August 28, 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 Stu Hackel, writer for the New York Times' Slap Shot blog, contributing his list today ... along with another list as told to him by, of all people, the late George Carlin.
By Stu Hackel
1. Bring back organ music. I'm a rock 'n' roller at heart. But 18 seconds of some arena rock anthem -- or any song -- blaring at 120 decibels during stoppages just detracts from the game, jolts your system and then frustrates you when it's turned down at the faceoff. More to the point, organ music in a big barn just feels right at a hockey game. It blends in perfectly. If you think deleting the noise for the organ would turn NHL game presentations into something less than state of the art, you're over thinking.
2. A better shootout format. Let's see the game decided by something more closely resembling the game. If the game is tied after overtime, the teams play two minutes of three on three. If no one scores, two minutes of two on two, Then two minutes of one on one (all with goalies, of course). Teams can change on the fly, but no changing on whistles. I've coached under these rules and it is absolutely terrific. And it's hockey, not a skills competition.
3. Penalize teams in the shootout. If the shootout rules don't change, there's an inequity that should be addressed: Let's say a player gets a good scoring chance with 30 seconds remaining in overtime. He gets tackled by an opponent, who gets what amounts to a 30 second penalty. But if no one scores, the game isn't over yet, they go to the shootout -- and the offending player could end up being a shootout hero who has escaped serving a full penalty because, chances are, the guy who committed the penalty is pretty good or he wouldn't be on the ice in that situation. So if a minor penalty occurs inside the last two minutes, the offending player and his team should still be penalized by making the fouling player be the last guy in line to take part in the shootout for his team.
4. More shorthanded play. The NHL isn't going to enlarge the size of the playing surface. Forget it; the owners are not taking out two rows of their most expensive non-suite seats. And let's not consider making the game a four on four contest. Besides ruining the symmetry of the spectacle, it would negate too much of the physical element from the game, and enough has vanished since the lockout. But here's a good compromise: End the substitution of players for coincidental majors and for when minors taken while a team is already shorthanded. Two guys fight? It's four on four for five minutes. A pair of fights? Three on three. Two guys get their sticks up during a power play? It's now four on three. Those were the NHL's rules for a long time and restoring them now would make sense.
5. End the guaranteed point for a tie. Coaches and managers love it because it makes teams look better than they really are, but it's ridiculous that 24 teams out of 30 had winning records last year. Beyond that, however, the guaranteed point makes for some sluggish third periods as teams hang on rather than press forward. The rationale for the bonus point when it was introduced in 1999 was that it would make the teams go harder in the four on four overtime so the game would have a decision. But with the adoption of a shootout, there's no longer that rationale. Scrap it. You lose the game, you don't get a point.
(As a special bonus, we present "5 ways I'd change the NHL that will never be considered but should," as told to Stu Hackel by the late comic genius George Carlin at a recent séance ... or so Mr. Hackel claims.)
By George Carlin (R.I.P.), as told to Stu Hackel
1. 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. The owners can decide if these executions should occur on the ice or if the player should be taken to a room under the stands. Firing squad, lethal injection, hanging or gas chamber will be determined by the prevailing laws of the state or province in which the game is played. For those venues where there is no death penalty, mandatory life imprisonment will be observed. It's that serious.
2. Hire ex-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as an NHL vice president. This man conned the US government for years, grabbing billions of our tax dollars and swearing he'd hunt down the Taliban and al Qaeda hiding out in the mountains but did nothing; Maybe he even gave them some of the money. He's the master salesman we've been waiting for to convince America that hockey is really the best sport on the planet. So what if he knows nothing about the sport? Neither do most of the other 428 NHL vice presidents. Plus, he clearly knows all the angles, so he can help screen potential NHL owners and root out the crooks.
3. Institute the 'Designated Fan Program.' Since many fans believe they know more about how to play for, coach or run an NHL club than the people currently doing it -- and who knows, maybe they do? -- let's try them out. Sponsored by the NHL's Official Adult Beverage Companies in both countries, in conjunction with their designated driver education programs (a natural tie-in), every home game will feature a designated fan who will assume the job of his choice for a 48 hour period. He or she must follow all applicable NHL regulations and nothing he or she does can be undone or reversed. The possibilities are endless.
4. Start a new number retirement tradition. When a great player's number is retired by a team, don't just hang an oversized bed sheet in the rafters with his name and number stenciled on it. Put the guy in uniform, hook him up to the ropes, pull him up there and leave him there. There's no better way to always have his spirit in the building.
5. Let the Leafs win the Stanley Cup. The benefits, both economic and sociological, really need no explanation, but this concept can be multi-faceted. The idea would be to create a special division with the current Maple Leafs and four classic NHL "expansion" teams using the exact same players today who were on their original rosters: The 1979 Winnipeg Jets, the 1979 Quebec Nordiques, the 1979 Hartford Whalers and the 1975 Kansas City Scouts. OK, the players are a bit older -- except for Gordie Howe -- but think of the good will engendered by returning the game to two more Canadian markets, helping to revitalize downtown Hartford and solving AEG's empty arena problem in KC. Now, in this division, the Leafs should make the playoffs (although you can't be sure), and once they do, since most fans are convinced the NHL instructs officials to favor some teams over others, it'll be a snap. I can hear it now: "Tomas Kaberle, your fans have waited an eternity for this: Come get the Stanley Cup!"
We seriously have our doubts as to whether Mr. Hackel actually contacted Mr. Carlin beyond the grave, because not one of his "5 ways" included the phrase "Didja ever notice?" Coming up on Friday: Puck Daddy's own Sean Leahy, followed by The Fourth Period's Dave Pagnotta on Saturday and the Wyshynski list on Sunday.