With the National Hockey League’s 30 general managers currently meeting in downtown Toronto to discuss changes to rules and policy, I figured I’d take the opportunity to chime in with my two cents. Times 10. My 20 cents, if you will.
Extending overtime is already on the table as the GM’s try to cut down on the number of shootouts, but I wanted to voice my support for this idea.
Right now, the extra period is just five minutes of 4-on-4 followed by the shootout. OT is the tensest period of play in any hockey game with each penalty, missed pass or deflected shot putting the game on the line.
There’s been a lot of talk of having five minutes of 4-on-4 and then five of 3-on-3. The former doesn’t really strike me as too interesting - I don’t see why they couldn’t just do 10 minutes of 4-on-4, or, what the hell, a full 20 minutes of 4-on-4 followed by the shootout.
It’ll still cut down on the number of shootouts and will create more tension and therefore more excitement. Fans tend to enjoy excitement.
Get rid of archaic blackout rules
As I’ve mentioned before, my fiancée Katy and I are a mixed couple – I’m a Leafs fan and she supports the Oilers.
It makes for the occasional tense moment, but what really aggravates things is that we can only watch the Leafs and rarely the Oilers thanks to the NHL’s ridiculous TV blackout rules. This regulation prevents anyone with a standard cable package from watching an out-of-market hockey game.
In other words, although Sportsnet West was carrying the Edmonton-Carolina game last night, we could only watch the Toronto-Tampa Bay match or the Washington Capitals-New York Rangers game. I understand the original reasoning behind this rule was to keep fans interested in their hometown markets.
However, this hurts the NHL more than it helps. If a fan in Minnesota wants to cheer for the Pittsburgh Penguins, then so be it. Associating yourself with frustrating rules that limit your fans ability to watch your product is never a good idea. Dropping this ridiculous regulation would also tie in with…
Embracing fantasy hockey
I think we can all agree that the National Football League is the best run professional sports league in North America and arguably the world. So why not tear a page out of their playbook and embrace fantasy sports?
In addition to showing the scores from games, the NFL runs tickers of the top five stat lines from each position during their Sunday broadcasts. That running update on the individual success of its players is aimed straight at fantasy football managers eager to see how their personal team is doing.
The NHL should do likewise: run a ticker with the statistics of the top five forwards, defenders and goalies each and every broadcast night.
Clamping down on vague “lower body injury” reports would be a good idea as well. Force the teams to reveal more details about their hurting players for the benefit of fantasy hockey managers. Anything to make fantasy hockey more accessible and enjoyable.
Show where shots are coming from and going
This has long been a bugbear of mine. During games broadcasters will happily tell you how many shots a goalie has faced. That’s all well and good, but not all shots were created equal. A shot from the slot is a lot more dangerous than one from the blue line.
Hockey broadcasts should show where on the ice players are shooting from and where they’re going on net. The technology is already there – Major League Baseball can track the trajectory of pitches and the National Basketball Association regularly shows where players shoot from on the court.
Both concepts should be applied to hockey. It would really help viewers understand the underlying strategies and tactics within a game as patterns begin to emerge in shot selection and location.
Is the defence successfully pushing forwards to the outside? Are they giving up a lot of breakaways? Is the power play unit feeding to the rearguard for big shots, or working it down low? Are shooters trying to pick top corners, or shooting along the ice for big rebounds? It would really add more depth and understanding for the average viewer.
No touch icing
The favourite hockey cause of the CBC’s Don Cherry, no touch icing is an idea that is long past due. With increasing concerns about head shots and concussions, why is the NHL persisting in having a rule that routinely has two players racing the full length of the ice toward unforgiving boards? Just take it out of the game already!
The NHL has a lengthy and rich history, particularly amongst its storied Original Six franchises.
Unfortunately, thanks to their current playoff system, many of the oldest rivalries in the game will never be put on the league’s biggest stage: the Stanley Cup final.
The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, the biggest and best feud in all of hockey will never play with the NHL championship at stake again. Neither will the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings or the Habs and Boston Bruins.
My solution is actually an old idea: have the top 16 teams in the league in one playoff pool. President’s Trophy winner will take in the 16th seed, the other conference champion will take on No. 15, and so on. It’s how the playoffs were structured in the 1970s and 80s, and it’ll work again today.
Get back in touch with the history of the game
Other than the MLB, there is no major North American sport that has as rich a history as the NHL. Unfortunately, commissioner Gary Bettman clearly sees this as a weakness and tries to cover up or even undo a lot of the league’s historical underpinnings.
This is a mistake.
By shying away from that history it makes the NHL seem like a new, fly-by-night operation, particularly when franchises are being parachuted into Sunbelt markets that are unfamiliar with the game.
The NHL should embrace its past with throwback jerseys, prominent marketing of its namesake trophies (like the Lady Byng) and make sure to compare today’s stars with some of the legends of hockey. History and tradition are strengths, not weaknesses.
No more two-piece sticks
Look, I’m all for innovation. I’m not some Luddite who poo-poos every new idea. But let’s get real: two-piece hockey sticks break a lot more than good ol’ fashion wooden sticks.
Not only is this dangerous to players, linesmen and potentially fans, but it slows down the game as the remnants of that $200 fibre composite is cleared off the ice. If an all-wooden stick was good enough for Al MacInnis’ record holding slap shot, it’s good enough now.
Reinvest in amateur hockey
I don’t actually think that the Sun Belt expansion was that bad an idea. New markets and new fans really can work. It just wasn’t done right.
The NHL should take the time to invest in amateur hockey at the grassroots level because those are the fans – and players – of the future.
Amateur hockey would help educate parents and kids about the sport and create an instant niche market of coaches taking their teams to games.
When moving in to Phoenix, Miami or Atlanta the league should have set up minor hockey systems to introduce those cities to the sport. Obviously, that ship has sailed, but it might help with some damage control if they got local kids involved in the game.
Send NHLers to the 2014 Sochi Olympics
This was, of course, a hot-button debate at the World Hockey Summit this summer, but it’s worth mentioning again.
Bettman and co. must let NHLers play in the Olympics, and they should make that announcement sooner rather than later.
Why? Because although the Stanley Cup and the Winter Classic do a great job of raising hockey’s profile, nothing does a better job of exposing the sport to the masses like the Olympics. Nothing.
This year’s men’s hockey final between the United States and Canada was the most watched hockey game, ever. It drew 44.2 million viewers across North America and was the main event of the two week sporting event.
The NHL would be foolish to give up that kind of mainstream media attention. Bettman should make the announcement soon as well and what better place than this year’s newly reformatted All-Star Game?
What do you think? What ideas do you have for the NHL GMs? Post them in the comment section below.
There’s a lot to love about hockey, but I think all fans can agree is the unpredicatability of the game.
Hockey, and its befooted cousin lacrosse, is made up of a series of broken plays.
Yes, there are tactics and strategies that teams employ, but every minute of every game is completely different then the last. No lead is safe, and often the game is decided in the span of a few minutes of play.
The video above is a classic – if extreme – example of that unpredictability. What other sport offers a seemingly surefire score, then and incredible last-second tally in the span of 30 seconds? Only hockey.
Junior hockey was all about that kind of crazy drama this weekend, with several big games being decided in a quick burst.
Friday night started with a bang as the Quebec Remparts, the best team in the Canadian Hockey League, won their 10th game of the season with less than 20 seconds on the clock.
The Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, the second-best team in the CHL, also had some last second heroics on Friday as Jordan Mayer scored in the last minute of overtime.
Fans of the Calgary Hitmen were treated to the same kind of action on Saturday night when Jaynen Rissling jumped out of the penalty box to corral an outlet pass and put away the winner in overtime.
Finally, back in the QMJHL the Val-d’Or Foreurs reeled off three goals in quick succession to top the Montreal Junior 4-2 on Sunday afternoon.
It’s just another reason to love hockey.
Friday, October 15th 2010
QMJHL: QUEBEC EARNS 10TH WIN BY EDGING SHAWINIGAN
The Quebec Remparts are still the hottest team in Canadian junior hockey.
Alex Wall scored the winner with seconds to spare as Quebec edged the Shawinigan Cataractes 3-2 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action Friday night.
OHL: MAYER'S OT MARKER RALLIES MAJORS PAST GREYHOUNDS
A timely power play made all the difference for the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors on Friday night.
Veteran centre Jordan Mayer scored with the man advantage in the dying seconds of overtime as Mississauga rallied to a 4-3 victory over the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds in Ontario Hockey League action.
WHL: ROCKETS SPOIL HOWSE'S CAREER MARK WITH WIN OVER CHILLIWACK
The Kelowna Rockets success overshadowed a landmark for Ryan Howse of the Chilliwack Bruins Friday night.
Colton Sissons' goal with 30 seconds left in the second period was the difference maker as the Rockets toppled the Bruins 4-3 in Western Hockey League action.
Saturday, October 16th 2010
QMJHL: MAINEIACS PREVAIL OVER RETOOLED DRAKKAR
Some personnel changes weren't enough to right the Baie-Comeau Drakkar's ship.
Jess Tanguy had back-to-back goals, including the eventual winner Saturday, as the Lewiston Maineiacs sank the Drakkar 4-1 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League play.
OHL: CZARNIK, NOESEN LEAD PLYMOUTH PAST WINDSOR
Robbie Czarnik had a goal and an assist to lead the Plymouth Whalers past the Windsor Spitfires 4-1 in Ontario Hockey League action Saturday night.
"(Rickard) Rakell got in hard on the forecheck," Czarnik said about his goal. "He got to the puck before everybody else and got it to me and I snuck it by (Jack) Campbell."
WHL: RISSLING OT HERO AS HITMEN EKE OUT WIN OVER THUNDERBIRDS
Jaynen Rissling went from goat to great in a two-minute span Saturday night.
Rissling was the overtime hero by scoring an unassisted power-play goal to lift the Calgary Hitmen to a 3-2 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds in Western Hockey League action.
Sunday, October 17th 2010
QMJHL: FOREURS RAPID-FIRE ATTACK DOWN JUNIOR
It took less than two minutes for the Val-d'Or Foreurs to drop their division rivals Sunday afternoon.
Guillaume Naud had back-to-back markers, including the winner, as the Foreurs scored three quick goals in a 4-2 win over the Montreal Junior in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: NESBITT, MRAZEK STAR AS OTTAWA ROLLS PAST BRAMPTON
Thomas Nesbitt scored twice and added an assist and Petr Mrazek made 41 saves as the Ottawa 67's defeated the Brampton Battalion 5-1 in Ontario Hockey League play Sunday afternoon.
Nesbitt was very effective on special teams, scoring on the power play and short-handed.
Gretzky’s Tears is the latest book by the Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt. It examines the controversial trade of Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, almost bringing an end to Edmonton’s Stanley Cup dynasty and launching the National Hockey League’s sputtering Sunbelt Expansion.
Brunt is one of Canada’s foremost sports journalists, and one of the best “big picture” writers in the newspaper business today. Unfortunately, Gretzky’s Tears does not meet Brunt’s usually high standards, particularly in contrast to his own body of work and other media on the subject.
The closest comparison is Brunt’s previous book, Searching for Bobby Orr, which I reviewed on my old blog . Indeed, in the Acknowledgements section of Gretzky’s Tears Brunt says that it was intended as a sequel to Searching.
Both books spotlight the greatest hockey player of their generation, both address the theme of innocence lost and both subjects shy away from the limelight. Orr was always intensely private and Gretzky is big on controlling his own public image.
As a result, Brunt was unable to interview either player for his books. Instead, he focuses on interviewing the people around Gretzky and Orr, painting a picture of the circumstances and personalities surrounding these prominent Canadian figures.
It was a very effective method in Searching for Bobby Orr, but falls flat in Gretzky’s Tears.
The difference is that Orr’s entourage has maintained an omerta-like silence around the former Boston Bruin. Even former business associates like Alan Eagleson and Harry Sinden, both of whom have fallen out with Orr, did not participate in Brunt’s research for Searching.
However, in Gretzky’s Tears, two of the principals in the trade, former Oilers owner Peter Pocklington and former Kings owner Bruce McNall, submitted to extensive interviews. The result comes across as a rather jaundiced account of the deal. Pocklington and McNall (and to a lesser extent former Edmonton General Manager Glen Sather) all get to say their piece, wheras Brunt, and therefore the reader, are left to guess at Gretzky’s state of mind before and after the move.
This would be fine if Gretzky’s Tears was created in a vacuum.
Unfortunately for Brunt, Pocklington wrote (with the help of Terry McConnell and J’Lyn Nye) a book of his own called I’d Trade Him Again that includes a forward by the Great One.
Worse yet, ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary Kings Ransom also looks at the trade and filmmaker Peter Berg spoke extensively with Gretzky.
A smaller problem with the book is that it seems as though the editors backed off of Brunt’s copy. This might be because of the success of Searching for Bobby Orr, but Gretzky’s Tears suffers without a firm guiding hand.
The first chapter of Gretzky’s Tears is a ponderous exploration of loss of innocence that could have been cut completely. Further, Brunt has, for whatever reason, begun to copy sentences from one chapter to the next almost verbatim.
For example, towards the end of the book Brunt discusses Canada’s Olympic gold medal in 2002 and the rousing speech Greztky made at a press conference early in the games.
“[Gretzky] suggested that Canada was all alone, that the rest of Planet Hockey wanted it to fail, that it was us against the world. Standing in the room listening to him that day, it was difficult to tell how much was honest emotion, how much was a contrived attempt to inspire his team.” (p. 245)
Interesting commentary, except that just 45 pages earlier Brunt had described the same incident:
“Gretzky without prompting launched into a tirade – spontaneous or contrived – about how the whole hockey world wanted Canada to lose, it became a natural call to arms for both the country and the players.” (p. 200)
I only used excerpts, but aside from sentence structure the passages are almost identical.
It’s not an isolated incident either. There are several paragraphs throughout the book that repeat information and use similar phrasing. It’s a distracting habit and one that Brunt or his editor should have picked up on.
And that is the most disappointing thing about this book.
Stephen Brunt is an excellent writer who, in my opinion, is one of the best sports columnists in Canada. Searching for Bobby Orr was thoroughly researched and did a wonderful job of explaining the magic of Orr. On the other hand, Gretzky’s Tears is a flawed book that suffers by comparison to Brunt’s earlier work and the work of others.
By any other author this would be a solid book, but Brunt is a victim of his own success.