Welcome Back, NHL

Originally posted on “Is It Sports?” by Ryan. The Hockey lockout finally ended!

I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but hockey wasn’t played professionally this season. There was much gnashing of teeth in Canada and New England. Well, the good news is, the lock out which had caused the work stoppage is over, so I thought I would share a few thoughts on the whole situation.

First, let’s take a look at what caused the lock out in the first place. Hockey was hemorrhaging money because players were paid salaries comparable to those of salaries in other professional sports, except hockey didn’t have a TV deal and their arenas, even when they sold out, were small. Hockey players didn’t seem to realize this so the owners locked them out, opting to actually make money than lose it to the operating expenses. The players remained obstinate, but can you blame them? Most have head trauma.

So eventually, the players went to Europe to play, mostly because they love the game. Turns out, the players, even the ones from there, don’t like living in Omsk during the winter, so they softened their opinion and came crying back to the owners. Not only did they get a salary cap slapped on their heads, but they had a 34% roll back in salary. Would you go quietly if they cut more than a third of your salary?! Phenomenal negotiators for the owners.

So now the owners are looking for ways to make more money, aside from the reduced salaries. They want to lure new fans to the game by trying to make it more exciting. They want smaller pads, they want to take out the center red line like the way it used to be, which would eliminate a lot of icing calls as well as the two-line pass. These changes are fine. Goalies don’t need a foot of pads, and the pace of the game will be quicker without that center red line. Also, they aren’t bastardizations of the game, as its how hockey is played at the international level.

Then there are some other changes the owners wish to make. Eliminating the ties is one. They want to end ties with first a 5 minute overtime which would segue into a shootout. This does two things, both negative. First, it devalues the dramatic power of the penalty shot, what with there being at least 3 games a night with at least 10. Second, it reduces the entire game to short spurt of one-on-one shots. The ties are more valuable, as the points in the standings reflect the quality of the games played.

The other important and terrible change the owners want to make is with the net. They want to, after more than a century of tradition, make the nets larger. This isn’t soccer, NHL owners, and the size of the net hasn’t attracted Americans to that game either. If you want to attract the bored, attention span bereft fans that something like this would try to do, advertise the hits. Americans like violence, not necessarily scoring.

Now, there was another sport that tried to fundamentally alter the game, granted, the league in which they did that was not the primary league. They wanted to jerry rig the game to be more of a spectacle, something that more fans would tune into, if not for the game than for the action. Vince McMahon was wrong when he tinkered with football, and Gary Bettman would be wrong to tinker with hockey.

The Stanley Cup is the most historic sporting trophy in North America, and arguably the most coveted among those who play the game. You don’t hear people say “I want the Lombardi Trophy”. They want the Rings. What hockey needs to do is stay within itself, as a pride filled game with athletes that care about nothing more than getting that Cup. For hockey to recover, they need to demonstrate an internal self worth. They don’t need to change the game, they just need better marketing. Advertise the stories that go along with the hockey and how much it means to the players.

Never mind that there are some cultural problems with hockey, namely, Americans like to cheer predominantly for other Americans, and there are waning numbers of those in the NHL, hockey can do nothing to improve its position via rules changes. I can’t wait to see the product back on the ice however, and I hope you’ll all join me in watching on opening night. – Ryan