Wednesday, March 30, 2016


I recently realized that the season is almost over and I haven't watched a hockey game from start to finish.  Last Saturday I watched the beginning and end of the Toronto Boston game but turned the TV off for a leisurely supper before turning back on to watch Boston hang on for the win.  I didn't bother watching the second game of the Saturday night double-header.

I used to love hockey.  As a child, teenage and young adult, I never missed a chance to watch a game on TV.  I had season tickets to our local NHL team for 4 seasons.  Now if I tune into a game, I quickly find myself looking to see what else is on either on other stations or Netflix.  If I watch a game, I am usually reading a book, the newspaper or on Facebook.  On the other hand, I still read the sports section, and check scores in the evening on my computer.   It is not a distaste for sports in general either.  I still watch the CFL and NFL.  I love watching the Olympics when they are on.  

This comes at a time which should be the golden age of hockey watching with a game on TV just about every night of the week, and a minimum of 2 on Saturday night. If you look at the quality of play, the skaters are better, more mobile, faster.  I just can't seem to get excited.  I was trying to figure out where my passion had gone.  There are reasons; some of them are things that have bothered me for years, some are new.

I know the NHL brass read my blog so.......

The season is too long.

Not a new problem but the season has in my lifetime gone from 70 to 84 games.  Way too many.  I remember in the 1970s the players union offering to take a 1/8 paycut to shorten the season to 70 games which the owners turned down. This doesn't explain why I don't seem intererested in October either.  

The playoffs are way too long.

The first year I watched hockey (1964) the playoffs ended on April 29.  I remember this date because instead of watching game 7 of Detroit-Toronto we had to go to dinner for my mother's birthday.  I also remember in 1968, my brother telling me that because of expansion, there would actually be hockey played in May.  Crazy I thought.

Okay there were only 4 teams in the playoffs not 16, I understand.  But hockey in June.  Most of Canada and a significant amount of the US have 5-7 months of winter and the last thing we really want to do is to spend time indoors watching playoff games.  Its not just that there are twice as many rounds, it is the leisurely pace they seem to schedule games mostly to accomodate TV.  I remember in the 1970s they actually started the playoffs with 4 games in 5 nights (quite often with games 3 and 4 played Saturday night and Sunday afternoon).   That's right teams were often eliminated within a week of the playoffs starting.  Now there are frequently 2 or 3 nights in between games and frequently up to a week between series.  This is at a time when players are actually a lot fitter than they were in the 1970s.

And, when the NHL added the fourth series in the mid 1970s it was initially a best of 3 series which was extended to a best of 5 series when they went to 16 teams in the playoffs.  And yes, there were upsets where an inferior team eliminated a better team just like there are with best of 7 series.  That's why we have playoffs otherwise we could just give the Stanley Cup to the regular season winner and we could all enjoy our springs.  Major League Baseball still has their first round as a best of 5 even with all the variation pitching brings in.  

So why not make the first two rounds best of 5 again?  Not likely as home teams make $1,000,000 plus for each playoff game and with no revenue sharing no team is going to give up that type of potential payday.

The problem is of course is that by the time the finals roll around, everybody has lost interest outside of the fans of the two teams in the finals and most likely even them.  Take 2012 when the NHL finally had the match-up they had dreamed off when they expanded, a team from New York (New Jersey actually) against a team for LA.  I remember turning on the TV one night.  "Oh are they playing hockey still?" I thought.  So why would you want to take your showcase, the two best teams in the league and put it on at a time when you have the best outdoor weather plus you are going against baseball?  I really can't wait to not watch what will probably be this year's Stanley Cup final LA or Anaheim vs. Florida.

The games are too long.

Common thread here.

The one thing I remember from my years as a season ticket holder is being bleary eyed the next morning after a game that went on for 3 hours.

Now to its credit the NHL has done something to reduced the length of the games.  Not enough though.

I remember again in the 1960s,  games ran 2 hours and 15 minutes or less.  In fact the CBC had a 15 minute program which followed Hockey Night in Canada.

There are lots of possible solutions.  Only allowing line changes on the fly, maybe even getting rid of faceoffs in certain situations.  Reducing commercials.  Yeah right.

 Gary Bettman

A face more punchable than Ted Cruz?  (Not that I advocate violence, a good wedgy would suffice.)

Interesting how you can pin the state of the game on one person.  It is hard to believe (actually not) that he has been commissioner for over 20 years.  Now his two predescessors John Ziegler and Gil Stein were not the greatest hockey guys and maybe some of us thought Bettman might be good for a few years before they got a real hockey guy to run things.

But here he is, still running things.  All he has accomplished is 3 work-stoppages including a whole season lost and the movement of two Canadian teams to the US.  

It just irks me to see him on TV at a game (an infrequent event because he rarely goes to games and I rarely watch now) sitting in the expensive seats or the owner's box looking at his Blackberry, not watching the game.  That and his periodically lecturing city councils about how they need to have a publicly funded arena to replace the perfectly good one already there.

And there is of course the ritual booing when he presents the Stanley Cup.  The most sacred moment in hockey spoiled.  I don't blame the fans, I would boo too.  Since you are not going to step down Gary, why not give us a break, let some hall of famer present the Cup.  Imagine Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky presenting the Cup.  

It makes one long for the days of Clarence Campbell.  True he did some stupid things, like not letting Vancouver in the initial expansion and not letting the expansion teams draft any players of consequence condemning fans to years of lousy hockey.  But... he was Canadian, he had been a referee, and he went to games including going to the forum in Montreal after suspending Rocket Richard.   Plus when he presented the Stanley Cup,  he then went to the dressing room and talked with the players in their underwear.  Can't imagine Bettman doing that.  

The current divisional line-up

Okay what type of league divides themselves 16/14 rather than 15/15.   This means the Western teams have an 8/14 chance of making the playoffs vs 8/16 in the East.  True the Western teams have a tougher travel schedule.  What it really is, is a giant fuck-you to the concept of expanding to Quebec, Hamilton or a second team in Toronto  when they go to 32 teams because there are clearly too many Eastern teams now.  Which means we will be getting a team in Las Vegas and some other Western city that the league will have to prop up just like they prop up Phoenix now.  Like was there no team in the Eastern Conference that could be moved over to the West?  Why not on rotation make one of the three New York City teams play in the West on a rotation basis so they can see what it is like to travel?   And, what is the point of having a wild card when the teams in each division have a different schedule.  

I have personally thought why not split the thirty teams into 3 conferences, either Western, Central and Eastern or Western, Northeast and Southeast.  Time zone and travel wise, makes more sense.  Playoffs may be a little tricky but it would work.

Some people have suggested a premier league like in soccer and while second division teams might be less of a draw, the knowledge that your team is actually competitive might bring out fans.  Having the top teams play more often would be great for TV.  And like the FA cup everybody could play for the Stanley cup at the end of the season (all the premier league and the top second division teams).

The shoot-out / overtime

Back when I watched hockey in the 1970s, games actually ended in ties.  (Montreal who won  the Stanley Cup in 72-73 had 16 tie games.)  I remember a lot of the time, you turned off the TV or left the arena and thought you had seen a pretty good game.  It is true that occasionally in the last 10 minutes of a tie game, teams just passed the puck back and forth between the blue lines but quite often the tying goal was also scored in the last 10 minutes.  

For no apparent reason however the NHL went first to a winner take all overtime.  That still left ties so they brought in the shoot-out after a 4 on 4 overtime.  I have said this before, the shootout is not hockey.  Now they have gone to 3 on 3 overtime again followed by a shoot-out.  A little better but still some games get decided in the travesty of the shootout.  Another factor is that the winner of the OT/ shootout gets two points, same as the team which wins in regulation time.  The loser gets a point which is fair because if you survive 60 minutes tied, you should be entitled to a point.  This of course means some games are worth 2 points and some worth 3.   At a time when teams make or miss the playoffs by one point this is pretty significant.  

So why not give 3 points to the winner, 2 for an overtime winner and 1 for an overtime loser like they do in international tournaments including the Olympics.  The NHL justifies this by saying that this keeps the playoff races closer.  Artificially closer.

So if you don't want ties, why not just play until somebody wins like they do in Baseball and Basketball (and hockey during the playoffs).  And if the shootout and 3 on 3 are so exciting, why not have a shootout competition or a 3 on 3 tournament?  Just don't destroy the sanctity of the game with a gimmick.

The rules / inconsistency of the refereeing.

As others have pointed out this season, the quality of refereeing in the NHL has been inconsistent.  Not at all what you should expect in the what is supposed to be the best league in the world.

And part of the problem is that the rules are so vague.  For example does anybody understand what the current rules are about the crease and contacting the goalie inside or outside the crease?  Why not makes rules which actually clarify what is and isn't allowed.  Again going back to the 1960s, the rules were pretty clear, all of both feet in the crease and the goal didn't count.  I certainly don't want to go back to the toe in the crease rule of the 1990s.  So why not have a smaller primary crease where you can't go at all and a larger secondary crease where you can't contact the goalie.  And not all goalie contact should be penalized.  Blowing the play dead is enough.

Further while goalies are important, expensive and only 2 are dressed for a game, why should they be immune from contact if they decide to play defence?  

Another thing that bugs me is when a player gets pushed into the goalie and that player gets a goalie interference penalty.  The play by play announcers always, say that the player should have made more of an effort to avoid the goalie.  Sure try doing that when you are off balance being pushed by a defenceman who weighs 50 lbs more than you.   The whole goalie interference thing is so subjective, one guy farts near the goalie and gets a penalty, somebody else skates thru the crease and takes out the goalie and a goal gets scored.

The other thing is whether the puck actually crosses the line.  You would think by now the NHL would have some type of sensor to determine  whether the puck is over the line.  Or else simplify it so that instead of the entire puck crossing the line, the puck just has to break a plane on a line which could be just behind the goalposts for example.  The NFL does this already.  

But there is just the inconsistency in how the game is called.  A penalty at one point in the game is not a penalty at another time in the game.  Even up calls.  No other major professional league does it.  

Other sports (except maybe soccer) bring in rule changes to make their game more exciting and more fair.  Hockey not so much.

Too many teams

From 6 to 30 in my lifetime.  Maybe there are 5X as many elite players as there were in 1967.  The main problem is that it is just too hard to keep track of them all, too hard to get excited about Columbus.  Sometimes I read about some player I have never heard off and they are talking about him being in the running for a trophy.  Baseball which also has a lot of teams at least divides them into two leagues with differerent rules and until recently no interlocking play.  Football has two conferences although they play interconference games.  Because the NHL decided that every team should play every team home and home, this means less games against rivals or other teams in your division.  So every season ticket holder gets to see Montreal and Toronto once a season; they also get to see Columbus once a season.  

Free agency/salary cap/ trade deadline

I am conflicted about this.  Maybe players are overpaid but they have to right to what the market will bear and the owners who all claim to be astute businessmen don't have to pay them.  On the whole I would rather watch an elite hockey player than an investment banker or a corporate lawyer.  It has however gotten to the point where the turnover of players every season robs many teams of their character.  This is opposed to the situation before the advent of free agency where the best teams at least made very few roster changes every season and the move of a star player from one team to another was a major story.  

And why do  GMs feel that they have to rebuild or gut their team the week before the trade deadline.  I suspect if you added the pluses and minuses of trades at the deadline, the ledger would be solidly on the negative side.  And if it is your team that is being gutted imagine how as a season ticket holder being told that your GM has given up on the team you shelled out thousands of dollars for tickets, even while they still haven't been mathematically eliminated yet.

Not sure how you deal with this.  Revenue sharing might be a good start.  

Canadian Teams

OK.  I do cheer for an American team which I have always justified by telling myselve and everyone else that their players are mostly Canadians.  

The lack of success of Canadian teams recently is somewhat upsetting, especially as Canada got skunked in the playoff department this time around.  In fact Canada hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1993 although 4 teams have made the final since then.  Not much of a statistician but with 7 out of 30 teams we should be looking at a champion every 4-5 years.  

I'm not much of a Habs fan but given that they won about every other year in my youth,maybe the universe would be back on keel if there could be a Stanley Cup parade in Montreal along "the usual route".
I can and do embellish my old-fartedness by telling younger people that I actually remember the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup.  I in fact remember them winning two Stanley Cups and they won four in my lifetime.  

At the same time I wish the national media would remember that there are 7 teams in Canada not just the Leafs and the Habs.  


This has been a topic of conversation a lot but the goalies even the not very good ones have become so big now that it is impossible to score on them.  It is interesting to think of putting someone like Ken Dryden who was pretty big for his time into modern equipment and trying to score on him.  He probably wouldn't have lost a game in his career.  (He only lost 50).  

The league has been talking about this for at least 10 years but haven't really done anything.  Here's a suggestion.  Why not replace the first baseman size glove they currently get with a catcher's mitt.  Lots of padding but smaller and harder to make difficult catches with.  And make the blocker smaller.  Just big enough to protect the goalie.  And their stick doesn't need to be as wide.  And again I remember in the 1970s goalies used to get delay of game penalties if they froze the puck unnecessarily.  The rule is still in place why not enforce it.
The rink is too small

Imagine if Major League Baseball played on the same size field as little league.  The NHL plays on a rink the same size as my kids played on at age 8.  Now watching international hockey with their bigger rink doesn't make for a more exciting game however players are bigger and faster now.  In my lifetime every NHL team has built a new arena including a new one in my home town, and they are still building them to the same size as when players were smaller and skated a lot slower.  (I could be wrong but I think the Saddledome in Calgary built for the Olympics was built to Olympic size and then reduced to NHL size).  Sure in the transition, we would have arenas of different size, but that would  just like when Chicago and Boston had smaller rinks and just like Major League Baseball parks now. 

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