OK, our sport is already amazing. But as the new season gets underway, THN staffers chime in with eight ways it could be even better.
The writers and editors for The Hockey News were asked to come up with an outside-the-box way to make the NHL game even more enjoyable. Here’s what we came up with:
If you’re reading this, you already know hockey is the greatest sport on the planet. What you might not know is you’re getting too much of it. The NHL doesn’t need an overhaul, but there’s one change that would guarantee increased enjoyment while doing nothing to alter the game itself: shortening the season.
Revenue models notwithstanding, there’s a handful of significant benefits to cutting the schedule. First, it would jack our anticipation. The things we look forward to most are the things we enjoy best. North America’s most successful league, the NFL, is king in part because there’s so little of it. Each game is an event with a built-in build-up.
Second, the increased break between games would give players more rest and recovery time. We’re told the more fatigued an athlete is, the more susceptible they are to injury. Hockey’s 82-game slate – with its quick turnarounds, intense travel and the shortest off-season among the big four pro sports – is gruelling.
By extension, the more rested a player is, the better the hockey will be. It’s widely accepted that by the time we get to the Stanley Cup final, the quality of play is past its best-before date. How about a 60-game season, two games a week for 30 weeks? Talk amongst yourselves. Just don’t include the owners in that chat. – Jason Kay, Editor In Chief
NO MORE SALARY CAP
Fear not, Detroit Red Wings fans. Your team won’t be on the hook for Henrik Zetterberg’s contract – you know, the one he signed in 2009 to “fool the system” – when he retires in two years. Because, as they did with Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings will find a team, probably one of the two in the desert, trying to get up to the salary cap floor to take it on until it runs out in 2021. That’s how it works with the salary cap in the NHL these days. It’s a shell game that does almost nothing to create parity and causes more problems than it solves.
Aside from saving the big markets money, the salary cap has been a dismal failure. For example, name one big-market team that got squeezed for a star player who defected to a small market. I’ll wait. And that parity it was supposed to create? Last time I checked, eight of the past nine Stanley Cups were won by three teams. Those teams are based in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Chicago, well-established medium- to large-market teams that are well run and have no troubles spending to the cap.
The salary cap has not been able to legislate against bad contracts or self-discipline. It has created an escrow system the players hate, and it forces bottom feeders to spend up to a level they would otherwise never even entertain if they had a choice. It’s time for the cap to go. – Ken Campbell, Senior Writer
Kings defenseman Christian Folin talks to NHL referee Cameron Voss.
REFEREE IN PRESS BOX
There are few things in hockey more aggravating than the referee furthest from the play getting a penalty call wrong. What did he see that the closer official didn’t catch? It’s mind-bending. And while the rulebook must absolutely be called if we want the NHL to be the most exciting game possible, there’s one move we can make that would vastly improve matters: kick one of those zebras up to the press box.
Is it a little Big Brother to have an eye in the sky? Perhaps, but you’d really cut down on the shenanigans away from the puck. If you’ve ever watched a game from the nosebleeds or the press box, you know the view you get is very different than it is from up close. With the on-ice ref concentrating on the play, the ref in the press box could look at the big picture and catch the rats of the game when they’re up to no good long after the puck is gone.
Logistically, the press box ref would simply call down to the timekeeper’s bench when a penalty is spotted, and perhaps the timekeeper gets a whistle to blow to stop the play. It wouldn’t slow the game down, because it’s the same number of refs who can make calls – but their calls would be more accurate. And as an added benefit, it’d take a body off the ice to provide more room for the players. – Ryan Kennedy, Associate Senior Writer
Obstruction crackdown. Trapezoid penalty. Smaller goalie pads. Enough with the half measures. If we want a tectonic shift in offense, we need a wild rule change. Let’s remove the bluelines and any concept of offside.
The rule would allow for cherry picking and hail-mary, length-of-the-ice stretch passes. Seeing greedy forwards waiting 180 feet from their own nets might bring back memories of the selfish kid from your local road hockey game, but who cares? Teams that make cherry picking part of their strategies would accept the risk of allowing big-time scoring chances on their own nets should their opponents gain puck possession. That would create more odd-man rushes and increase offense at both ends.
Think about the experimental game plans teams might deploy. Do the Ottawa Senators entrust Erik Karlsson to take care of his own end singlehandedly and let him play quarterback, targeting four forwards “downfield” like they’re wide receivers?
We’d see more icing calls than we do today as a result of long-distance passes gone awry, but with all the offside whistles eliminated, we’d at worst break even on game delays. Eliminating offsides would bring a lot more variety and unpredictability to the sport. – Matt Larkin, Writer/Editor
STOP FACEOFF CHEATS
It’s time to clean up the monkey business in the faceoff dot. Remember when they went to the “hurry-up” faceoff rule after icings in 2002-03 to eliminate the dithering? That’s funny. You now have time to nuke some cheese on your nachos at home before they drop the puck. And isn’t it frustrating seeing the linesmen stick out an arm to indicate which center is cheating too much and is kicked out?
Here’s my plan. Linesmen have a 20-second buzzer on their watch. The official goes to the faceoff dot, waits for the vibration on his wrist, then drops the puck, regardless who’s ready. If someone’s feigning equipment malfunction or loose tape on the stick, that’s what your timeout is for. Call it or get ready to play.
As for the cheating, we know what they say. If you’re not cheating at least a little bit in the faceoff circle, you’re not trying hard enough. NHL centers all do it to various degrees. So rather than watch players get waved out, each team gets one “cheating” warning per period. If it happens again, the linesman tosses the puck between the legs of the center on the non-offending team. You want to cheat? You get an automatic faceoff loss. The thinking being, in no time, centers will line up squarely and wait for a clean drop. In the end, the better drawmen are going to have the better percentages. You just get rid of all the nonsense. Ideally, this will speed up games by a few minutes per period. – Brian Costello, Senior Editor
ICING ON POWER PLAYS
You’re not allowed to ice the puck. That’s why when a player does it, his team is punished with a faceoff in its own end. So when a team has a player in the penalty box, why is that team suddenly allowed to ice the puck at will? The same rules for icing should apply no matter the situation.
The kneejerk response to this will be: the last thing we need is more icings! Sure, but teams will learn to clear the puck on the PK without sending it the length of the ice (remember: teams can’t change players after an icing, and coaches don’t want tired legs out when they’re down a man). Defensemen adapted when the “puck over the glass” rule was introduced, and penalty killers will, too. But if a plague of icing does beset the league, a simple delay-of-game penalty after the second man-advantage icing will quickly put things back in order. Nothing motivates like a 5-on-3.
Maybe now you’re thinking, “This is unfair to the penalty killers!” Bologna. Your team took a penalty. It should be unfair. That’s the whole point. Last year there were 7,349 power plays and 1,405 power play goals. That means less than one in five infractions resulted in the true punishment of being scored upon. That number needs to go up, not only to increase scoring, but to decrease the number of penalties that teams are willing to take. – Edward Fraser, Managing Editor
Montreal Canadiens’ Jonathan Drouin scores on Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner in the shootout.
Death to the shootout. The “goalie vs. shooter” showdown was a fun and entertaining part of the skills competition during the NHL’s all-star weekend – at least it used to be, before the league got rid of the breakaway challenge last year – but it has no place deciding the outcome of regular season games.
Why? Because hockey is a team sport, and the shootout is a 1-on-1 sideshow. Besides, do you know what’s even more fun and entertaining than the shootout? Overtime. You know, that sudden-death thrill ride that might end before you’ve settled into your seat or go on and on into the wee hours of the morning. Why not go all-in on OT, and treat fans by breaking ties in the most exciting manner possible?
Of course, given the constraints of the regular season – a busy schedule, back-to-back games, air travel – it can’t be playoff-style overtime from October to April. Rather, the NHL just has to take its current OT format in the regular season and follow it to its logical conclusion. The league went to 4-on-4 overtime in 1999-2000, then to 3-on-3 in 2015-16. How about starting with five minutes of 4-on-4, followed by five minutes of 3-on-3 – and if the score is still tied, five minutes of 2-on-2, and then, yes, you guessed it, five minutes of 1-on-1?
The vast majority of OTs would end in the first 10 minutes – during 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 – and the rest, surely, would come to a furious finish during 2-on-2. The rare games that require 1-on-1 might not be the most credible – but they’d still have more integrity than the shootout, and they’d be memorable in and of themselves due to their freak nature. – Sam McCaig, Features Editor
The so-called loser point, the single-point pittance gifted for forcing overtime, has been in existence for 18 seasons for a number of reasons. It creates parity, widens the playoff picture and rewards teams for a competitive 60 minutes. But it has also bred the dreadful “playing for overtime” strategy that sees teams sit back and suck the life out of play in a deadlocked tilt so as to leave no game empty-handed.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though, and hamstringing teams who want to slow things down for the single point wouldn’t require a single change to the way the game is played. Rather, all that would need altering is the NHL’s standings format and a switch to the three-point system.
The three-point system – which awards regulation wins, overtime wins and overtime losses with three, two and one point, respectively – is a tried-and-true system, utilized by the KHL and the Olympics, and one that can increase excitement in close games. Teams seeking a full-value win would need to press and play for the regulation victory in a way not presently required because, currently, there’s nothing lost by winning in overtime or a shootout. And the three-point system could breed standings chaos with intra-division games holding greater value than they do today. Who wouldn’t want to see a team make a late playoff run on the back of several regulation victories in a row? The three-point system can manufacture excitement, on a nightly basis and in the playoff race, in a way the two-point system cannot. – Jared Clinton, THN.com Contributor