My best friend once bought me a T-shirt that read, "It's not Rocket Science, even though I AM a Rocket Scientist." It was funny and partially true (building and flying high-power rockets was a hobby of mine), but a little too obnoxious for me to wear in public.
Still, it's one of my favorite sayings.
But here's a question: If I'm a rocket scientist, why is it that people with years more experience and a much higher income than mine can't seem to figure out how to fix what ails the National Hockey League?
After all, the NHL is a sports league, not rocket science. As in any sports league, athletes perform to high standards and get paid lots of money. And as in any sports league, fans cheer them on, having either paid a nice chunk of change for a gate pass or a nice chunk of change for the Season Ticket on cable or satellite TV...
Okay, so maybe NHL fans are alone on that one.
Television is just one of many issues facing what was at one point the number-three sport in the country. Let's simplify the problems (again, this isn't exactly rocket science), and give those geniuses in NHL flight control a few hints on how to fix them.
Problem Number One: Gary Bettman has outlived his usefulness.
Solution: Replace him with me.
I'd draw a smaller salary, move the NHL office to Dallas, where real estate is cheaper and which is more centrally located for the "National" Hockey League, and I'd be honest about my intentions. The truth? I'm looking out for the best interests of the hockey fan, i.e. me. So in doing what most people do best, taking care of Number One, I'd actually be serving the NHL faithful. Everybody wins, especially the league.
Problem Number Two: The NHL on NBC and Versus is a joke.
Solution: Ditch both, and buy some cheese to woo The Mouse.
After all, Mickey and his pals at Disney have got to become hockey fans if we're going to get the NHL back where it belongs... on ESPN. Just picture it: John Buccigross and Barry Melrose in the NHL2Nite Studio with that oh-so-sweet theme music...Gary Thorne and Bill Clement co-hosting the National Hockey Night Game of the Week...Darren "Panger" Pang down at ice-level talking to the players and coaches. THAT would instantly bring hockey back into the realm of respectability. Versus can keep the rodeo and take over some Poker Night at Ted's coverage, maybe they can add some Professional Backgammon while they're at it.
Problem Number Three: The league is too big.
Solution: Wayne Gretzky sells his interest in the would-be-defunct Phoenix Coyotes (hey, there's still the Suns to get you through the winter) and becomes head of NHL Hockey Operations. The Atlanta Thrashers go bye-bye, and the Florida Panthers (and the Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators) are put on notice.
Shrinking the league by just two teams would be a step in the right direction, but cutting four would be better. Keep in mind that the NHL has access to the widest talent pool in all of professional sports (if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, you're eligible), so it's less an issue of play than of revenue sharing and of the weaker clubs living off the stronger ones. The bottom line: If your team can't stand on its own two feet, it can't be playing hockey.
Problem Number Four: The three-year schedule rotation sucks.
Solution: After shedding two franchises, the league is reduced to two conferences of fourteen teams. They'll be realigned into two divisions apiece... the Lemieux, Howe, Gretzky, and Messier...
Yeah, I like the sound of that. Each division would have seven teams, and the schedule would be based on one principle: Each team plays one time in every other team's barn over the course of the season. Period, paragraph, end of story. With 28 teams, that makes for 54 games. Each team also plays every other team in its conference two more times during the regular season, once in each hometown. That's 26 more games, which when you add six and four and carry the one...Hey! That gives us a total of 80 games, only two off from where the schedule stands now. I knew elementary math would come in handy someday.
Problem Number Five: Awarding three points for a winner after 60 minutes is stupid.
Solution: Let the fans decide.
Here's the deal: Either we (a) stop after 60 minutes, award two points, and call it a day...or (b) have the five-minute overtime, followed by a shootout if necessary, and then award two points, yada yada yada...or (c) go back to the days of playing 'til someone scores a goal or everybody drops. Two issues come to mind here. First, if it's better to skate four-on-four in overtime, then why not play the whole bloody game four-on-four? Second, why should playoff games have different rules than regular season games? (In the playoffs there are no shootouts and no four-on-four; it's 15-minute periods until someone scores.)
And yes, there are a number of other items that need to be addressed in the NHL, but these are the five at the top of my agenda. Though the league's substance-abuse rules are probably the most solid of the Big Four plus NASCAR (well, there I go again!), there's still the union issue looming in the shadows. The collective bargaining agreement that ended the lockout is a short-term fix at best...but that's what you get when you're dealing with unions and "greedy" owners.
And it's not all bad, either. I'd keep a few things the NHL is doing right, though perhaps with some modifications. I like the elimination of the two-line pass rule. Less obstruction is also good. The real solution to the lack of North American skating ability is to make all the rinks Olympic-size by widening them five feet. This would eliminate defensive "trap" systems and force skaters to skate. (Sorry, Derian Hatcher, you're back to big dumb Wookie status at that point.) Goalies should be able to handle the puck anywhere, but outside the box they're just like everyone else and susceptible to getting clobbered, just like everyone else. In the words of Mr. Miyagi: "Move faster, get hit less."
As for me, I'll be waiting on that magic phone call to let me know I've been promoted from Rocket Scientist to NHL Commissioner. But then again maybe there's another way, because if I've figured out how to fix the NHL, then surely the brainiacs who run the thing can do the same...
Somebody please 'splain that to me.