Stop Calling It the New NHL and Call It the Best Game On Earth

Mat TompsonContributor IMay 5, 2009

WASHINGTON - MAY 04:  Simeon Varlamov #40 and Mike Green #52 of the Washington Capitals watches Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins first goal of the game during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 4, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington,  DC.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Since the NHL lockout of 2004-2005 we have seen many changes in the world’s fastest game. We saw the subtractions of the red line, the goalie equipment size change, the amount of clutching and grabbing change, and we’ve seen restrictions on goaltenders playing the puck.

We have seen the addition of the shootout and increase in goals, but most importantly we have seen the increase of young stars and an overall solid balance in all the teams.

The rule changes resulted in faster play and nicer goals. Whatever Garry Bettman and the competition comity planned on doing, it has worked and has made the NHL the most watchable sport in North America.

The names Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby can mean different things to different people. But when you put those names together you have something magical you don’t have in any other sport. Two players, so closely matched, so close in age, with teams in similar situations, from two different countries, and two different styles.

Add in the fact that every time they play they have continued to one up each other, leading them to reach phenomenal levels.

Last night Crosby and Ovechkin both had hat tricks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinal. The two players have had no love lost between them, which plays well for the game. The post lockout NHL has allowed fans to see different young players break into the league and rise to the top faster than ever before. Part of this is because of the new rules that have increased offense and made it easier for young guys to play through the neutral zone.

We have seen an amazing pace of games, highlight goals, highlight saves, highlight hits and highlight moments since 2005, which has made hockey the most interesting game to watch.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had a Cinderella season last year by making it to the World Series virtually out of nowhere. This was viewed as phenomenal in baseball. The NHL sees these stories on a yearly basis; whether it is Carolina, Anaheim, or Tampa, the NHL has seen unbelievable runs and Cinderella stories in past years thanks to the parody of the game.

From first place to last place, the NHL is evenly stacked, like no other sport. It rarely sees teams go 70-12 like in the NBA, it never sees a team with six times the payroll of another team like in the MLB, and it rarely sees boring championship games like in the NFL.

At the beginning of the year all 30 teams have a shot to make the playoffs and the teams who connect well with their coaching staffs and play as a team game have a better chance than anyone. Hockey has the hardest working teams instead of the highest paid teams.

Since there are 18 players who play such a pivotal role it has more dynamics then basketball and it is the only sport other then soccer to have a goalie. In 2005 the NHL introduced a hard salary cap, which basically means all teams have the same advantage. Whether you live in New York or Phoenix, you will enjoy the same rights and benefits.

The NHL is the fastest game on earth.

Pucks fly faster than pitches, players skate faster than Olympic runners, hits come faster than tackles and there’s no out of bounds in hockey. There are many different aspects to hockey that separate it from most sports, but the most important might be the toughness.

Hockey players stand in front of 100 mph slap shots, hoping it hits them instead of their goalie and possibly the net. Players will routinely lose teeth or need stitches, while missing as little of the game as possible and there is always the possibility of a fight.

There is no hiding behind a referee or having a coach three times smaller than you hold you back. Players need to be accountable for their actions and the fans love it. Fans love seeing someone on the other team pay their dues after a dirty hit, and in an era where the UFC is extremely popular, fighting in hockey makes sense more than ever.

Hockey isn’t just about the NHL. It is growing into the second largest game in the Western World. Right now we have the Stanley Cup playoffs in North America, but there is also the World Hockey Championship playing right now in Europe. These games are extremely competitive and involve some very passionate nations such as Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Canada, America, Finland, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Belerus, Latvia, and over ten others.

These games are watched all over Europe and have been for over 40 years. Then there are the Olympics. When NHL players take a 14 day break to travel to which ever Nation is hosting it and battle at the highest level of hockey.

Every country puts out its 18 best players and every four years one Nation is crowned as the best. America has grown into an annual favourite along with Canada and Russia, and these games are arguably the most important part of the Winter Olympics.

I personally love all sports.

I’m not a big NFL fan, but I like basketball, hockey, and baseball, they are my top three sports. I start to notice differences between the games and it made me wonder which game was the best.

I understand soccer is the most popular game on earth, but isn’t hockey just soccer on ice?

Hockey is basically soccer with more shots, more goals, more saves, fights, and a general faster pace. It depends on where you are born but I live in a city with a MLB team, and NBA franchise, an NHL team, and a MLS team.

The Buffalo bills are gradually moving towards my city as well. Hockey is the most popular sport here, because Canadians invented it, but we also invented basketball, and the British invented baseball.

Hockey hasn’t had the problems we have seen in baseball with steroids, basketball with all their problems, or the hand gun situation in the NFL. Hockey is the most watchable sport in North America right now because let’s face it; it’s the best game in the world.