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"Nations rule Army's..."
Whitby, ON • Canada • 34 Years Old • Male
The game of hockey is steeped in tradition, with a rich history and an honourable character. The overriding tenor of hockey discussion over the past five years has focused on the need to increase goal scoring. To this end, Gary Bettman's NHL has continually tinkered with the rules attempting to increase the fabled 'Goals per Game' statistic. This approach is misguided and does not address the root cause of the issues affecting the game today, namely a lack of time and space.

Before proceeding any further, I'd like to qualify this article - I'm your typical 33 year old Canadian guy, with a passion for hockey, having played the game actively for over 25 years. However I'm deeply concerned about the direction of the NHL under the leadership of Gary Bettman. I don't like the way hockey is currently being played, nor do many of my friends who watch every Saturday night. We would be considered the typical demographic which constitutes the traditional fan base in Canada.

In the post-lockout era, multiple rule changes have occurred with the goal of increased scoring. The red line has been removed, goalie movement restricted, touch up offside reintroduced, obstruction penalties created, the goal line moved away from the boards and then back to its original position, the blue line pushed back, the introduction of two referees, a further 'quiet' deterrence on physical play through the application of penalties were none existed before, and of course a steady parade to the penalty box through obstruction minors. This of course fails to mention the ever-famous glowing puck and shootouts...sigh. While a couple of these are positive changes which increase flow (red line, touch up offside), the others simply miss the mark as the premise on which their based is faulty.

Attempts to artificially increase goal scoring through a series of rule changes will not be successful and haven't been to this point. As mentioned, the most worshiped statistic in the game these days - Goals per Game - has risen slightly, but only through the introduction of significantly more penalties and the shootout (sigh). A 7-6 hockey game, with fifteen penalties, and minimal north-south flow is not exciting to watch. The result is a game which mirrors half-court basketball and is contrary to everything hockey is founded upon - namely speed, flow, toughness, and emotion.

The main problem with hockey today is simply a lack of time and space. Players are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before. When a player receives the puck, he literally has half a second before an opponent is on top of him. This does not leave enough time to make decisions, allow for speed, or foster creativity. The bodies are bigger, the speed has increased, yet the playing surface is the same size. Now, I'm definitely not advocating a change to European ice surfaces as these provide too much time and space, negating the physical aspect of hockey and therefore emotion levels. When emotion levels are low in hockey, the game is boring. In addition, the NHL has recently gone through a period of arena building, with most cities sporting brand new facilities with traditionally-sized ice surfaces. To change over to the much larger European size is cost prohibitive.

Constant rule changes or band-aids are not required to fix hockey. Everything can be done within the traditional rule book, so long as the focus is on increasing time and space. As such, the following is an outline of what in my opinion is required;

1. Stretch the ice surface - proportionally add 1-1.5 ft. to all areas of the ice to accommodate the growth in player size, strength, and speed. This would probably require the first row of seats to be removed in every arena. One row of premium seats could be added to the secondary level and so on to the top row of seating. Revenue-loss is minimized as club-owners only lose the very top row of seats in each arena, which are the cheapest. In theory, this should allow for a more exciting game with a broader appeal, thus growing revenues overall.

2. Remove the instigator rule. This won't increase fighting, but will make players accountable for their actions. They may think twice before a cheap hit from behind, high stick, or any of the actions which are genuinely dangerous and are occurring with regularity these days.

3. Allow for physical and tough play. Contrary to Bettman's insistence, we really are in the NHL's 'goody two shoes' era. Some of hockey's most anticipated games occur when bad blood exists between two teams. Often these days, you rarely see anger displayed over the course of a game. Games are the most exciting when a high emotion level exists.

4. Call the existing rule book. We all agree with the crackdown on interference-type penalties, but the prevalence of phantom penalties has to stop. Referees now look for penalties, as opposed to waiting for them to happen. The continual breaks in the action decrease the overall flow and momentum of the game.

4b. Stop calling it obstruction!!!! It's called hooking, holding, or interference. If I see another referee make that silly 'O' sign with his hands, I'm going to go insane! (ok...so maybe this has nothing to do with time and space, but it symbolizes everything 'new' about the NHL...sigh)

5. Embrace the games tradition and history. Stop changing things for the sake of change or 'coolness'. Too many aspects of the NHL are sterilized, with much of the personality removed. Return to the traditional non-geographic conference & division names - Wales and Campbell conferences, with Adams, Smyth, Norris, and Patrick divisions. For the two additional divisions, use it as an opportunity to honour other important legends of the game. The NHL used to have unique characteristics, now everything is the same as all other leagues. And put the referees name back on their jerseys!!

With more time and space, the overall speed will increase as will scoring chances. The wheel does not need to be re-invented here; rather we need to let the game's inherent and intangible characteristics expose themselves. And they will, they just need a little more time and space.
Filed Under:   hockey   NHL   maple leafs   leafs  
November 17, 2007 3:37 PM ET | Delete
nice read
MJL
November 18, 2007 8:50 AM ET | Delete
With regards to 4b. Do you understand the difference between obstruction-hooking and hooking? Obstruction hooking is hooking and impeding a player without the puck. Hooking is impeding a player with the puck. There's a difference. It's in the rule book. And you say you want the physical part of the game to remain intact. If you widen the player surface, you will decrease the physical play. Just check out the European game.
November 18, 2007 12:00 PM ET | Delete
Thanks courduroy. MJL...I do understand the difference between the two types of hooking and I agree they are a part of the rule book, but traditionally they are the same thing - hooking. I just don't see why we had to add 'obstruction' to the call. Change for the sake of change. As for the European ice surface, I agree with you 100% and said as much in my article. I would dread a change like that, as it would pretty much eliminate physical play. However, stretching the ice slightly would accomodate the growth in player speed, size, and strength over the past few decades. With slightly more time and space, the game's speed and flow would increase but I don't think a small adjustment would impact physical play. It should actually increase it. Appreciate the comments...thanks.
November 18, 2007 6:00 PM ET | Delete
Blueshirt, you pretty much say what I've been trying to since the lockout but didn't have the gumption or maybe the necessary intellect. Particularly the time and space thing. As a Bruins fan I always envied Toronto fans' devotion to the game. Some more thoughts:1)Before you blow the whistle, be sure it's a crime. There's nothing wrong with cutting down on hooking and holding, it was getting out of hand. But call a penalty in the spirit of the rule. Too many picky 'stick parallel to the ice' calls, interference calls when a player is in reality playing a puck, crosschecks which are actually merely pushes, and of course, flat-out dives being called because the diver knows it's worth a shot.2)Goalie pads. Yes, they restricted them, but they're still too big. A split image was shown in a game broadcast a couple years ago which showed a then-current Sean Burke and one from circa late eighties. It was a revelation. These players can shoot, give them something to shoot at. Mike Bossy would've had a helluva hard time getting 30 today with the same looks he had all those years ago.3) Exclamation point on the anger issue. I don't like dirty play by any means, but these teams must be allowed to hate each other. If there's anything that annoys me most about fighting, it's the whole thing of just doing it for show. Having two guys fight only to pat each other on the back and say, 'good fight' doesn't do it for me and is pretty much useless in the feel and flow of a game. I want them snarling at each other in the box, and I want the fight to have meant something emotionally. For this I love and covet a guy like Tucker for my team.Sorry for the winded response. I have more, but that's enough for now. Let's try to keep this game the best team sport on the planet.
November 18, 2007 11:58 PM ET | Delete
Nice read blueshirt. Same for comments that follow. I understand your logic behind stretching the ice a bit but think that implementation of the rest of your ideas would probably negate need for changes in surface size. Try them first and see what happens. You are dead-on regarding the need to get north/south back in the game. Another need: get rid of shootout. Keep current sd 4-on-4 for 5 minutes and then 5 minute 3-on-3's until first one scores. (Plenty of open ice in that scenario.) Next question (the important one): any chance that we see any of these changes next season? Even one or two of them?
November 19, 2007 4:16 AM ET | Delete
stretch the blue lines 3 feet, shrink the goalie pads and bring back home whites
November 19, 2007 8:34 AM ET | Delete
dude, what a great thread. as a 27 yr old Crazy canuck, I too share your frustrations with the little Napoleon running the NHL. I'm tired of rushing straight to shootouts after only 5 mins of overtime. And phantom penalties have got to stop!! Jebus, anybody can score when they are given multiple chances with a one or two man advantage... leave our national past time and sport alone... As the old adage goes: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
November 19, 2007 11:59 AM ET | Delete
Regards shootouts: What the hell is wrong with a tie? Shootouts really don't feel like a win, they shouldn't be worth a full victory, and it is pretty much just a roll of the dice. I like the 5 minute 4-on-4 but end it there. As for playoffs, nobody likes the 3-4 OT trend, but does anyone have a better suggestion? 4-on-4 after one OT? Best I can come up with.
November 19, 2007 8:42 PM ET | Delete
Thanks for all the comments folks.....I sense may off us hockey fans share similar frustrations. The game of hockey truly is the greatest team sport in the world and it doesn't need to be overhauled. Somehow give these guys a bit more time and space, stop with the gimmicks, and the game will sell itself. My fear is the more we tinker, the more we risk permanently altering the very nature of the game.
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