Ways to improve the NHL

I love this game, and we all do otherwise we wouldn’t be spending so much time reading and discussing on blog like this one or fan forums. It’s one thing, in spite of the odd disagreement, that we all share as fans. But there are things that truly are bugging me about it that I feel should change, hopefully for the better. In my opinion, here they are:

 

Commissioner

Don’t see this as a racist comment, but Gary Bettman must go. He’s an American who didn’t know anything about the game, was put in a position that he’s not qualified for, and he’s ruining the game little by little. Whether it’s though over-expansion, rules changes, killing TV deals in the states, not much that he’s done has improved the game. He’ll claim having expanded the league to 30 teams. I was looking at the NHL attendances (http://espn.go.com/nhl/attendance/_/year/2010) over the years and it’s not pretty. Count them, 12 teams draw less than 17,000 fans at each home game, and 5 of them can’t draw 15,000! He’s building on sand instead of working on the foundation. Instead of using expansion as a source of revenue for the league, he should try finding ways to make it work in the existing markets, otherwise everything will come stumbling down, especially going into a questionable economy! I’d like to see a Scotty Bowman or Ken Dryden at the helm, people who know the game, people who understand the game and people who would guide this league to where it should be, instead of making look like a Mickey Mouse league.

 

Instigator rule

The referees, the league simply can’t handle the discipline. Let the players police themselves in removing the instigator rule, the worst rule in hockey. Knowing that they are protected by rules, some players are taking liberties knowing too well that no retribution will come their way. If someone takes a shot at someone’s head, let the players teach him a lesson instead of penalizing them for defending a teammate! He’ll think twice before doing it again. Of course though, referees would have to use discretion so that goons don’t go after star players for no reasons, but that’s much less of a problem than the other problems the instigator rule creates.

 

Shootout

Can we please get our game back instead of trying to lure fair-weather fans? The NBA doesn’t decide games with free-throws. The NFL doesn’t decide games with field goals contests. MLB doesn’t end games with a home-run derby. I don’t like soccer and I don’t watch it more because they have shootouts. Leave the skills competitions where they belong, at the all-star game. I remember when it was exciting to see a penalty shot during a game… not anymore, the novelty has worn off!

 

Here’s what I’m proposing: The BCHL has been using a format that works! Play the first OT for 5 minutes at 4 on 4, as we know it. If it’s still tied, then proceed with 5 minutes at 3 on 3! Before flying off the handle here, hear me out. For one, it’s still a team game instead of a one on one. Second, I wasn’t a fan of the idea until I got to experience it watching the BCHL for 10+ years now. You can have the most boring hockey game, the last 10 minutes of OT make up for it. And that’s at the junior level, can you imagine with NHL players? Just imagine 5 minutes of hockey with just about every rush being a 2 on 1. I’d be curious to know what former BCHL players like Duncan Keith, Chuck Kobasew, Brendan Morrison, Paul Kariya, Travis Zajac or Kyle Turris would say about the idea.

 

Here are some very interesting stats to backup the idea:

  • In the past 7 seasons, the BCHL has seen 3,510 regular season’s games
  • Off those games, 544 were decided in OT, either at 4 on 4 or at 3 on 3
  • Only 74 games in 7 seasons ended in a tie, about 2% of all games played!

What does that mean? At the NHL level, it is less than one game per season per team ending in a tie! Now if the NHL can’t live with that, I don’t know what’s wrong with them.

 

No-touch icing

This is long overdue and I don’t know what the hold-up is when GMs and Governors meet. It’s a huge safety issue and a stall tactic. I love the new rule where the team icing the puck can’t change, along with the new “No TV time-out” after an icing, but no touch is a must!

 

Two referee system

It’s time for the NHL to realize that it is simply not working. First of all, there is no room on the ice. How many times do we see referees in the way of the play? Players are bigger and faster, the ice is the same size, yet we add an obstacle?

 

Also, there are too many incompetent referees in the NHL, who should either be retired or who are simply way over their head, either because they’re not ready for that level or they’re simply not good enough. Cutting back to one would allow the league to only keep the very best, like it was before.

 

Then there’s the problem of having two different judgements on the ice, calling two different games. It creates huge frustration for the players, coaches and the fans as there is no consistency within the same game! How many times have we seen a referee making a decision not to call a penalty on a play right in front of him, only to see the other referee who’s 100 feet away raise his arm to call it? At least with one referee, it’s the same consistency within the game and seeing who’s refereeing, everyone knows what to expect for that game! If the play is too fast, allow linesmen to call a bit more. They already can blow the whistle for too many men on the ice and they can go to the referee to inform him of a high stick or spearing. Simply allow them to blow the whistle on those and voila, some of the problem is solved.

 

Contraction

The talent is too diluted across the league and too many players are in the NHL and shouldn’t be, including past prime veterans. Preferably, I’d like to go down to 24 teams but it’s unrealistic. I think that if we contracted two teams and went down to 28, it would be a step in the right direction. Atlanta and Florida would be my choices. I would also relocate two other franchises: Nashville and Columbus to Winnipeg and Quebec City. I think that both those franchises, under a salary cap and revenue sharing, could work better than in non-traditional hockey market. Then go with 4 divisions of 7 teams each.

 

Playoffs’ format

With 28 teams, 4 divisions of 7 teams each, use the divisions and conferences for scheduling purposes, but go back to the overall standings for playoffs. First against 16th, second against 15th, third against 14th and so on. Yes there could be a bit more traveling, but that’s the luck of the draw. This would allow for the possibility of a Toronto-Montreal, Edmonton-Calgary or NY-NY Stanley Cup finals.

 

Suggestions to increase offense

We need to stop the non-sense of making the nets bigger, preventing players from blocking shots (no disrespect intended to Bob Gainey who’s at least trying something different), keeping goalies in their crease, smaller equipment, etc. What’s next? Put a blindfold on the goalies and they’ll have to play by feel and rely on their hearing? The one compromise I’d be willing to do is to go back to the old days, when the PP lasted a full 2 minutes regardless if the team scored or not. Not perfect, but better than what we’ve been reading and hearing!

 

A second option would be to not blow the whistle on a delayed penalty until the puck is out of the offensive zone or the goalie freezes it. So if a team gets a delayed penalty and touches the puck in their zone, they don’t blow the whistle. If they can’t get the puck out of the zone, the play continues until they can do so.

 

Granted it’s not perfect and some of it is not feasible with the financial aspect of the NHL, but it certainly would make for a much more solid foundation to build on.

 

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