Like just about everything else, the National Hockey League can be improved.
I've appointed myself Czar of the rehabilitation of pro hockey.
Three things need to be changed about the sport.
The first and most obvious is to get the games in front of more TV viewers. Do you get Versus? Do you know anyone who gets Versus?
Either the NHL has to work with Versus to get wider carriage for the network, or move to another network. If ESPN won't pick up hockey, maybe USA or F/X will.
Let's move on to overtime.
The shootout sucks.
What's wrong with ties?
If you're worried about teams not trying to win, look at how football has addressed that problem—three points for a win, one for a tie.
I say a regular season game tied after regulation should go to a five-minute overtime, then go in the books as a tie.
For playoff games, I'd make the first OT 4-on-4, the second 3-on-3, and the fourth 1-on-1 with goalies. If a game goes to five overtimes, it's each team's best player fighting for it all.
The third problem is flagging interest. Some would suggest contraction, but I'd view that as a last resort.
What I'd do is a little bit more radical.
I'd start by taking two underperforming teams in non-traditional cities, (for the purpose of this argument, I'll pick on the Nashville Predators and the Atlanta Thrashers) and move them to Canada. Meet your new Winnipeg Jets and Saskatoon Frost.
That'd bring the total of Canadian-based clubs to eight. I'd take those teams, plus the four U.S. Original Six Franchises—the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, and Chicago Blackhawks, and put them in the Canadian/Classic Conference.
The remaining 18 teams would go in the American Conference.
In the years when the Stanley Cup Final wasn't USA vs. Canada, it'd be old school versus new school. Built-in rivalry, there.
Here's what I have for divisional breakdowns in the Canadian/Classic Conference:
And in the American Conference:
I've worked out an 84-game schedule that would guarantee that every team would play every other team.
For the playoffs, I'd qualify 10 teams in the American Conference and six in the Canadian/Classic Conference. The first two rounds would be best-of-three, in a 1-2 format; the last two rounds would be best-of-seven.
There it is folks, your new, much improved NHL. These reforms are all the league needs to keep from being overtaken by lacrosse.
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