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.
As I mentioned yesterday, my Top 10 sports books was so popular that I’ve decided to make similar lists a regular feature on this blog. I was challenged by a few people to come up with the ten best sports movies.
Like last week’s effort, I decided to limit myself. I chose to not include any documentaries – When We Were Kings, Ken Burns’ Baseball and half of ESPN’s 30-for-30 series would force aside some very worthy films – but it should be noted that most of these are based on real people or events.
So, roughly in order of preference, here we go:
Jerry Maguire – This movie stands apart from the other entries on the list because its protagonist isn’t about an athlete or a coach. In fact, there’s hardly any football in the entire film, even if one of the main characters is a professional football player. Instead, Jerry Maguire looks at the culture surrounding sports. Whether it’s Jay Mohr’s conniving agent or Cuba Gooding Jr.’s selfish prima donna wide receiver, this movie does a better job than most of exposing the greedy and egotistical culture that’s developed around modern sports.
The Replacements – Gene Hackman makes the first of two appearances on this list as Jimmy McGinty, the coach of the fictional Washington Sentinels. As the unnamed professional football league that the Sentinels are a part of goes on strike, the owners decide to hire scab players to replace their regular players. Just like every sports movie ever, McGinty puts together a group of ragtag athletes. His replacements are led by dreamboat quarterback Shane Falco (played by real-life dreamboat Keanu Reeves). Hilarity ensues as the Sentinels come together as a team. There’s lots of memorable scenes, including Falco’s big speech in the climactic game, and when the twin offensive linemen shoot a rivals car full of holes. My favourite, however, is the dance scene:
Mighty Ducks – Quack! Quack! Quack! Many of these selections spawned their own franchises. Slap Shot, Rocky, Friday Night Lights, all have sequels or spin-offs. But Mighty Ducks is the only one on this list that was so successful that it earned its own professional sports teams. Yeah, it’s a typical kids’ movie with Emilio Estevez teaching his group of misfit hockey players important life lessons while he learns from them. But it’s still a great movie, even if the flying V is a ridiculous strategy.
A League of Their Own – Based on the real life experiences of veterans of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Penny Marshall’s dramedy sheds some light on a chapter of baseball history that is often overlooked. Tom Hanks excels as Jim Dugan, a thinly veiled stand-in for Boston Red Sox great Jimmie Foxx, the alcoholic and acerbic manager of the Rockford Peaches. Even terrible actresses like Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell can’t slow this movie down, and, of course, it gave birth to one of the best lines ever uttered about baseball:
Rocky – Critically acclaimed when it came out in 1976 – winning the Academy Award for Best Picture that year – Sylvester Stallone’s masterpiece is surprisingly resilient. Although some of the lustre was rubbed off thanks to too many sequels, watched by itself Rocky is incredible. Although a lot of Stallone’s iconic scenes have become cliché, his screenplay still stands as a classic. Fortunately, the sixth and final entry in the series, Rocky Balboa, added some polish to the series and capped one of the most iconic stories in film history.
Slap Shot – When I was travelling regularly with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues lacrosse team Slap Shot was a staple of every bus ride. Literally every other movie we’d watch was Slap Shot. Other films were just used to raise our appreciation of this Paul Newman vehicle, the best hockey movie ever made. Slap Shot is filled with hilarious vignettes of life as a professional hockey player, but to me it’s the interactions between the players on the Charlestown Chiefs that make this movie. Director George Roy Hill perfectly captures what the downtime is like on any high-level sports team.
Hoosiers – The story of the 1951-52 Hickory High basketball team and their journey to the Indiana state championship is loosely based on the 1954 Milan High School basketball team that managed the exact same feat, despite the school’s small enrolment of 191. Gene Hackman is excellent as Coach Dale, the controversial coach of the team. His lessons about consistency and focusing on fundamentals is inspiring and the movie eminently watchable. One of the best things about this movie, however, is how subtle some of the character work is. In particular, star player Jimmy Chitwood’s narrative is handled with great restraint.
Friday Night Lights – Last week I wrote about the incredible book by H.G. Bissinger that inspired this movie. The film is also excellent and stays remarkably close to the source material. Billy Bob Thornton’s performance, in particular his speech about perfection, is magnificent. Director Peter Berg’s decision to use the soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky and moody, washed-out video creates an almost unbearable tension throughout the movie as the young football players of Permian High School struggle under the pressure of their small town’s expectations.
Any Given Sunday – Another artsy football movie, Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday follows a season with the fictional Miami Sharks. Although it relies heavily on pretentious cinematography – including silhouetted cheerleaders dancing in front of a lightning storm – the writing and acting are as tight as a drum. Al Pacino’s penultimate speech about life being a game of inches is, hands down, the best motivational speech in movie history. Stone handles the themes of mortality and morality with incredible aplomb, despite the heavy-handed camera work.
Bull Durham – Another classic baseball movie, Bull Durham is the first, and best, piece of the Kevin Costner baseball trilogy - sorry folks, For the Love of the Game isn’t as strong and Fields of Dreams is overly sentimental. Bull Durham, however, is just about perfect. From the characters on the team and their superstitions to Crash Davis’ words of wisdom, this film expresses the aura of baseball better than anything short of the game itself. There are few movies that can be watched again and again without losing any magic, and Bull Durham is in that select number.
As always, I'd love to know what your top 10 is, and why. Please, go ahead and comment below. Also, if there's a top 10 list you'd like me to write, shoot me an email or post a comment.