Two Minutes for Shot-Blocking

Darren Dreger on TSN yesterday said that Bob Gainey had proposed a new rule to increase offense: players will not be allowed to block shots lying down on the ice. Ridiculous? Yes. But, okay, I’ll bite.

Let’s say the NHL goes through with this. The first question is, what’s the penalty? Because it’s absolutely ridiculous to penalize a player for making a good defensive play, let’s say the “downside” is an offensive zone face-off for the shooting team. It’s the only viable solution I can think of, but even then it doesn’t necessarily promote offensive play. I can just as easily put a Henrik Zetterberg to take the face-off and win it, and totally negate what could’ve been a set offensive play. Gainey’s solution doesn’t fly – I think there are more ways to make the more exciting (that also doesn’t necessarily mean more offense) – in part because it really stops the evolution of the game. 30 years ago, shot-blocking wasn’t a big part of the game, but players like Mike Komisarek have made it into an art form, and today defensemen at the peewee levels are being taught how to block shots properly. That’s not even mentioning the fact that with the amount of blocked shots these days, there would be too many whistles to get the game going. As a side note, I’ve never understood why some defenseman don’t take the extra step and step around the player lying down on the ice and instead choosing to shoot right at the player. Chicago’s Brent Sopel is notorious for this.

I don’t know where Gainey is coming from with this suggestion, but it all really ties back to Gary Bettman‘s obsession with trying to make the game more appealing to the US fanbase. However, Bettman’s approach is narrow-minded, and he believes that the only way to generate an American fanbase (and more importantly, revenue) is to make the game more exciting by allowing for more offense. While I do admit that watching players score goals is somewhat satisfying, I’m just as happy, perhaps more, watching a 2-1 nail-biter than a 6-2 blowout.

Bettman has refused to believe that the NHL is not the NBA, and it can’t be marketed as such. Basketball is one of the few sports that have very few barriers of entry, which is why it has such a large global fanbase in Asia and Europe. The NBA also thrives on the personality of its players, both negative and positive (Ron Artest, anyone?). This was also a sticking point when Brian Burke was on OTR, where he said hockey is doing fine in the States, considering it’s relative obscurity and many barriers of entry. The NHL has to sell itself, like the Detroit-Pittsburgh series. It can’t be sold through marketing ads, music, or highlight reels, but as long as Bettman refuses to believe this, the NHL will continue to sit on a carousel of rule changes and its subsequent marketing flops.

EDIT: Neal on the Leafs section of the site and puremetal33 have also had discussion on this point. Read it here.

“The NHL doesn’t need to to increase scoring, what they NEED to do is stop trying to sell the game to the same idiots who watch the NBA. The NHL is a niche sport for intelligent observers. It can’t and won’t be sold to the lowest common denominator.” – puremetal33

EDIT #2: You’re telling me that Jordan Staal should be penalized for this? (scroll to 0:38) Give me a break.

This article has 6 Comments

  1. So long as the league equates scoring with entertainment value the league won’t develop its fan base. The interest in the NBA is slipping right now because for the longest time they promoted the game as a dunk fest and a bunch of individual personalities. That works for a while but eventually it gets stale and people find the next exciting thing to watch with different action and new and interesting personalities.

    To sustain a league long term you have to generate fan interest in the game beyond just the flashy plays and crazy personalities. The NFL is a classic example. By all accounts, the NFL is a boring game. Games last upwards of 3 1/2 hours, parity is far less in the NFL than in other leagues, action is relatively slow paced (particularly compared to the NHL and NBA) and yet it has had massively huge success. Why? Because it is about the atmosphere, the pre-game hype, the details, the strategy. Baseball is much the same. The home run steroid enhanced era is in the past but baseball still enjoys solid success.

    The NHL needs to stop promoting goals and promoting the game. Instead of penalizing shot blocking, promote it and the fact that it is an integral part of the game and something fans should observe and admire. how many other sports has their players willing to jump in front of a hard disc of vulcanized rubber moving at upwards of 100mph.

  2. The problem – and I’m sure if the NHL really is confused by this or not…is not increasing scoring, but increasing scoring chances. I don’t know how anyone could deny that the sport had gotten awful to watch in the late ’90s early ’00s. I went to games back then that were so boring, with almost no scoring chances, that i stopped going to games!

    Even now, watching a game with teams that play like NJ and Boston is like watching paint dry, these teams still sit back and trap preventing the opponents from getting scoring chances and hoping for the occasional scoring chance of their own. I dread going to games against these teams.

    All that said, I would be totally against penalizing teams for blocking shots, that seems as ridiculous as putting teams in Europe..oh wait.

    The very best thing for the game…and there is no way in hell it happens…is to open up the ice more to allow the skaters more room to skate. But this would require bigger rinks (European size rinks), which would eliminate seats from Hockey rinks, which would never happen.

    But you are right, the NHL was losing core fans prior to the lockout – and by cracking down on the clutching & grabbing, the game has gotten better, and the core fans are back. The sport will likely never expand past that – it’s not that it takes intellegence to appreciate it, but it does take focus and patience, not big US traits. (BTW, I would agrue with you that the NBA has returned to more of a niche sport over the last 10 years, still more popular than the NHL, but not at the heights of the Jordan era.)

  3. Whether or not anyone considers the MLB, NBA, NFL, or NHL is boring or not is subjective. The NBA is perhaps the most high-scoring and arguably up-and-down game of the four, but I find it the most painful game to watch. I don’t find anything appealing about a game where it is considered a failure to score on every single possession. The scoring is so ridiculously high that I think a point, goal, or basket losses its romantic appeal.

    Generating fanbase is key, but throughout history hockey has shown itself to be incapable of doing so, unlike baseball, football, or basketball, which have equally storied (perhaps less) histories. Burke brings up a great point about barriers of entry, and perhaps that’s the reason why the NHL is doing so poorly – perhaps the only way to create a sustaining American fanbase is to have a long-term project where hockey really opens its doors to younger kids – a grassroots program, even if it’s not hockey related. The NBA has an excellent social program for kids (NBA Cares) that isn’t rivaled by the MLB or NFL. Heck, the NHL even has a trophy to recognize outstanding leadership off and on the ice. Why not promote that a bit more? All the NHL needs to do is to get the game out there, and the fans will come. Let the fans decide what they want to see, not Bettman and his happy little group of cohorts.

    European-sized rinks were brought up as a major point to increase scoring, but it’s been noted that hockey in bigger rinks actually promote more defense than offense. A lot of teams generate offense from their defense, and a bigger ice surface means that defensemen will have to cover more ice should they wish to pinch. A lot of teams stopped doing that because it creates too many odd-man rushes and the risk simply just doesn’t pay off often enough. I think defensive hockey is just an inevitable part of the game and no matter what sort of adjustments the league tries to make, it will never be good enough.

  4. David, I disagree with your comment.
    parity is far less in the NFL than in other leagues

    Take a look at this article.

    Now I’ll expand his number to hockey
    NFL 27 of 32 made the playoffs over last 5 years.
    NHL 26 of 30 made the playoffs over last 5 years.

    Add to that, that it is harder to make the playoffs in the NFL because only 12 make it as to our 16 in hockey. So the NFL saw 27 teams make the 60 playoffs spot for those years. A turn over of 45%, where as the NHL saw 26 teams make 80 spots for a turn over of 32.5% per spot. I’d say parity in the NFL is better than the NHL. Also think of the fact the NHL went to the NFL before the lock-out to discuss CBA’s, parity and marketing.

  5. Neal, last year the NFL had a 16-0 team, and three more 13-3 teams which equates to a 0.813 winning percentage. Can you imagine a hockey team with a 0.823 winning percentage? That would equate to 133 points. How often has an NHL team gotten 133 points in a season let along four of them doing so in the same season. That is not parity sorry. In the NFL there are a number of games every week where you can predict the winner with almost certainty. That isn’t parity.

    I think you are mixing up parity with the ability to rebuild your teams quickly. You can do that in the NFL more than any other league but that isn’t really parity.

  6. We are treading in the apples to oranges category. An NFL team gets hot for 8 games and their season is in good shape. Getting hot for 8 games in the NHL gives you nothing.

    NFL parity does consist of the quick rebuild, the hard cap and the overall numbers. Besides the on field you have the off field where it looks even better than the NHL. You don’t see a Blues or Blackhawks type franchise drawing crappy turns out.

    The NFL has about a 40% attendance difference between best and worst drawing teams, the NHL has about a 75% between the same best and worst. That right there is a huge problem.

    So for all teams to be on almost equal ground in the NHL you would need to fold about 10 teams.

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