Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Puck Stops Here

Most of you don't know this because I never talk about it on here, but my favorite sport is Ice Hockey. The National Hockey League is now in the midst of a lockout by the owners until a new collective bargaining agreement can be agreed upon, and until that point in time there will be no NHL hockey played, not even practices. In light of the current mess hockey is in, I'd have to say I agree with nearly everything stated in this article. Many of these opinions I have held myself for quite some time, so I know where the author is coming from. The basic point of the article is that, in the author's opinion, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his sometimes harmful policies have brought the game to the shameful state is finds itself in today. To make myself a bit more clear, and to save this post from the eventual time when the article is taken down, here are some key quotes that I think show the problems best:

Bettman's problem is with his promise. He was brought in as some wunderkind from the NBA, hired to push the NHL into the modern age of sports.

Almost from the start he showed he was the wrong guy for this job.
I don't think hockey needed to be so "modernized" in the first place. Hockey fans don't need to be constantly entertained by flashy uniforms or halftime spectacles. The game itself, if played right, is enough. By trying to gain more and more new fans, the NHL has alienated the longtime fans who remember the pre-Bettman days. Also, modernizing the NBA game has made basketball a slam-dunking spectacle that has little to do with the amateur game played at non-professional levels (at least up until now). The same approach in the NHL has almost produced the same result, except with little offensive flair found in the NBA.
From there the blunders have ranged from the foolish – allowing Fox to use a glowing puck for telecasts, which made the league an XFL-level laughingstock – to the damaging. Expansion and relocation have pulled the league away from its hockey-mad northern roots to the disinterested Sun Belt.
The glowing puck on Fox; flashy new logos and jerseys; expansion to non-traditional hockey markets. All things that took focus away from the game itself. Without care of the game, what is there to market? I think the NHL should not market itself at the expense of the actual sport it markets.
Television ratings in the United States are anemic and in Canada flat, at best. Next year's U.S. contract brings in no meaningful rights fees, just the opportunity for the NHL and NBC to share advertising revenue.
On ESPN (NOT ESPN2 or any of the other ESPN-related networks), the sports network that is seen on cable TV by much of the United States, there is usually ONE NHL game a week during the season, if that! Just one opportunity to see a hockey game every week, compared to all the baseball and football games shown! With rising ticket prices, it's no wonder hockey is struggling to gain fans. They don't have much opportunity to see the game at all!

The above problems aren't the only ones facing the NHL as I see it. The game itself is struggling. Players aren't scoring so many goals, and the professional game is becoming a bore full of defense. All the changes made to introduce more scoring to the game - fiddling around with the lines and goal crease, decreasing goalkeeper pad size, and such - might do a little to increase goal scoring, but I really doubt an extra few inches of net is going to do much. The culprit is the STYLE of game being played! Today, coaches emphasize defense, and until they start urging players to take more offensive chances, goal scoring potential is going to stay down. There weren't any new rules or trends in the 1980s that allowed for the Edmonton Oilers to light up the scoreboard. It was simply the way the players played the game that led to all the offense. Changing the game from the outside isn't what the NHL should be doing. Change from the inside will hopefully increase the number of goals while protecting the integrity of the game. If there's much of that left.

That's my opinion, anyway. I might be wrong, but there's a chance I could also be right.

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