I've been kicking a few things around in regards to things that the NHL could do to improve, not only the game, but the state of the league in general. Here's what I've come up with. Enjoy!
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1) Restructure Restricted Free Agency. In particular, restructure the offer sheets. I don't tend to think that using them is an underhanded or shady move, mostly because they are included within the Collective Bargaining Agreement. I do, however, think that they should be tweaked. It is my opinion that, in the case of offer sheets, the league needs to regulate the percentage of raises that players receive based on their age and point production from the previous year. Regardless of who you are a fan of, I think that one thing that everyone can agree on is that Dustin Penner is not a $4.5M per year player. He certainly has the potential to be, but you don't pay players based on potential. If that were the case, Alexander Daigle would be playing somewhere in the NHL, making the league maximum. Penner is, undoubtedly, deserving of a $1.5M to $2M raise, but bumping him up to $4.5M is ludicrous.
2) Court Jerry Bruckheimer. Adam Proteau of The Hockey News posted a very good blog about this on thehockeynews.com, and I tend to agree with him. The NHL would benefit from having Bruckheimer as an owner, not only for the publicity it would generate, but also his media savvy. Bruckheimer would bring something to the table that not many other owners bring in the NHL; a background of having to sell entertainment. The NHL is sorely lacking in this department. The biggest road block between getting Bruckheimer a team, however, is the location. Las Vegas is a good place for a lot of things, but professional sports may not be one of them. Proteau brought this up in his blog, and I feel that it is a valid point. When one goes to Las Vegas, it is to enjoy the strip, not to see sports. The last thing on the majority of people's minds when entering the city is sporting events, unless they plan to bet on them. I think that there are plenty of other markets within the United States and even North America where hockey would flourish much more than in Las Vegas. Seattle, Portland, Milwaukee and even Kansas City would be better places for the sport. Or even another team in the north eastern part of the state, where hockey is just as prominant as it is in Minnesota or Wisconsin.
3) Get Another Team in Canada. Plain and simple. Canada not only wants another team, but deserves another team. There are multiple teams in the Los Angeles area, in New York and in Florida. Why not in the Toronto or Montreal areas? It is clear that another team in Canada is a fantastic idea. I do not think, however, that the answer lies in moving a team. Before anyone gets up in arms about how Florida, Nashville, Atlanta etc don't deserve teams, think about it. Part of what makes the Canadiens, Leafs, Oilers, Canucks, Flames and even the Sens great is the tradition associated with the teams. The tradition associated with the Habs and Leafs is easy to see. The Oilers stems back to the 80s as does Calgary, while the 'Nucks stems from the late 80s and early 90s. Even the Sens can draw back to the old Ottawa teams. Why bring a team up to Canada that is doing poorly? Why not expand to Canada with one, maybe even two expansion teams and allow them to build their own tradition? Going back to my last point, why not give Jerry Bruckheimer ownership of a team that will be in a city passionate about hockey and see what he can do to raise the awareness of the league? Give Jim Balsille his Hamilton franchise and let him run with it, but don't bring teams with traditions of not being supported or of losing into the picture.
4) Expansion. It sounds strange, but expansion could be exactly what the struggling NHL needs. More teams equals more revenue (despite the cost it would take to place the teams) and it would also allow some of the other talented players that are getting left out in the cold from free agency a place to play. The league should not expand further than 32 teams, in my opinion, but I think another two teams would benefit the league greatly, especially with owners such as Bruckheimer and Balsillie in the wings. At least one of these two teams should go to Canada, if not both. This would allow the league to attract more players to the NHL level and, eventually, even allow them to expand the playoffs if they so desire.
5) Look To the Inside. In asking why the league is languishing in its current role in American sports, the NHL has to do no more than look within. Gary Bettman is currently working on running the league into the ground and, in order for the ship to be righted, needs to be replaced. Bettman has little to no media savvy (as can be seen in transcripts of his press conferences where he clumsily avoids questions) and has made questionable business decisions (leaving ESPN for Versus and NBC). Ultimately, Bettman is bungling the league and is due to be ousted from his position. The only question remaining is when will the league do what is necessary to save itself.
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