We don't want to see our heavy's on the shelf with busted knuckles, we want to see them on the ice. The kids do it in junior and it works, so I say have the big boys do it too. Lose the helmets.
Adrien Dater, Denver Post: Eliminate the worst song in the history of arena sports: "Cotton Eyed Joe." I'm not advocating bringing in Freddy Mercury and a little "We Will Rock You" or Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part II" (started at old Colorado Rockies NHL games, by the way). All I'm saying is: If I hear that goddam song one more time at an NHL arena this season, I'm going to take a sledgehammer to some game-night entertainment office one night.
Ross McKeon, Yahoo! Sports: We're talking contraction here, fewer teams means better quality of play and so much more. Ding six franchises to get the league down to 24 teams (12 per conference, six in each of four divisions). Who goes? Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators. Hey, look at that, no more Southeast Division.(ED NOTE: This list led to this, which led to this, which led to this.)
Chris Botta, former New York Islanders VP of Communications: Once and for all it's time for clarification on high-sticking penalties. The next time your local play-by-play man says, "They're checking for blood to see if there should be an extra minor," do me a favor: Grab an NHL rulebook and show me where it calls for an automatic additional two minutes if the victim is bleeding. (Really, keep looking. I'm sure it's in there somewhere). The scary thing is that most NHL referees and coaches really think it's a rule.
Mike Chen, Fox Sports: Uncensored pay-per-view. Ok, so this one's a bit of a radical (and unrealistic) idea, but I guarantee you that it'd be beyond entertaining. Imagine this -- a broadcast with no play-by-play announcers, just active microphones on the head coaches, the refs, and a select number of players on either side. The number of F-bombs dropped would preclude the game from being broadcast on any standard channel, but it'd be a fascinating way to give the viewer a true feel for what's going on over on the bench. Oh, and we'd finally get a little piece of the infamous smack talk that goes on during a game. Maybe HBO would be interested in this?
Steve Zipay, Newsday: Widen the &%$#@! rink. Create space for bigger, skilled players by taking out a row of seats on each side and add seven feet (to 92). Unrealistic it may be, but immensely worthwhile, in my opinion.
James Gordon, Ottawa Citizen: Chop the regular season schedule down to 72 games. Why is less hockey good for a hockey league? After NFL football (maybe), Rugby, MMA, boxing and bear wrestling, there aren't many sports that unleash more physical punishment on their athletes. Ever read one of those lists that comes out after the season revealing what the various "upper body" and "lower body injuries" suffered before and during the postseason really were? Fewer games = less fatigue = fewer injuries = more stars playing = faster, better game.
Tom Benjamin, Canucks Corner: Make all the games worth the same in the standings. I've reached the point that I'll support any change in this regard. My preference would be to do away with the shootout and live with ties. The other options include three points for a win in regulation or zero points for all losses. Pick one of the three and stick with it.
Stan Neckar, former NHL defenseman: From a player perspective, I would like to see bigger nets. Goalies are bigger, equipment is bigger; leave the pads the size they are now, but open up the net and the scoring opportunities.
Steven Ovadia, Puck Update: Get rid of the Instigator rule. Other people have mentioned this which should show the NHL just how much of a no-brainer this is. Fighting is a part of hockey. You can't take it out of the game. And by allowing players to fight, you protect the skilled players. No one will touch a top six forward if they know it means a beatdown on the next shift. Does anyone think Sean Avery would still be alive if the NHL didn't have the Instigator rule?
James Mirtle, Globe & Mail: 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.
Kevin Kaduk, Big League Stew: Invent "histories" for teams like Nashville and Columbus. In a league based on rivalries that span generations, it's hard to get worked up for either team. However, to make lemonade out of the proverbial lemons, I'm proposing to write team histories for both franchises (as well as Florida and Atlanta) so that we can just accept them as gospel and actually have someone or something to hate. For example, who can forget that immortal fight between Keith Magnuson and Nashville's Franklin "Boots" McCarthy in '74? And what about the time Columbus dragged the Hawks to seven games in the '85 playoffs?
Eric McErlain, The Sporting News: Say Goodbye to the Shootout. There was a time when I believed in the shootout, and there are few fans of the game that would dispute the fact that it's delivered some drama -- albeit manufactured. Unfortunately, that sort of drama has come at the expense of teams retreating into a defensive shell late in the game, turning more than a few third periods since the resolution of the lockout into a snooze fest. ... I don't know about anybody else, but I'd trade away the shootout for more frantic third periods filled with desperate play. The next question becomes, what do you replace it with?
Stu Hackel, New York Times (as George Carlin): Institute the death penalty for diving. Everyone thinks embellishment is ruining the game, robbing it of its inherent sense of fair play and honest sportsmanship. The two-minute penalty hasn't worked, and what happened to the idea that the Hockey Operations Department in Toronto would watch games and tapes and fine chronic offenders? Clearly, these measures are inadequate and too soft. We need to keep hockey a man's game. So if you dive, you'll pay a man's price: You will be executed.
Sean Leahy, Puck Daddy: Ice Girls for every NHL team. I can't emphasize this enough. The lovely ladies who shovel the snow so elegantly are the only reason to attend games in most arenas around the league. Then there's the Rangers. They have dudes who skate around picking up the extra snow. DUDES! Why would you not want an Ice Girl to patrol the rink, making sure creases are so fresh and so clean? C'mon, just look at them. Just. Look. At. Them. Craig Anderson sure did.
Erin Nicks and Dave Pagnotta: NICKS: "Ban afternoon games. Those 1 p.m. starts are for octogenarians who can't stay up past sunset. The rest of us can manage the traditional nighttime schedule. PAGNOTTA: "It's time to put the wheels in motion and find new homes for Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers."
Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy: Take the helmets off in the shootout. 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.