Why The New NHL Is Worse Than Ever

Joel LefevreAnalyst IDecember 19, 2016

We are now in the fourth season of the "New NHL," but is the game better now than it used to be?  I know the majority might say it's great because there are more goals, a level playing field in (in terms of a salary cap) and exciting end-to-end play, but in the grand scheme of things is this "New NHL" really that much better than the old one?

Yes there are more goals and there is more skill and finesse than before, but I don't know if that makes it better.  In my humble opinion, the “New NHL” has made the game of hockey far less interesting and fun to watch with all its rule changes.  Don't get me wrong, I still watch the games and will always love hockey, but why did Gary Bettman and the league have to change things so drastically?

First, let's start with the salary cap.  Yes, it's wonderful that every team has the same budget now, which means the previously small-market teams can now sign big-league players and thus compete with the dominant teams in the league.  It seems to me that there were lots of lowly small-market teams that made long playoff runs before the lockout however.  The Flames did it in ‘04, the Ducks made it almost all the way in '03, and the Hurricanes surprised everybody in '02. I know there have been different teams making the finals every year since the rule changes, but was it really because the salary cap created a level playing field?

It seems to me the Hurricanes and Oilers both won a cup or made the finals before the lockout.  The Ducks managed to do it as well. Though the Senators never did it, they were among the elite teams in the league before the lockout. The Penguins and Red Wings did it as well.

I know it's great that players have lower salaries now, but are the teams that have been successful in the post lockout been successful because of the cap? Could it be that they have a good management team, and a staff that knows how to pick players?  Call me crazy, but maybe some of the small-market teams in the old NHL just weren't intelligent in their recruiting, drafting, trading or singing of free agents.

Then we have the rule changes.  Yes, it's a faster game now with end-to-end action and everybody's favorite: the shootout. It seems to me that in order for Bettman to change the game and make the fans come back after the lockout, he made a bold move and decided to put the fate of the game in the hands of the fans. Before the rule changes, it was widely criticized that late in a game or in overtime (particularly in the playoffs) referees had a tendency to put away the whistle, but was that such a bad thing?  Why did everybody have such a problem with letting the players decide the game?  Isn't that what the players want?  Isn't that one of the reasons why they play the game?

Since the "New NHL" changes, it doesn't matter what time in the game or how cheesy it is, the refs are instructed to call penalties early and often.  Has that really helped get rid of the dirty antics that have no place in the game?  It seems to me that things are worse than ever.  Yes there is more power play time for both teams, but all the penalty calls have not stopped the cheap shots, or the rough play.

It seems to me referees are deciding more games than ever before.  All goals seem to come on the power play because of cheesy calls that are really harmless when you think about it.  Why does Bettman have to make the game more exciting with goals?  What is so wrong with a low scoring game?  Wouldn't you watch the game more if there were no goals, wondering when something might happen?  That's what was great about the old NHL. The way the game was played was unpredictable and fascinating because you never knew what was going to happen.  

Every time you breathe on your opponents now you are bound to get a hooking call, but if you go after another player and deliver a blatant headshot it's ok.  I also see high sticking calls missed far more regularly than usual, which makes me wonder how much the safety of the game has really improved. The refs don't notice a high stick, which could take a guy eye out, but boy can they catch those harmless neutral zone hooks.

Has the game really eliminated the cheap play?  I still see a ton of stick work and I still see scrums all the time and a lot of bad blood, but to even the score or make the game exciting the refs will be biased and pull one player out of a scrum which makes absolutely no sense.  

Calling one penalty or giving one team an undeserved advantage will only make the game that much more heated. Refs who do this will find that they will quickly lose control of the game. Since the refs now do things like this, the players who hold the power are the agitators. The ones who never shut their mouths and play in the cheap style no one can stand.  Matt Cooke and Sean Avery are classic examples.  If not for the new rules these guys would not be playing in the NHL.  By having such a rule as the one allowing instigators, it gives them a free ride to basically agitate however without being penalized

Another thing is all the roughing calls in front of the goal on defense. Basically they are giving free reigns to big guys in front of the net to bump the goalie, and do almost anything they want while the defense man can't do anything.  The man in front can almost  always get away with either bumping the goalie or throwing a defense man into  goalie now.  Ask any goalie in the league what they think of Byfuglien, Franzen, or Holmstrom who are just a few guys who get away with that stuff on a daily basis.  I thought we were supposed to protect the goalies, not decimate them.

My favorite rule change (although it was implemented before the lockout) is the single points in overtime or a shootout.  Yes the shootout is so much fun, and eliminating ties makes guys hungrier than ever to win, but are teams really going for the win once they have the single point secured, or are they hanging on and taking their chances in the shootout?

Heck, why wouldn't you take your chances in a shootout.  It's a 50-50 shot at winning the game. It seems to me more and more teams are playing for the shootout rather than winning the game.  Giving a point for an overtime or shootout loss is one of the worst rules the NHL has in my opinion.

Maybe they should give a point for a shootout loss, but why a point for an overtime loss?  That is one I can't put my finger on. Rewarding a team for making a mistake on the ice by giving them a point. I'll bet the ‘05-‘06 Edmonton Oilers weren't too upset with that rule as they got 13 points off of OT and shootout losses that season.  Nine of those were OT losses, which means if it weren't for that rule they would have finished in 10th place, would not have even been in the playoff, and would not have made their improbable run to the cup finals.  

If you’re going to give a team a point for an overtime loss what's to say you can't do that in the playoffs too? What's the difference between a regular season OT loss and one in the playoffs?  If you can get a point for losing in overtime in the regular season, than maybe if you lose an OT game in the playoffs the winning team should get a one-game win, and the losing team should get a half-game win.  This makes sense since it's no different than a normal OT loss in the regular season.

The ‘New NHL’ reminds me of the NBA. I’m not trying to disrespect the NBA or anything, but I stopped following basketball for the same reason that I don't like the new NHL; more scoring. What's wrong with a good old fashioned low-scoring battle where teams are giving their all to win?

As long as Gary Bettman is still around, and he will be for a while, the game will only get worse.  It's bad enough that he clearly does not want another franchise in Canada, but he is destroying what was once a fascinating game to watch.  Whatever the reason, hockey should be ashamed of what the “New NHL” has become. Then again I might be alone on this, so who knows?