The NHL has always been a league that has been immensely popular north of the 49th parallel; however, down in the United States, only a select few markets have been successful for many years.
Teams like the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres and even the San Jose Sharks have enjoyed prolonged success in the NHL, but some other teams have struggled to consistently profit from their teams.
Recently, since the arrival of players like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos, other teams, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, have seen an increase in fans since their superstar players arrived.
Before that, they were struggling franchises desperate for either a new roster, new arena or a new city. Now, these franchises are here to stay.
How can the NHL further improve the game and make it more exciting? How can they further attract more fans to game?
1. Expand the League Further by Two Teams
Expand the NHL and add two teams. One will be playing in Quebec City; the other will be in Las Vegas. The Phoenix Coyotes will be moving from Phoenix to Houston, and the Islanders, the other team with the threat of losing their squad, will find funding for a new arena to be built in the Long Island area.
What this will create is a balanced 32-team league, something the NHL has always strived for.
Quebec City and the Islanders will remain in the Eastern Conference, while Las Vegas and Houston move West.
Detroit moves East; Winnipeg moves West.
2. Reformat the Divisions, Create More Rivalries
This is simple. They have already explored this idea; however, it was squashed by the NHLPA. I wasn't exactly thrilled, however, with the setup and the playoff format the NHL proposed.
Here is what I propose.
Four divisions, two conferences.
New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers
Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Nordiques (proposed name), Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins
Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, St Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets
Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Houston Aeros (Proposed Name), Las Vegas Thunder (Proposed Name), Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche
This format will break down the divisions for the least amount of travel time. You play your own division six times for each team, giving a grand total of 42 games. Then, you play the other division three times for a grand total of 24 games.
Lastly, you play the the other conference once. Unfortunately, I still believe the NHL season is too long, so adding games I feel is really unnecessary. This way, this keeps the NHL's 82-game schedule safe and sound.
Top eight teams make the playoffs; bottom six miss the playoffs.
Note: I know some of you purists will want a Philadelphia/Pittsburgh rivalry, and of course, the Red Wings' rivalries with the Blackhawks, Avalanche and Blues. But in the end, the NHL's best rivalry today is the Canucks/Bruins, two teams from opposite conferences.
3. New Scoring Format to Give the Bottom-Feeders a Chance to Make the Playoffs
What I'm proposing here is giving a team three points for each win in regulation. Each win in the overtime or shootout will receive two points. Each loss in the shootout or overtime will receive one point.
Meanwhile, a losing team in regulation receives zero points for their efforts.
Tiebreakers will be goals for rather than regulation wins.
What this will create is more teams pushing for the three points and scoring more. Hopefully, this can eliminate teams from either sitting back on leads like 2-1 or 1-0 or, playing the long, drawn-out trap that is usually employed by some teams.
Winning in regulation and scoring is paramount with this format.
4. New Overtime and Shootout Format
I find overtime hockey is some of the best hockey money can buy.
What I suggest here is adding five minutes to overtimes, giving each team 10 minutes to play with. Another suggestion I have heard bandied about is decreasing a penalty to one minute in overtime, which personally, I think is a good idea.
I find teams get away with a lot in overtime, so if the penalties are shorter because the period is shortened by one half, so should the penalties.
Referees sometimes have the thought that a penalty in regulation is somewhat different from a penalty in overtime. I hope with this change, the referees don't put away the whistles in overtime and call the game the way it should be called.
If after 10 minutes of play there is no winner, I suggest going to a five-man shootout rather than a three-man shootout. What this creates is more of a team-oriented way of determining a winner. I find the three-man shootout takes possibly only one shot from a guy to win the game.
This way, five players, not three, have a chance at winning the game.
With the shootout a resounding success, why not add another shooter or two to the action?
5. Referee Video Review, Coaches Challenge
After some just awful calls lastly in games recently on supposed goalie interference calls, I believe giving the NHL situation room the final say, or a referee upstairs to make the right call, would be best for the NHL.
Some fans hate the video review, but I'm a huge supporter of having the right call all the time. I hate seeing teams lose games and points on plays that should've resulted in a goal.
Only plays here that can be reviewed are goals, since play is stopped and high sticks by own teammates are called against the opposition. I find this one hurts teams the most because more often than not, the opposing team has to kill of a four-minute power play.
The coach will be given one challenge for the game. If the play is deemed inconclusive or a waste of time, the coach who challenged will be charged one timeout.
6. Take Away the Instigator Rule; Have Players Held More Accountable for Their Actions
Bringing it back to the old days. The enforcer is a job in the NHL that is quickly disappearing, and to be honest, its one of the leading reasons as to why there are so many illegal hits today.
The majority of fans like hard-hitting hockey with the odd fight or two in it. Back in the early 70's and early 80's, it took a really tough man to play this game.
Today, because there is a real lack of accountability in the NHL, players are allowed to run around looking for dirty hits without much consequence.
This is mostly because the NHL has an instigator rule put in place to prevent players from jumping players and forcing them to fight. Without this rule, I truly believe headshots will decrease, and a lost job could be saved.
Also, with the decrease hopefully in headshots, maybe more and more people will play hockey and invest their time and money in the sport we love.
Feel free to comment on my suggestions
Thanks for reading.