Post-Lockout Rule Changes: Scoring Won't Save the NHL
Since the lockout, the NHL has changed many rules—all in the interest of more scoring.
The "ideal" game score has changed from 3-2 or 4-3 to 6-5 or 6-4. But is that good for the league?
It would appear not.
When former basketball lawyer turned NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman pushed for these new rules, he was probably craving something like the Calgary Flames' recent 9-6 win over Tampa Bay.
Did the Flames' nine goals improve their fanbase?
If anything, they hurt it. Nine tallies are way too many.
Most hockey fans love watching great goaltending. Martin Brodeur, for example, is the major reason hockey still exists in New Jersey.
Devils fans don't go to see Patrick Elias score six goals a game—they go to watch Marty pitch a shutout.
That said, Capitals fans do go to see Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, Penguins fans to see Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Wings fans to see Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
Fans want to see these guys score, and they should. It's exciting.
So what does the league need to do?
Find a happy medium.
Brodeur and Crosby both sell tickets, but the league doesn't tailor its rules to help players like Brodeur look better.
Believe it or not, before all these rule changes were made, superstars found ways of getting the puck in the net. Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, and Sergei Fedorov all thrived on the offensive end in the old days.
The rules recently implemented by the league had the intent of lowering obstructions and uncontrolled dump-outs. All they've really done is produce more power-plays and, sadly, blowouts.
Dumping the puck over the wall used to be the way to end a defensive crisis. Icing the puck used to be the way to get a line change.
Games are now won by the team with the better power-play unit, and on who takes fewer stupid penalties. Unfortunately, you're more likely to see a 5-1 blowout as a result—one team will come out harder, the other will take some dumb penalties, and the first team runs away with it.
Back in the 80s, scoring was high, and no team was better than Edmonton, led by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and Jari Kurri.
The Oilers weren't a one-trick pony, however—with a goalie named Grant Fuhr, they would hold teams to 288 goals in the 1987-88 season.
The 2006-07 NHL season saw the Ducks win Lord Stanley's cup while allowing 208 goals all season.
Yes, by comparison, scoring is down. But when hockey was taking over in many major markets in the 90s—when Detroit, Boston, and even to an extent New York were becoming hockey towns—the Red Wings Cup-winning team allowed only 197 goals.
Fans were pouring into stadiums from Washington to Los Angeles—and a goal-scoring drought wasn't keeping them away.
The NHL' forcing referees to make difficult calls—such as the "kick vs. repositioning" rule on goals—is a mistake. Rules need to be clearly defined. One ref may see something one way, and another see it a different way. All referees should see the same play, and call it the same way.
Back when the crease rule was in effect (i.e. if any offensive player were in the crease when a goal was scored, it had to be disallowed), there were no questions, no controversies.
Has getting rid of that really been a good thing? Fans and players want certainty, not questions.
While scoring may be on the rise, goonery seems to be climbing too. This is partially due to the instigator rule.
If a player were allowed to start a fight with a guy without being assessed an extra two-minute penalty and possibly a fine and suspension, you wouldn't see players like Chris Simon chopping Ryan Hollweg across the chin.
If Simon knows that after he does that, three Rangers are going to start punching at his face, he isn't going to do it.
Goonery was more uncommon when players were allowed to police themselves. The sport was more popular when fans got to see not just a high speed game, but one that had grit, hard hitting, hard work, and maybe some occassional fisticuffs.
Look back at the middle-to-late 90s. Maybe we don't need scoring. Maybe the game needs a little more punch to it.
Hockey's roots are in it physicality. It's a shame that the current model is more about finesse.
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