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Another take on the lockout

by Archives January 26, 2005

Throughout the past four months, sports editors, analysts, fans, and Canada’s sports network have repeatedly attempted to provide solutions to the on-going NHL lockout, something both Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow have been “striving” to do. Thus, it is with great honour and esteem that I, a voiceless hockey fan, present my useless solutions to a problem that I will never have the power to resolve.

The NHL’s first order of action is simple and should have been instituted years ago – play the game by the rule book. Hooking and holding have done nothing but hinder the game and the elite players of the league.

However, this problem stems back before Gary Bettman was sworn in as first commissioner in 1993. This problem goes back to the 1970’s when the Philadelphia Flyers became a circus show for the league. Beating other teams into submission not only made the Flyers difficult to defeat on the ice, but it also caused the team’s road game ticket sales to skyrocket. Consequently, the NHL promoted their bad boys and rid themselves of that little book full of rules. Who needs it when they’re making money, right?

Unfortunately, the success of the ’70’s Flyers caused all the other teams to join in that philosophy and the league has been unable to put its foot down and stop all of this nonsense ever since. By re-introducing the rule book, players would have more room to showcase their real talent and old-time hockey would be resurrected. Ultimately, referees must become consistent in their officiating. Not for the first month of the season or even the first year, but forever.

The introduction of new rules will only be temporary solutions. For instance, the two-line offside rule was around way before the trap ever came into existence…sort of. Jacques Lemaire played under a defensive system for the Canadiens between 1967 and 1979. During this time, the Habs dominated the league by winning eight Stanley Cups. Therefore it was no wonder that when Lemaire returned to the NHL as the coach of the New Jersey Devils in 1993. He brought in an updated version of the defensive system he played under for 12 seasons.

What fans have to realize is that the league shouldn’t have to make changes based on successful team strategies. In the 1980’s, defenses were being overrun by an endless offensive blitz and the league allowed it to continue. In effect, teams began to adopt new strategies, and eventually the defensive aspect of the game resurfaced. The trap will be broken in time and it is up to team coaching, not league representatives, to do this. In short, keep the two-line offside rule.

Furthermore, stop this nonsense about instituting shoot-outs in place of overtime periods. Isn’t this the solution that Gary Bettman had 12 years ago and that we all laughed at? Besides, the NHL has already passed rule changes that have effectively augmented overtime competition. Four-on-four overtime hockey is exciting, and the idea that the losing team still merits a point has allowed coaches to let their players give it their all in those five extra minutes. By instituting shoot-outs, the NHL is pulling further away from its long and storied history.

Re-applying the old offside rule to the league does have merit. This would create faster paced games and doesn’t drastically change the game’s flow. It was a rule that should have never been altered, and bringing it back would be advantageous for the league and its fans.

I believe the product has also been diluted due to over-expansion. All the league can do is to stop this senseless expansion of the Sun Belt and other cities. Contraction is not an option; especially in this time of great doubt from investors, the NHL has to show that they are behind all 30 teams.

Networks have to feel comfort in signing deals with the league, which is currently being torn apart by competitors like the NBA, NFL and MLB. On the other hand, the league must also realize that a league of 30 teams will never successfully fly. The Carolina Hurricanes have been at the bottom of the attendance levels since they left Hartford. My solution: give all teams another five or six years to get a solid fan base formed. If in 2011, the Hurricanes still attract 12,007 fans per game (64.1 per cent of their total arena space), which was their average attendance in the 2003-04 season, then it’s time to fold. To be specific, I said fold, not relocate. As much as I’d love to see the Hawaii Hockey Coconuts or the revival of the Winnipeg Jets, the league must reduce, not relocate.

Speaking of reduction, how about the endless 82 game season each team has to go through in order to make the playoffs. In all, there are 1,271 NHL games played per season, 1,023 more than the NFL. I’m not saying that NHL teams should only play 16 games per season, but a maximum of 72 games per season would suffice. Knock off 10 useless games and make the rest worth watching. In addition to this, the NHL should adopt the old style of MLB scheduling, where teams from the National League and American League never meet in regular season play. This would revive lost rivalries and would add a little excitement to the NHL all-star game in February.

Of course, all these rule changes are meaningless if the NHL doesn’t solve its labour dispute. A salary cap is desirable, but only a dream. A revenue-sharing plan amongst teams is the only fair way to ensure competition, and a luxury tax is necessary.

I will leave it up to NHL owners and the NHLPA to provide the specifics. Besides what does my opinion matter anyway, I’m just a fan.

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