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Modernizing the NHL

Posted 9:46 PM ET | Comments 4
During Friday's coach's roundtable session on the NHL Network and NHL Home Ice XM 204, San Jose coach Ron Wilson responded in a curious manner to an interesting question.

The thought was, has the NHL suffered from a lack of characters in the game? Specifically, the examples of Tiger Williams riding his stick after a goal and Don Cherry's flamboyant style behind the bench in the 1970s were mentioned.

At a time when the league is being criticized for being less exciting and wide-open than it was the first year out of the lockout, Wilson's response came across as somewhat stodgy.

Wilson said the league operates by its code, and the players know they'll get beat up if they celebrate too much.


When did this become the No Fun League? Major League Baseball? One of the great things about hockey has always been the emotion of the game, and the enthusiastic goal celebrations of Alex Ovechkin are a big reason why he is arguably the game's most popular player among young fans.

Baseball has always had a code that has gone too far, one where a player must look solemn and disappointed after hitting a home run. That is, unless it is a walk-off homer, in which case the entire team must bounce like junior high school girls at home plate.

Please, don't let hockey come to that.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas to modernize the game and increase the appeal to the younger crowd:

1) Encourage display of emotion on the ice.

When did society become so uptight that celebrating one's own accomplishments became considered disrespectful to your opponents? The NFL has led the way, banning many popular, entertaining, and harmless touchdown celebrations in the name of supposed sportsmanship.

Wilson's comments Friday indicate that mentality is creeping into hockey. And while hockey has always had a code -- a very effective and logical code for the most part -- goal celebrations were always allowed. Taunting was against the code, as it should be. But celebrating a goal -- slamming oneself against the glass, high-fiving someone in the crowd through the glass, pumping your fist, it doesn't matter -- that was okay.

And it should be.

Any of the stars from the 1970s are fine with goal celebrations -- just ask Phil Esposito. But along the way, society has gotten more sensitive, and some take celebrating as a form of taunting -- which seems like a very illogical connection.

As someone once said, here's a solution: if you don't want your opponent to celebrate, don't let him score.

Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk are among the most demonstrative players when it comes to celebrating goals, and they are considered among the most electrifying and enthusiastic players in the league. There's a connection there.

2) Ditch the suits.

Think about where you see suits in day-to-day life. Salesmen, politicians, executives of publicly-owned corporations.

While those people may be great, upstanding people, they all have one thing in common. They have a motivation for swaying your thoughts one way or the other.

As a result, those people receive their fair share of skepticism, and it often takes more effort for them to gain people's trust.

It has been more than two decades since the vast majority of people wore a suit to work every day, yet NHL players still come and go from the rink in suits. Team employees -- even account representatives -- typically wear suits. Announcers wear suits -- Rogers Sportsnet notwithstanding, as they are the one network that has finally relaxed their dress code.

To many young people, suits are a barrier. They do not wear suits; their friends do not wear suits. In fact, the term "suit" has become a term referring to out-of-touch, Ivory Tower-like executives. Just listen to Toronto fans grumble about the "suits" in the lower level of the Air Canada Centre -- it is not meant to be a compliment.

Most MLB teams have account executives and most team employees in golf shirts, while soccer takes casual a step further. The U.S. Men's National Team has been known to arrive to games in... gasp... golf shirts and shorts.

During the post-game of the NFL conference finals, players appeared in what seemed to be appropriate attire given the cold conditions. Sweaters, turtlenecks, and other business casual apparel was the order of the day.

And it looked fine. In fact, it looked... approachable.

Which should be the goal.

3) Allow access for Internet reporters -- for all 30 teams.

Over the past three seasons, many NHL teams, particularly those in non-traditional markets, have seen their media coverage dwindle. So why do some NHL teams still limit access for Internet-based reporters, other than those who are from websites who are affiliated with the same major media outlets that ignore the sport?

It is a new time for the media in general, and nowhere is that more true than in hockey. Websites such as hockeybuzz.com and insidehockey.com have replaced the print media for many fans, yet in some NHL cities, their reporters would have difficulty getting media credentials.

For example, the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks struggle to get more media coverage than high school volley ball in their home market. Yet the Ducks explicitly state Internet-based reporters cannot get media credentials unless they are affiliated with a major media outlet.

It simply does not make sense, especially in markets that struggle to get suitable coverage.

The sooner all 30 teams adopt the Internet, the better. To be sure, many, if not most, teams understand this. But there is still work to be done.
Filed Under:   NHL   suits   goal celebrations   blogs  
January 26, 2008 2:01 AM ET | Delete
While I agree with most of your points, Ditch the suits is dead wrong. Hockey players have class they arnt hoodlems like in the nba. Nhlers have always worn suits to games every level from pee-wee up encourages wearing suits.
January 26, 2008 6:24 PM ET | Delete
Well.... I haven't worn a suit in more than a decade, and I certainly don't conisder myself a hoodlum -- it's just in most fields, dress has changed to business casual. For whatever reason, hockey has not kept up with the times in this regard. Noticing you're from Philadelphia, my guess is business attire might still be more formal there than the West -- but suits are pretty rare out here these days.
January 27, 2008 1:54 AM ET | Delete
I'm Not from Philadelphia, I'm from Saskatchewan. I dont regularily wear suits either but when I play hockey is "dress to the nines".
January 28, 2008 9:08 PM ET | Delete
I'm sure there's various opinions on the suits... personally, I'd just like to see them go the way of the fedora when it comes to being part of standard off-ice dress. Whether that will happen anytime soon remains to be seen, I suppose!
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