NHL doesn't Care About Integrity

I don’t know how many of you have been following the Therma Blade story but it smacks me as yet another stupid thing done by the NHL. A Therma Blade is a hockey skate with a heated blade which in theory melts the ice allowing the blade to cut through the ice easier and thus allowing the player to skate faster and possibly give the player enhanced endurance. We can all argue whether making this really big really fast players even faster and whether that is a wise thing for the game or for the number of serious injuries it may or may not cause but my problem is with how the NHL is going about testing them.

In the past when the NHL wanted to test stuff, particularly rule changes, it worked with the AHL and tested them there first. Most of the major rule changes that have occurred in the NHL were tested in the AHL first. It seems like it makes perfect sense to me because it doesn’t make sense to make the best league in the world a testing ground. But when it comes to Therma Blades testiing in the NHL is perfectly fine.

The NHL is currently allowing four unnamed players to use Therma Blades as a test. It may sound like I am nitpicking but since Therma Blades are essentially supposed to enhance performance doesn’t allowing some players to use them and others not to harm the integrity of the league by giving certain players/teams an unfair advantage? I will accept that the advantage is probably small but an advantage is an advantage and this is yet another sign that the NHL cares very little about the integrity of the game.

When the NHL brought in the overtime loss extra point it harmed the integrity of the game since the fact that some games are worth three points and others are worth two points is just plain stupid. When the NHL brought in the four on four hockey it hurt the integity of the game because it gives an edge to teams that might be better at four on four hockey but in the playoffs four on four hockey is not used so in theory you may not get the best teams making the playoffs. The same thing, though with a much more significant impact, can be said about the shootout. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a perfect example. They are a weak team that solely made the playoffs because they were really good in the shootout (and at participating in OT games) which allowed them to garnet a significant number of extra non-hockey points allowing them to make the playoffs. But since they were very weak regular play team they looked completely out of place in the first round in each of the past two playoffs. This is not good for hockey nor is it good for the integrity of the game.

But when it comes to the Therma Blades this harms the integrity of the game in a whole new way becaues the NHL is admitting that they are knowingly giving certain players, and thus teams, an unfair advantage. It really doesn’t matter to me how large or small that advantage is, or even if in reality it is an advantage. The belief is that it is an advantage and the NHL should be ashamed of itself for taking the best hockey league in the world and making it a testing ground for products all while harming the integrity of the game in the process. Again, it may seem minor but if the big wigs running the NHL don’t believe that the NHL is too good to be a product testing league then what else are those big wigs going to do to harm the league.

Oh yeah, there was also that whole new jersey fiasco as well where the NHL imposed subpar Jerseys on the players solely for the purpose of extracting more money from Rebok and from the fans (yes those sub-par Jersey’s cost more). Until the NHL puts the quality and integrity of the game ahead of being a corporate product testing ground/marketing system and ahead of gouging every last penny out of their fans they are doomed to failure.

Posted in NHL

This article has 16 Comments

  1. I agree that the testing should have been done in the AHL. What’s the point of this test at the NHL. I only hope that one of the testers is Kubina, maybe that will make him a bit faster!

    In regards to the 2 vs 3 point game. Ever since thy introduced the third OT point I felt that all games should be 3 pointers.
    3 for regulation win
    2 for OT/SO win
    1 for OT/SO loss
    0 for regulation loss.

    keep up the good work.

  2. Good post. Totally agree with your points, and I (and I’m sure many others) have had the same thoughts about the point system as Will above. I find the ideas of this post an interesting parallel to those mentioned on the blog The Puck Stops Here – the author of that blog talks frequently about the lack of fair contract-respecting agreements with European leagues. The management of the league really seems to be a mess.

  3. David,
    It’s my understanding that the 4 unnamed players are not using them in games, just on their own. Where did you hear they’re using them in games?

  4. Where did you hear that? I just assumed they were using them in games. Why else would they limit it to just four? Can the NHL enforce what the players use on their own?

  5. If that article is correct, I have a small problem with them using them in games until they’re available to everyone. I agree that they should only use these in practice. I’ll call Gary Bettman this Thursday and ask him about this. But, just one thing to consider. Personal equipment is not something that they’ve always tested in the AHL in the past; just rule changes.

  6. my bigger problem is, “what’s next?”….jet propulsion systems in the skates? a rubber hinge to give the sticks for whip? robotic arms for goalies?

  7. And this sums up all your useless, biased opinions.
    Quote from David Johnson, “Where did you hear that? I just assumed they were using them in games.”

  8. “The product is manufactured by the Verdun, Que., company Therma Blade Inc., and both the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association are assessing the experiment of using them in NHL games.”

    Huh? This is a terribly written sentence but it does not definitively state whether or not they’re being used in games.

    And this is such an enormous non-issue. 4 guys get a tiny skating advantage, maybe? It’s probably worth .5 goals per season.

  9. The other thing to remember is there’s no experimental advantage to testing the skate blades with guys who are already “game breaking” players with good top end speed. It would be more note worthy to test on players of average to lower than average speed.

    Either way, the effect of the new jerseys and the skate blades are entirely negligible. In fact if you want to verify statistical significance it wouldn’t be all that difficult after the fact. Just correlate point totals for the players before the tests and after the tests once the information is made public. If there’s any significant impact the numbers will bear it out. Personally I doubt there will be any significant change.

    This argument is on par with arguing the changes that happened to goaltending equipment, padding, helmets, etc.

    You also neglect to recognize the fact that major sports organizations such as FIFA, the NFL, MLB, and others regularly enact rule and equipment changes that don’t drastically cause serious “integrity” issues.

    MLB didn’t test new catchers masks out in the minors, ex-Jay Charlie O’Brien started using NHL Goalie style masks. Nobody objected to the improved sight lines or lighter equipment as possibly providing an advantage.

    The fact is, NHLers are allowed to select skates freely. They don’t all use the same skates. The boots don’t all weigh the same. The same goes for sticks. Some guys use wooden sticks. Some use composites with different flex levels. Just like MLB players use bats of different weights, and made of different wood types, or gloves of different sizes, or sun glasses, or different batting gloves… They also change their uniform dimensions by allowing some teams to wear sleeveless over shirts (like the Colorado Rockies did all season).

    So… to sum my point up. This is NOT a matter of altering the integrity of the game, and the NHL is NOT the only pro-league where such changes are made at the top level. This whole discussion is amazingly myopic.

  10. Oh and in response to the Mitchell report in baseball, I’d like to point out that if you’re REALLY worried about the integrity of the game, perhaps we should discuss the issue of performance enhancing drugs, amphetamines, and other things players may or may not be using that the NHL willfully ignore.

  11. I understand that there is probably little to no competitive advantage for the teams with one of the four players with the heated blades. That is not the point. The point is, there could be an advantage and because of that it harms the integrity of the league. It is stepping across the line of fairness and even if it is just the baby toe crossing the line, it is something the league, in my opinion, should never do and make it clear that it is all about fairness and integrity. Being a league of mostly complete integrity is not good enough in my mind if you are wanting to be a prime pro league in North America.

    And the comparisons with most other equipment changes and rule changes fail to be a real counter argument because for none of those other equipment changes did the league mandate that only some number of players could use that equipment. When players started using composite sticks the league didn’t say “Ok, only you X number of players can use them.” Anyone could use them whenever they found one they liked or become comfortable enough using one. Rule changes came in league wide, with more significant ones being tested in the AHL first, they weren’t only applied to certain players or certain teams.

    Again, I realize it is a minor issue but you either strive to have integrity and fairness or you do not. The NHL appears to have decided not to and that is sad.

  12. I suppose the question that one might also ask is what league regulations around skate blades exist at the moment. If there’s nothing preventing players from using battery heated skate blades in the fine print, then there’s nothing being damaged from an integrity perspective. I also sincerely doubt that the NHL prevented players from using the first few composite sticks and specified which ones would be allowed to.

    All of this said, I find it laughable that the league is concerned over “small parts” breaking off the skates and lying on the ice. They don’t seem to worry about pieces of helmets, or gloves, or stick blade shards lying on the ice.

    The whole issue is a tad absurd. I think this is all a marketing gimmick for the company in question more than a real issue regarding improved performance.

  13. Interesting views, but testing is testing and
    if the “mystery” players preform better, thats
    a good thing.
    Look at the wooden stick industry, or better
    perhaps read about its history, it is history,
    get out of the way the New blades are coming
    and there is nothing that is going to stop them.

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