I was at a sporting event recently – OK, it was the freakin’ Super Bowl – and struck up a conversation with my seatmate, a 20-something fellow Steelers fan who works for NASCAR.
We chatted about the similarities between the NHL and his organization – how each relies on regional fan bases; and the differences – how NASCAR successfully marketed itself and recognized when it was time to pull back.
He also shared the reasons why, after becoming attracted to the NHL during the Wayne Gretzky/L.A. years, the league lost him as a fan. He said the lockout and the erosion of excitement helped fuel his apathy, but more than anything, when hockey did return, he was completely off-put by the loser point.
He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact you could lose a game via overtime or the new-fangled shootout, yet still earn a point in the standings. It irked him.
So what can we conclude from a focus group of one? Admittedly, not much. But what if, as my gut feel tells me, he is representative of a much larger category?
As he put it, the NHL needs him. They need young, professional dudes to sell their tickets and merchandise to and to include in sponsorship pitches. He’s the guy the beer and grooming companies want.
Turned-off, young Americans aside, the current points system also doesn’t compute for a lot of Canadians. We realize we’re beating a drum that has been thumped repeatedly the past couple of years, but in the face of status quo, we think it’s time to do more banging.
The shootout loser point encourages safe play. With the risk-reward factor minimized, teams naturally play first to guarantee the single point, then focus on the gravy in OT or the shootout.
By contrast, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during Super Bowl week his league decided against changing its sudden-death overtime format because the current system prompts teams to try to win in regulation. What a concept.
Hockey’s 2-1 overtime/shootout format distorts playoff races. Worse still, it makes the stretch drive less exciting because it has become so difficult to make up ground in the standings.
If the league truly is committed to the shootout, it ought to have the courage of its conviction and create more separation between the winners and losers. Some prefer the 2-0 system; others 3-2-1; and there are other variations and schemes to consider.
What I’m suggesting is the issue gets tabled by the competition committee and/or the GMs. Discuss the pros and cons, refer to data and research and give us a logical explanation for whatever system they recommend.
As it stands, the rationale behind the loser point, not to mention the math, just doesn’t add up.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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