1. It seems this is a thing now
Pierre LeBrun recently posted a list of 10 things he thought the league could do to make this whole "second lockout in eight years" thing up to the fans. Then Greg Wyshynski posted his list of five things the league could do. There was some overlap, and the areas where they agreed came because they were sensible. Free Center Ice for everyone? Yeah, that’s obvious. Playing 3-on-3 overtime after the traditional 4-on-4 is also a way to get around of the shootout in many games, which is terrible and awful.
There were also ideas on which either touched that would be good ideas, and easy to implement: Wyshynski supported free tickets for kids, as well as a move to the 3-point-game system used in World Juniors and other international tournaments. LeBrun wanted the World Cup of Hockey brought back every four years, played two years after each Olympics, just like it is in international soccer (though if you’re going to do that, you might also want to make one or the other U-23, also like soccer does).
But with all that being said, I think there are some areas that neither touched on that would be crucial to bringing fans back to the game. So here’s four of them:
2. Stop screwing with the rules
One of the things I absolutely hate about hockey these days is that there’s this perception that there is inherently something wrong with it. This is reflected in the NHL’s consistent and maddening attempts to tinker with the rules of the game, particularly every summer at what has become known as "Camp Shanny."
The potential rule changes the league has kicked around in the last few years include some real dumb ones, like making the nets bigger, and also shallower, and also maybe introducing the ringette line, and unfortunately the alterations have seeped in at lower levels of the game. (Though not all of those have been bad: Hybrid no-touch icing and tougher rules on hits to the head should be encouraged at all levels.) For instance, college hockey, in an attempt to boost offense in the last few seasons, have introduced a rule in which, if a team scores on a delayed penalty, the penalty is still served; and also one that prevents hand passes in the defensive zone.
Most of these rules are introduced with the idea that they will increase scoring, as though this is something hockey fans want to see. I would imagine there are very few "casual" fans of the sport — if you were presenting the proportion as a pie graph, the majority would be "not fans" and another big slice would be "diehards," and there’d be very little in between. But that’s who these rule changes to juice scoring are intended to attract, as though hockey becomes markedly better or more interesting when games end 6-5 instead of 3-2.
But by pandering to these people with new rules, what the NHL is essentially saying is that the game for which it considers itself the international steward, and the game you love, is fundamentally flawed. It’s not. Stop acting like it.
3. Stop making a big deal about international tournaments
Every time there’s an Olympics, it seems like we hear that if the league has its way, it will be the last in which NHL players compete. What a load of garbage.
I know a lot of people who wouldn’t call themselves fans of (insert sport here), but boy are they ever glued to most of them for the duration of the Olympics, and I imagine that’s what hockey is like for most people as well. THAT’S what draws in casual fans (what few there are) more than anything else: short tournaments with international prestige comprised of the best players on the planet.
I get why the NHL doesn’t want to do let its employees go: G=guys get hurt in tournaments like this, kind of a lot, and you don’t want to have them miss a crucial part of the regular season or, god forbid, the playoffs, with an injury picked up in a tournament for which they aren’t being paid. But if you want to make it up to fans, and draw in new ones, stuff like this, and LeBrun’s suggested return of the World Cup, or the World Championships or World Juniors, are crucial. It grows the sport. That in turn grows profit margins. Accept this kind of thing, as most other major international sports do, as something you just deal with, and move on.
4. Significantly discount merch bought through the NHL Store
This may not sound like that big of a deal, but one thing I noticed, and was happy to see, over Christmas was that many fans on Twitter (not the greatest sample, I understand) said they simply refused to buy any NHL merchandise for friends, family, or themselves this year. That’s good news because it means the NHL is losing out on more revenues and basically screw them for all this.
But one question I asked, and was dismayed to find the answer, was that stuff like jerseys, which thousands of fans must surely buy every year, come with markups that could be as much as 10 times what it costs the league to actually make and move them. So if the league were to slash prices even for the remainder of this season (if it comes back, which I’m not counting on) it won’t theoretically lose that much money compared to what it would have made under normal circumstances. Plus the reduced prices, say, 20 percent, might even encourage people who are not typically wont to buy jerseys or other merch (like me) to do so.
This’ll just feel like a nice gesture that costs the league nothing.
5. Fire Gary Bettman
Obviously. Replace him with whomever you like. Doesn’t matter. Honestly it doesn’t. Like, in terms of who’s really calling the shots and everything. It doesn’t matter. But symbolically, this is something around which all hockey fans can rally.