Fixing the NHL: If I Were Commissioner for a Day...

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIMarch 30, 2008

In my examination of icing rules changes last week, I was ignorant of the fact that my proposal--let the referees blow the whistle only if a touch-up poses a significant threat of injury--is already in effect in junior hockey.  Thus, there is a precedent and guide for how to manage it, and no reason not to implement it in the regular season at the very least.

Here are nine other changes I would make, in order of importance:

  1. GET TELEVISION COVERAGE SOMEWHERE IT WILL BE SEEN!  This is my biggest beef with Bettman: coming off a lock-out that nearly killed the game, he accepts a slightly higher pay-out that takes the game off a network where it will be seen.  Moreover, ESPN had been a great partner in promoting the game--something predictably gone now.  (They have been promoting Arena League Football, however--far more a fringe sport than hockey.)  Bettman also has given NBC favouritism over the CBC, who actually pays the league to cover the NHL.
  2. Standardized enforcement of both rules and league punishment.  Different referees call games differently, and there needs to be more consistency, especially as more young players get ice time.  There is also an obvious bias in the number of games suspension assessed to stars vs. role-players, and in punishment for hits on Canadian teams.  For instance, Pronger had as many previous suspensions as Chris Simon and commited the same offense but got 30% as much time.  In addition, even though Canadian teams account for 20% of the league those who commit their offenses against those teams account for about half the suspensions. 
  3. Scheduling: at one point after the trade deadline (i.e. late in the season), Dallas had FIVE more games played than San Jose.  In what other sport does this happen?  This upsets the balance, as San Jose would naturally be more worn down come playoff time; a good team can overcome that, but shouldn't have to.
  4. Standings: similarly, Dallas had a couple more points than San Jose over five more games at one point--in what universe does that put them ahead but the NHL's?  They would have been listed as a couple games behind the Sharks in any sensible set-up.  Right now Edmonton is often listed ahead of Vancouver and Nashville because they win the tiebreak on wins even though they have played two more games.  While it is just an annoyance to me, it can be a reflection to the casual fan of the senselessness of the league.  Base standings on winning percentage!
  5. Seedings: there is no way the Carolina Hurricanes, with the 15th best record in the league, should get home ice if they meet the Anaheim Ducks, who have the league's fifth best record.  Forget for a moment their much easier schedule because of the incredibly weak division they play in adn it still absurd.  Let the division winners all get in, but seed them based on record.
  6. Freezing the puck: referees blow the whistle too soon near the net, assuming the goalie is controlling the puck the second they lose sight of it.  The league claims scoring is important to expand the game's base, but many scoring opportunies are ended prematurely this way.  Meanwhile, it is blown too reluctantly along the boards, where it slows down the game and gives a decided advantage to whoever is winning.
  7. Realignment: Bettman blew a great chance to get more of the balance of the league out West when the Predators, whose fans have failed to support a winning team, wanted to sell to out-of-towners.  I would take every opportunity to move teams from the Eastern Time Zone west into great hockey fan bases in Kansas City, Seattle, Milwaukee, and Winnepeg.  Right now, the Western Conference teams have to do far more travel than the East--most notably Dallas travels two time zones 14-16 times a year, depending on when their games with Phoenix--which does not recognize daylight savings and is therefore effectively on Pacific time for October and the last month of the season.  That wears them down more than their Eastern brethren who never travel outside of their time zone.  In the meantime, I would have the West play a two-three-two play-off format to minimize their travel in the playoffs.
  8. Eliminate three point games.  I like that being tied after regulation assures a point in the standings, and while I would rather have those games just stay ties, that is bad for the development of a fan-base.  But the shootout isn't legitmate hockey, it's a skills competition; even four-on-four is significantly different from five-on-five.  So go right to the shootout after a tie and reward the winner with a victory but only one point in the standings.  Since wins are the first tie-break, it is still significant, but maintains the authenticity of records and real hockey accomplishments.
  9. A later trade deadline--I would like to see a few more teams be able to know they are out and become sellers, so I would move this from the last Tuesday in February to the first one in March.  You'd be surprised how much of a difference the one week would make.