David Newland has an interesting article on 10 ways to improve the NHL which prompted a disagreeing response from Eric Francis. David’s suggestions were:
1. Management must love the game more than the money.
2. Bring back the tie, get rid of the shootout, and then rule changes must stop.
3. Play with wooden sticks, reduced equipment, and increased respect.
4. Favour franchises in real hockey markets.
5. Cut the playoffs down to the month of April.
6. Accept that hockey is an international game.
7. Get rid of the mindless violence.
8. Allow fans to watch every game on TV.
9. Arena naming rights have got to go.
10. Let the real fans back in the rinks.
For those that have followed my writings here will know that I don’t like a lot of what has happened in the NHL the past dozen or so years and I agree with some of what David Newland has to say. But the reason why I am writing this post is to disagree with some of what Eric Francis has to say in his counter arguments.
Eric’s response to #2: “HE TIE IS THE WORST THING IN SPORTS, THE SHOOTOUT IS THE MOST EXCITING – FEW CAN ARGUE EITHER.”
Well, I can argue both, sort of. I will accept that a tie is not the ideal ending to a sporting event, but I will argue that a shootout is worse. The reason the shootout is worse is because it is not fair. Bad teams can be good at the shootout and good teams can be bad at the shootout. Edmonton, a team who missed the playoffs was 15-4 in the shootout. Atlanta, maybe the worst team in the league from start to finish, was a second best 9-6 in the shootout. Minnesota, one of the better teams in the league were a dismal 3-8 and Detroit, easily the best team in the league this past season was a mediocre 5-5. Can anyone explain to me how Tampa goalies had a better save percentage in the shootout in 2006-06 than they did in the actual games? Is it worse to end a game in a tie, or using a method in which the relative quality of each team at playing hockey has little bearing in the outcome of the shootout? If integrity and fairness matter to you at all then a tie is the better way to end the game.
As for whether the shootout is exciting, I disagree there. What makes the shootout exciting is the anticipation of the game being decided. Everyone complains about how unexciting the NHL skills competition is at the all-star game, well the shootout is no different except the anticipation factor. Sure, every now and again you get a real highlight real shootout goal that gets everyone talking but for the most part all shootout attempts fall into one of two categories: The player tries to deke the goalie, or the player tries to shot through one of the goalies ‘holes’. Most of them are not all that special and independent of the situation would be dull and boring.
Eric’s response to point 3: “BETTER STICKS INCREASE SCORING AND YOU CAN’S LEGISLATE RESPECT. GRANTED, GALIE EQUIPMENT NEEDS TO BE REDUCED. ”
Do better stick really increase scoring? Is there any evidence of that? The evidence I have is that scoring dropped dramatically during the late 1990’s and into the 2000’s which was the exact same time that these new composite sticks became popular. It is a difficult argument that they have increased scoring. Yes, I know the theory of it all: Players can shoot harder making it harder for goalies to stop the puck but has anyone ever proven that theory is in fact reality in the concept of the game? I haven’t seen such a study. Maybe because players feel they can shoot harder they focus on shooting harder and not more accurately or maybe they shoot more often take hard slap shots from the blue line and less slower more accurate shots from in close. If being able to shoot harder changes how players play in a way that in fact reduces scoring then it may not be better for the game.
One must also not forget that maybe one of the reasons goalie pads have become bigger is because the shots are harder. Why not go back to wood sticks and smaller pads like we had in the past.
Eric’s response to point #4: “DOES HE WANT A TEN TEAM LEAGUE?”
I understand that that is clearly a bit facetious but the concept of focusing on big markets and hockey markets is a valid one. One could easily argue that increasing fan interest in New York by 5% will do much more for the league than increasing fan interest in Nashville by 25%. The TV networks don’t want a Nashville-Carolina Stanley Cup final, they want a New York-Detroit final. MLB doesn’t want a Milwaukee Brewers-Kansas City Royals world series. They die if that happened. They want the Yankees or Red Sox against the Cubs or Dodgers. Fan interest in big markets is what will generate TV ratings and revenue and from there you will then have a basis for improving the relative strength of the non-traditional hockey markets. Focusing on making hockey popular in Carolina or Nashville will to very little for the NHL.