As a fan of the San Jose Sharks and good hockey in all forms, I was devastated by the total loss of the 2004-2005 NHL season to managerial greed in the form of the NHL lockout. While the owners and executives managed to sway the collective bargaining agreement more in their favor than it has ever been, one must ask at what cost.
The NHL was far from an elite power on the American professional sports radar before the lockout. After the lockout, things got even worse. As with Major League Baseball in 1994, the total loss of a season left many fans feeling alienated and angry, and when you consider that there were relatively few NHL fans to begin with, that meant big problems for the league.
Owners worked with the league to develop a set of rule changes to “enhance” the appeal of the game and try to cater to a wider array of American sports enthusiasts. These changes artificially encouraged higher scoring, poorer fundamentals, and elevated individual flashy play over solid team-oriented game skills. In my opinion they greatly diminished the merit of what once was a terrific spectacle.
Did it work? That is not perfectly clear. Attendance and television ratings have rebounded substantially, but that may be due more to the emergence of league-wide superstars like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jonathan Toews, along with more aggressive and “mainstream” advertising and marketing.
What is clear is that the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games did much more for the popularity of the NHL than these gimmicky post-lockout rule changes ever hoped to. After the United States came within a sudden-death overtime goal of wresting the gold medal from the burly hands of the vaunted Canadians, the popularity of hockey and the NHL skyrocketed.
Given that, can we finally move forward and restore the game to its pre-lockout state? Here are five rule changes I would reverse before the start of the 2010-2011 campaign.