Monday, July 11, 2005

When hockey returns

I know you're probably here for "Duel of the Fates" or other Sci-Fi/writing stuff - but I need to use this space to promote an idea for the re-packaged NHL, when it makes its embarrassed return this fall.

Two things to address: First of all: Bring back the division names. Let's return some integrity and distinctiveness to this league. I'm not a Bettman basher (though he needs step down on the same day as Goodenow, once this mess is all finished), but one of the most distasteful things he ever did was to rename the divisions to the bland "Northeast, Central, etc." regional names, stating that the classic divison and conference names were too confusing to the casual fan.
Maybe we should have renamed the Stanley Cup to "Hockey Trophy". Maybe the Conn Smythe should be "Best Playoff Player". I say bring back some class and some style to this once-respectable league. Restore the Patrick, the Adams, and add the Howe divisions to the Prince of Wales Conference. Put the Norris, the Smythe, and the Gretzky(?), Brooks(?), Bowman(?), Zelepukin(?), Fetisov(?), Twist(?) divisions back into the Clarence Campbell Conference. If you're worried about Rangers fans' heads exploding with confusion when they try to figure out where their team is, add the regional explanation in parentheses, eg: Patrick Division (Atlantic).

This is the optional reading section: I hear all of the plans and proposals to strap leg-irons on the goalies and to make the nets as big as soccer nets to increase scoring and excitement, rather than just forcing the referees to call the games according to the rules - consistently.
Here's how I stand on the big issues: Don't change the nets - yet. John Buccigross argues that human beings are evolving into a larger and larger creature, and that we've outgrown the nets at their current size. Someday he'll be exactly right. Not yet. Don't change their size or shape. Also, don't limit the goalies' movement or ability to handle the puck. How is a whistle or a penalty(!?) for Martin Brodeur handling the puck going to speed up the game? That's just self-defeating.
Shoot-out. For regular season games - yes! In fact, don't make people sit through five or ten more minutes of OT play (really, another 15-30 minutes, usually on a weeknight) - go right to the shootout at the end of regulation. It's only the regular season. Should the fate of an entire season be decided in an 82nd game shootout? Well actually, that 4-2 loss last Movember in Carolina is just as relevant to your shaky standings as any tied regulation game late in the season.
I used to be strongly against the shootout, until I went to a Trenton Titans ECHL home game, and found myself extremely disappointed when the Titans won in the 5-minute OT. To my surprise, I'd been eagerly anticipating the shootout! This is also why I say to the NHL, scratch the OT period and go right to the shootout. Only for regular season though, of course.


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