NHL: Five Things the league Could Do to Raise Interest
1) Tweak the matchup schedule. OK, we get it, the divisional matchups are important. But enough is enough. We don't want to watch our boys play the same team eight times in one year.
It may be developing a sense of rivalry amongst the players—I don't really know. What I do know is that it develops a sense of ho-hum amongst the fans. Oh, look, Atlanta is playing Carolina again. I wonder what else is on?
The NHL has taken a step in this direction already, but it needs to go further. I'd like to see every team play every other team at least once a year. This would ensure every fan base gets the chance to watch Crosby at least once, Ovechkin at least once, Lidstrom at least once, and the increased exposure of the stars can only be a good thing. This leads us to our second point...
2) Shorten the season. I know this is heresy to the hardcore hockey fans, but the season is simply too long.
The Cup is hoisted in early June, and most teams have opened training camp by September. That's three months off, tops. Not enough time.
What I'd like to see is camp open in October, start games in early November, and see if hockey can't step up and fill the post-Super Bowl black hole in the sports calender.
Run a home-and-home series with every team for a 62 game season, and then start the playoffs. I like the idea of the long playoffs—being a test of stamina and grit as much as ability—but by the time we reach the playoffs now, the teams are worn out and the casual fan is sick of hockey.
3) Play the outdoor game every year. I know that people say the novelty would wear off if it were played every year. That's like saying the novelty would wear off the Super Bowl if they have it every year.
Hockey needs one really big game to draw attention to itself. The NFL gets the Super Bowl, MLB and NBA have their All-Star games, soccer has the Champions League final, etc.
Since the All-Star game seems to be on its last legs (which is a whole other article in itself) and it's hard to pick one game of the Stanley Cup to highlight (excepting game sevens, which happen only occasionally), the NHL should milk the outdoor game for all the media it's worth.
Get two large-market teams involved, give them a day off beforehand, hold a media blowout. Have Sidney Crosby conduct interviews outside with the snow swirling around, have NBC hype the game up for days beforehand, send Pavel Datsyuk onto PTI, whatever. The outdoor game can only help the NHL.
4) Get some new camera angles. While there's nothing wrong with the traditional side-view cam, it's been played out. It's difficult for the non-hockey fan to follow the puck on it, you can't tell who's who unless they turn sideways, some idiot always stands in front of the camera in the dramatic moments.
This has started to happen a little bit, but I'd love to see more of a bird's-eye style for hockey broadcasts: similar to the SkyCam for the ESPN NFL games on Monday Night Football.
5) Tweak the points system. In a lot of games the late-game drama is negated by two teams playing it conservatively, hoping to take it to overtime and earn their point and then steal a second in the shootout.
Give three points for a regulation win, two points for an OT win, one point for an OT loss, and nothing for a regulation loss. Encourage teams to take chances and go for the kill.
Also, imagine the late-season playoff scenarios such a system would create. In a race as tight as the Eastern Conference was this year, that extra point for the regulation win could be the difference between playing postseason hockey and playing golf. Such dramatics could only help the sport hit the mainstream.
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