This is going to deal with ways I think the NHL can improve. I am not just talking about the product, but the game.
-The current mess of head shots needs to be addressed uniformly. Jesse Boulerice and Steve Downie got deserved long suspensions. But what Of Jordin Tootoo? Or Matt Weller? Or Andy Sutton? It's time to start taking everything into consideration. The NHL can't just come down hard on the well exposed incidents, it needs to apply the justice uniformly. It also needs to stop the practice of ignoring whether a guy was a thug or not BEFORE he got to the NHL.
-The NHL needs to improve consistency in another area as well-on-ice officiation. Far too often we see games where one referee is calling a tight game, while the other arbiter is more or less a spectator to the parade to the Sin Bin. This is an easy fix. Lose the second ref. I hate when calls get made from 150 feet away and so should the NHL. Elimination of the second ref would also weed out the less stellar refs and leave the NHL with the cream of the crop.
-Marketing in the US is another area that needs to be addressed. How do most NHL fans become addicts? They go and see guys play the game live. Watching a game on TV is a learned art. Most Canadians learn to watch the game on TV from birth. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the Philadelphia area, where a broadcaster named Gene Hart educated a generation or two on the beauty of this game.
The point is, nothing captures the visceral experience of a live hockey game. Instead of sending the Stanley Cup champions or Sideny Crosby off to Europe, why not allow them to play more games against the other NHL teams in NHL cities. My compadre, Number23, pointed out in an excellent blog that after the Penguins open the season with a two game set in Prague, Crosby will have played more regular season games in the Czech republic than 15 North American NHL cities. That is not only asinine, it's inexcusable.
-In that same vein, the NHL needs to mandate that a section of affordable tickets be made available for each team's home games. That means no seat more than $20, and built in specials for food and beverages for folks in that section.
-The NHL should become more aggressively involved in growing youth hockey in the US. Granted most teams do a good job in this area, but the NHL should be chipping in so places like Nashville, Phoenix and Florida can have more ice surfaces to allow kids to play. The could also chip in to help equip kids who can't afford to play.
-Either apply the instigator penalty consistently or lose it altogether. Last year guys were getting instigators because of their reputations rather than their actions. I understand the effort to limit fighting, but the two things guaranteed to make people stand up and cheer at a hockey game are goals and fights.
Besides, elimination of the instigator penalty would allow players to police the game themselves. That might be enough to eliminate some of the Downie and Boulerice head shots. I know from experience that few things get a player's attention like a punch to the jaw.
This is not a call for a return to the "Slap Shot" or "Broad Street Bullies" era of bench clearing brawls and on ice muggings. But fighting serves a very valid purpose in our sport.
-Please stop making it a penalty to shoot the puck into the stands. Disallowing line changes would be far more logical and expedient.