Don't overreact

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

The bright side to NBC thinking so little of the NHL Eastern Conference finals between Ottawa and Buffalo – the network chose to show the Preakness pre-race show over a thrilling overtime – is that the move brought hockey some serious publicity.

It stands to reason more people know today that:

A) The NHL playoffs are going on;

B) NBC is carrying some of the games, and;

C) Ottawa has a team.

All publicity is good publicity, right? At this point, for the lowly NHL, probably. Who knows, the "Preakness Game" might actually help the league.

Unless, of course, it is used as the impetus to change the NHL's rules, once again.

As Larry Brooks of the New York Post wrote last month, there is a movement afoot on the competition committee to change the overtime rules for the playoffs. Nothing is certain, but the ideas include going to four-on-four play after the first overtime, or shootouts at some point, or some other format.

There are some excellent hockey minds behind it, former players and coaches who think the grind of long overtime games is boring and physically grueling for the athletes. You can't write off their opinion. The proposal is expected to be discussed this offseason.

But are fans complaining? Are the league's paying customers (remember them?) demanding this? If so, I haven't heard much about it. Every hockey fan I know loves the nerve-racking, back-and-forth action of overtime even if it means they are bleary eyed for work or school the next morning.

Every single game ends in true, ultimate sudden death (or victory if you're an optimist). At any moment, a bounce of the puck, a quick break, a slap shot with eyes, a turnover, or anything at all can win or lose the game. Nothing is safe, nothing is routine, nothing can let you breath easy.

There is never a quarterback taking a knee to set up a field goal. There is never the relief of knowing when your team is at bat, it can't be scored upon.

In hockey, teams are almost always on both offense and defense at the exact same time. Momentum means nothing. You can have five minutes of sustained pressure on offense and lose in the blink of an eye at the other end of the ice.

Fans literally scream in horror, like they are watching a car wreck, when play gets too close to the net of their team.

It's unique and special and spectacular.

And yet, the NHL might want to tinker with it, gimmick it up and get it over with sooner?

And that's where I fear the "Preakness Game" might go from humorous debacle to a tool to make another change to the sport's long-standing tradition.

That the league officials will cite NBC’s skittishness concerning open-ended overtime games and the humiliation of Saturday to claim, once again, that the sport needs to find a way to appeal to American television.

That we need to rework the game current fans love in an effort to possibly, maybe get non-fans to even notice.

But that's been the ongoing mistake of the Gary Bettman regime, forever changing the sport to fit his marketing plans rather than change his marketing plans to fit the game.

Isn't this why Ottawa-Buffalo was played in the afternoon, rather than the traditional Saturday night spot? And then NBC bumps the end anyway?

Why screw with this? It's not like there is some plague of long overtimes – only nine of 78 playoff games this year have gone past the first overtime and only one has gone past two.

Look, NBC just doesn't value the NHL. Since it doesn't pay a rights fee to broadcast the games – it shares advertising revenue with the league – why would it value the NHL? How much do you value something you got for free? It sees hockey as filler program, an infomercial of sorts.

NBC knew the audience for the Preakness would be at least three times greater. And it had far more valuable commercials sold for the pre-race show than whatever it would get out of overtime hockey.

So it cut the game. Which doesn't mean we need to cut up the game.

Maybe I'm just skittish to change because much of it hasn't worked (can we bring back the old names, Adams Division, Campbell Conference, et al?). The "Preakness Game" proves that most of the tinkering has failed. But mostly I'd hate to see the NHL again react out of a defensive position, the embarrassment of this, and make another permanent, major change to the sport.

Just because NBC thinks women in silly hats and Black-Eyed Susans are better television than overtime hockey doesn't mean it's true.

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