Takes and trash talk from both ALL sides of the NHL's most obscure PATHETIC* rivalry

* Thanks, Kevin Lowe!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ramble post: If I were commish...

It’s ironic—down to a man, NHL players are now more skilled than they ever were, talent dilution be damned. It is my (ignorant?) belief that a depth player from today, if transplanted to the NHL of 80s, could stickhandle and skate in that 80s league with ease. But somehow, this collection of talented individuals yields a product that is inferior to the on-ice product of the 80s. Why is this? And just as importantly, what can be done to make today's NHL on-ice product better?

Well, here’s six things NHL Commissioner Sleek would consider:

(Note: don’t read too much into these, they aren’t meant to be dead serious. Plus, if I were really commissioner I would probably just call in sick, stay home, and play with all my money.)

1. I would find a better incentive for teams to want to score goals. My first proposal: teams will qualify for the playoffs the usual way (top eight in each conference), however, the teams will be SEEDED by total goals-scored. The highest-scoring qualifying team would play the lowest-scoring, and so forth. Straight bracketing from thereon out.

My thinking here is that a lot of the problem with competitive hockey these days is that coaches (particularly western ones) stress systems that aren’t so much about chance creation as they are about chance neutralization. Maybe a little home-ice incentive will make some coaches concentrate a little more on creating risks and chances rather than avoiding them.

2. Unless you are an actual proven grandfather, put on a fucking visor. No ifs, ands, or buts. If you can’t do it, go play in some other league (which, incidentally, will make you wear one anyway). This isn’t about tradition, this is strictly about safety. Besides, the old-school “tough guy” mentality developed in an age where pucks and sticks more often than not stayed on the ice; that’s not really true any more.

Now, this mandatory visor thing is not a statement against fighting, by any means. Rather, fighters are encouraged to, in addition to dropping their gloves, also remove their helmets before engaging in fisticuffs. In fact,

3. Not only would I repeal the instigator penalty, but I would put strict language in the NHL Constitution that prevents future commissioners from touching this rule. You want a cleaner game, more respect, and less career-ending questionable hits? You want emotion, team identity, and cult heroes? You want to capture the attention of a certain male demographic, ages 12 – 40?

I’d let ‘em fight, dammit. I’d restore the code (except for that no-visor thing, of course), bring back the enforcer, and win some fans along the way.

4. I would fix the blueline. The blueline, for whatever reason, is becoming too easy to defend, both in creating off-sides situations, and in clearing the puck. To combat the former, I would widen the blue-line significantly, allowing forwards to precede the puck a couple of feet into the zone. To combat the latter, I would call immediate icings if the puck were cleared (a) off the glass, or (b) over the height of the high glass.

Six icings in a game, by the way, results in a 2-minute bench minor. All these rules can be adjusted as their impact becomes clearer. Speaking of 2-minute minors,

5. I would find a way to make sure that less overall time in a game was spent watching a team try to score on the power play. Yes, that means less penalties. The problem with the amount of penalties today is (a) they are becoming so prevalent that teams aren’t even trying to score 5-on-5 any more, rather just “skate hard” until they can draw a penalty and then try to score, and (b) nothing kills excitement that watching a bunch of no-hit, set plays where only one team is expected to score, scattered among a bunch of icings by the other team.

I’m not sure exactly how to do this scale-back, though. I’m tempted to say just stick to pre-lockout enforcement rules, but maybe I could do something like a penalty bank, where if you push the new rules long enough, then eventually the ref will make the call. However it happens, overall penalty-calling will be reduced.

6. I would mandate that salaries for players, GMs, and coaches will be cut in half, a mandatory 50% rollback. Instead, that pay will come in the form of shares in a company. This company will hold partial ownership in all 30 NHL franchises—when the teams make money, the shareholders makes money.

You see, it makes no sense that the players and the owners are on separate sides when it comes to my dollar. The players and coaches need some common incentive tied into the well-being of the sport. It needs to become their concern that hockey is entertaining and drawing fans. This "shareholder" system means the better they are able to fill seats and draw viewers, the better-off they individually become, and everyone wins. It is an alignment of incentives.
Now, as I say, I am not completely serious on these issues, in fact, I really only stand behind two of them (Can you guess which two?), and I think one of them is illegal. Anyway, here are some good gloom-and-doom state-of-the-game pieces from Reality Check and Jim Kelley, both good reads. The common tune? The on-ice game needs some re-tooling. Not all is NHL-rosy.

So, anybody want to fix my suggestions, or offer any other ideas on how to improve / sell / reinvigorate / resuscitate the watchability of this league? Or anybody want to tell me to fuck off, I like the hockey the way it is? Suggestions are welcome.


Tapeleg said...

Is this a drinky post? It seems like a drinky post

More when I'm not dead to the world.

Earl Sleek said...

I was drinking when I hit "publish", but it doesn't really count as a drinky post. A lot of it was written sober, I just needed some liquid courage before actually posting it.

Ramble post = drinky post with less drinking

Ted said...

As far out as these are, only the first one made me squirm. I like it!

Doogie said...

I stand totally behind 3, and could get behind 2 if need be (I still wonder if visors are the slippery slope towards full face masks, at which point, why even bother?). I actually wrote a rambly of my own on the subject of 3 and RC's post on my own site, which basically said the same thing.

Jason Mandell said...

i'd like to see them create an illegal defense rule, similar to what the NBA used to have. The principal of the rule would be that when teams are at even strength, they are required to aggressively pursue the puck while the opponent has posession. In other words, this would eliminate the concept of the neutral zone "trap", in which a team can sit back and wait for the opponent to make a mistake. Obviously this would be a subjective rule that the officials would be responsible for monitoring (all four of them could call it), but i think it's usually pretty obviously when a team is deploying a trap-like defense and not forechecking in any real way.

The penalties:

- first two offenses, faceoff in your defensive zone
- third offense and greater, 2 minute delay of game penalty
- less than 2 minutes remaining in game: penalty shot

I think this could have a profound impact on the game.

Anonymous said...

wow, hockey fans are really an anxious bunch these days. this has got to be the 8th save-the-nhl post i've seen this week.

if i might ask, what exactly is wrong with the nhl? is the game too boring? is it losing its established audience? does it need to gain a new audience? it seems to me that more time is spent proposing solutions than defining the problem, which makes it difficult to evaluate the suggestions. for example, the more i read, the more i think that the latter two problems have mutually exclusive solutions- either the game must play to its core audience and give up the attempt to attract new fans, or it must risk changes that will alienate the base and but may attract different kinds of audience. but i don't think there's any change that can do both. so the question isn't so much what should be done, but what we want the game to be that it isn't now.

Jordi said...

Maybe they could market the visor like a mini cooper - decorate it crazy like a goalie mask? They'll want one of those babies afterwards. Especially the one with pink hearts.

And fighting! Fighting! I find it a bit scary that people only want to see fighting after someone's hurt.

Earl Sleek said...

good comments, e.

this has got to be the 8th save-the-nhl post i've seen this week.

Ah, but mine's only half-serious.

if i might ask, what exactly is wrong with the nhl? is the game too boring? is it losing its established audience? does it need to gain a new audience?

I'm not sure if it's a matter of established vs. new audience, it's really a question of any audience. Attendance is low, and TV is not drawing viewers (primarily new ones, but it is losing steam from last year as well). Since the post-lockout NHL has become more-dollar-oriented than ever, this "failure to captivate" is more troubling than ever.

My personal complaint? On-ice product is turning stale, especially 5-on-5. As much as the game has "changed", the one-goal lead still reigns. Thus suggestion #1.

Don't get me wrong; I watched plenty of hockey pre-lockout and I watch plenty of hockey today. But the NHL's not going to survive just on my meager dollar.

Besides, it was a slow news day. :)

Earl Sleek said...

I find it a bit scary that people only want to see fighting after someone's hurt.

Oh, that's not really my position. But I do think we will see less disrespectful injury hits if there is a valid threat of repercussion and self-enforcement.

I want fights instead of injuries.

Jordi said...

I think fighting would help in that sense considering the enforcers will have a role and they're the ones who know how to take care of themselves. They won't be the ones accidentally hitting someone at the end of a bad shift or some other shite.

Or maybe I'm completely missing the point.

Anonymous said...

Earl, you can't be serious! In proposal # 1 - ranking by goals, all the 8th seeded playoff teams would knock off the 1st place teams cause they play better defense.

I'm starting to wonder that part of what is wrong with the game might be hockey fans appreciation of it in general.

Maybe I'm lone oddball who enjoys watching a good defense as much as an offense.

If football were to eliminate sacking the quarterback, there would be more touchdowns.

This is where hockey thinking is at right now.

It has to stop changing and revert to what worked before.

Earl Sleek said...

RC, I'm not really serious about #1, but I do enjoy it when a team puts scoring on its agenda. Good defenses are cool, but (for example) Dallas scored against SJ in the first five minutes (?) last game and sat on that for 55 minutes. I might have liked it better had they tried for a second goal.

Doogie guessed it, I suppose. The only two I'd really do are #2 and #3.

The rest was just food for thought.