August 15, 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 Mike Chen, Fox Sports columnist and hockey blogging veteran, contributing his list today ...
By Mike Chen
Just five? Ah, I kid, I kid (said in my best Triumph voice). I'm actually quite happy with most things in BettmanLand right now. Yeah, some teams are getting more defensive than I'd like, but the run-and-gun "era" (the first six months after the lockout ended) was a bit unrealistic, so right now it's all about balance. I think if you look at the most successful teams of the past several years (minus the Anaheim Ducks last season), you'll see a trend towards skill and transition, even with tight defensive schemes.
That being said, here are the five things that I'd change in no particular order.
1. 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?
2. Trade Deadline: The Reality Show. Every single one of us would rather be in the boardroom on trade-deadline day rather than watching the all-day shenanigans on TSN or NHL Network. Well, I don't think any team would allow a live broadcast of the day, but what if the league commissioned cameras to follow each of the general managers around for the day before and the day of the trade deadline? Then, cut it together for a one-hour special (or two hours, depending on how much ridiculous activity goes on) so we can get a real feel for what goes on. I've suggested this before in my blog, and I still think it'll be one of the most compelling pieces of sports television you'll be able to see.
And I don't think you'll be giving away any trade secrets or betraying any confidentiality since it'd be after the fact. After all, Brian Burke chronicled his 2007 trade deadline for USA Today and this would essentially be the same thing. Want an off-season sequel? Film Free Agency: The Reality Show on the days before and after July 1, then cut it together for a special to be broadcast right before the season starts to begin the hype.
3. A defined standard of rule enforcement. As long as you have refs, you're going to have judgment calls. And as much as the league loves to claim that every call is the right call, it ain't -- and it ain't anywhere near consistent. To me, the worst areas are interference and hooking. Now, if you look at game tape from the first day of the season to the sixth game of the Cup final, you'll see that the very definition of interference has changed. At the start of the year, interference is called when a defender impedes the progress of someone who doesn't have the puck. Period. Doesn't matter if you're in the neutral zone, behind the net, or along the halfboards -- you get in someone's way while they're trying to go after the puck, you get called.
Ok, that's pretty black and white. So when you add more "judgment" into the mix, you get the Cup final, where basically that standard is thrown out the window and instead, you get refs making calls based on something that I don't understand. Maybe they've got a huge series of if/then flowcharts that determine what's a call or not. ("IF Sidney Crosby is on the ice THEN call more stuff.") I just want consistency that leans more on the side of calling the rules rather than letting stuff go. Don Cherry can complain all he wants, but a rule's a rule, and if you don't like the way it works, then change the official rules and put it in writing.
Consistency and accountability. I don't know how you enforce it, but there's gotta be something that prevents the annual slippery slope.
4. ESPN. Oh, I can feel the different factions lining up right now. It's "We need ESPN to survive" versus (no pun intended) "Versus treats us right" in a battle to the death. No, no, no. We can coexist for the benefit of the league, and hell, maybe even to the benefit of Versus. We know that ESPN has a modicum of interest in hockey right now, and I think a reasonable solution that best benefits the NHL is if Versus has basically first dibs on everything and the league negotiates a game of the week on ESPN. The business sense behind this is that ESPN avoids any and all hockey advertising right now, along with SportsCenter airtime, because the League is in cahoots with a competitor. Once they own some of the property again, the NHL will have access to tons more marketing options (and marketing is what ESPN does best).
In a perfect world, I'd love ESPN to give the NHL the same style of treatment that Versus currently does, but that's simply not going to happen. ESPN's just overcrowded with a lot of crap right now. But you're dealing with a totally closed door; it's best to have the door open just a tiny bit so at least you have some access and exposure. And really, the more exposure, the better.
Despite ESPN's supposed interest, I'm not sure how realistic this thought is because promoting the NHL will indirectly promote Versus, and I doubt the Worldwide Leader would want to help its competition gain any momentum.
5. No more association with Mike Myers. You stopped being funny after the first Austin Powers movie, so please take your toilet humor and bad sex puns to the land of Gallagher and Carrot Top. Thank you.
Mike Chen is the author of this fanboy review of the latest X-Files movie. Coming up on Monday: Steve Zipay of Newsday.