Five things: Better than painting words on the ice

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.

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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."

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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.

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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. 

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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.


  • RKD

    All good ideas, how the NHL can make it up to the fans will be really interesting.

    Coming out of the ’04/’05 lockout the league had marquee superstars Crosby and Ovechkin to shine.

    They had a slew of new rules, the big one was removing obstruction which sped up the game drastically.

    This time, the only star they have is MacKinnon who is eerily following the same footsteps of Crosby. As we know now, no proposed rule changes.

    They need to bring in the no-touch icing or a hybrid rule. I’m all for the chase but not at the expense of someone’s career.

    I can’t see them removing the shootout, because the Americans like it Gary will probably keep it in. The fans deserve a discount on ticket prices, if not then at least some more family package and/or bundling deals.

  • Didnt realize how much I am hating both sides & how much its taking away my passion for the sport. Watched a few of these Jr games & something is missing.

    I’m with Wolf, Bettman isnt the problem, anybody in his position negotiating this CBA would be just as hated by many, especially the players. I think what they should give back to the fans is a 15 year CBA.

  • Couldn’t agree more when it comes to screwing with the rules. There’s nothing wrong with being a traditionalist when it comes to the rules of hockey, because hockey is a great game, and does not need to be fixed.

  • Captain Ron

    @The Wolf

    I don’t get the Bettman haters either. He is the talking head for the owners and gets paid rather handsomely to do the job. I rather doubt that he is calling any of the shots now or ever.

    @Kevin R

    I am typically a huge fan of the world junior tournament and look forward to it every year but find I’m a little less pumped about it this year too. Just not feeling the same amount of passion for it this year as I usually do.

    If I have to point a finger at anyone during this lockout it is at Donald Fehr. He has a bigger hand in this than Bettman does in my opinion. While Fehr is clearly guiding the players I do not think Bettman is guiding the ownership group in these “negotiations”.

    • T&A4Flames

      Its awful. I know I should get excited about our prospects & how Canada does but I dont. I think the media hype and the focus on pure financial greed has taken the sport out of the game. Its like all of this is just done for the $$$$. Maybe the last lockout came after such a high of our run that I didnt feel this way back then but I did believe the league needed the Cap system at that time. This time, I dont really know what the players are fighting for & I dont know why the league had to lock these guys out. Why couldnt they just agree to 50/50 based on other league precedents & be reasonable that contracts had to be tightened in the language of the CBA. Why did the players feel they needed to hire Fehr instead of someone who would have negotiated this thing last year while they were playing. I didnt care about how much the HRR was generating, most of us focused on where the Cap was going to be & see if we could sign & fit players to save our non playoff team. These guys had a good thing going & now fans only look upon them in disgust. The whole lot of them should be embarrassed.

      • Captain Ron

        You are absolutely right Kevin. My theory is that Fehr wanted to take this to the limit from day one and steered his ship in that direction. I truly believe (and hope) that this time there will be some real backlash from the fan base. They need to put a fix in place to this process that will prevent it from happening again for a very long time. I know way more about CBA’s, salary caps, anti trusts, etc etc than I ever cared to. Just want to be entertained for my dollar and go home happy when the game is over. It is inexcusable that real meaningful negotiating didn’t start the day after the old CBA expired and continued until an agreement was reached. This sorry bunch wants to drag their supporters through a pissing match that most people care less and less about.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    “If I have to point a finger at anyone during this lockout it is at Donald Fehr. He has a bigger hand in this than Bettman does in my opinion. While Fehr is clearly guiding the players I do not think Bettman is guiding the ownership group in these “negotiations”.”

    I agree. Unfortunately, Fehr will be back to fight again in 5 years, which is probably why the owners are pushing for a 10 or more year CBA. Say what you will about Donald Fehr, but I bet the players are truly behind him and won’t turn on him, the same way they turned on Goodenow.

    • Captain Ron

      I think the fans will be keeping an eye on the length of this deal. Longer is better for the sake of the game and its fans. A longer deal = a better opportunity for steady growth in my opinion.

      You are certainly right about the players being behind Fehr. I have to wonder though how many of the players are actually educated enough to know what is truly in their best interest without relying on the opinion of others.

  • T&A4Flames

    Re: the rules. They made all these changes that made the game faster in order to attract more Americans to the game. Does this strike anyone else as odd since the 2 biggest sports in the US, baseball and football are slow moving games. All the added injuries that came with the speed and now all the changes that need to be implemented to counter act the ones made to add speed for a group of people that seem to like games that are a little slower.

    As for Bettman, I don’t hate him and I don’t see firing him being productive. That said, it sure would be nice if the owners could find a way to negotiate without a lockout.

    • Rocknrolla

      Those sports are slow-moving yes, but they’re also high-scoring, which I guess is the reason the NHL continues to make changes that favour offensive production.