Hockey is the greatest sport in the world, but there is no doubt the NFL is run much better. In this article, I will showcase what is great and what is not about the NHL.
You will note that all the good things are about the game, and all the bad things are about the league.
Top five reasons to watch:
- It really is the fastest game on earth. Players fly down the ice at speeds unprecedented in any other team sport that involves actual scoring, with players skating at speeds faster than anything but sprinters. A good game will feature many times going up and down the ice, taxing players' endurance. No other sport has this, and it is non-stop; in football, there are 10-second plays followed by 25 seconds of huddling and lining up.
- It involves artistry and skill, but it is still physical. There is no other sport that features as much of a balance of these things. Even at full speed, players are capable of performing incredible feats of skill like reaching behind them and dragging the puck forward, no-look passes between their legs, and 360-degree spins on ice at full speed with enough strength to fight off a hit.
- Scoring is difficult, but chances are plentiful. There may not be many goals scored (usually just over five per game between the two teams), but there are usually about three dozen moments in a game where there is the anticipation of a score.
- The unpredictability of the playing surface and components. Because one is on a slippery surface that gets scarred over the course of the game trying to hit a tiny puck with a stick, strange things happen. This is why I always loved seeing Patrick Roy and Eddie Belfour duel in the Western Conference: a funny bounce early in the game could determine the winner, and you always have to be on your toes. In what other sport could a team of players who mostly did not ever make it to the NHL (Team USA in 1980) beat a team that dominated that league's All Stars (the Soviet Union)?
- You have a recourse when officials are not doing their job. As a child, I hated how the NBA favoured stars, leaving my small-market team at a disadvantage in the playoffs. Moses Malone would get away with a cheapshot against Bob Lanier, and we just had to suck it up. In the NHL, when someone tries that against my Sharks, Jody Shelley skates out and tosses the gloves, either against that player or his teammate. I would rather referees actually did their job because I know fighting drives some fans away (it is mostly hard-core fans who like it, and they won't leave if it stops...they watch the Olympics that do not allow fighting), but at least you don't just have to take it.
The five dumbest things about the league:
- Not having it on a good network. I hate even more that no one on television gets to question this, and not just on Versus, but on NHL Network and NBC. How are you going to attract fans when some cable providers don't have the network and many fans did not know where the network was when they did have it? Gary Bettman's single dumbest decision, and that is saying a lot, was taking a little more money from Versus for a partnership rather than putting it on ESPN, which was visible and marketed well.
- The schedule. How is it that with less than a third of the season left, you have some teams that have played just 56 games and other that have played 60? In no other sport is there a discrepancy of over five percent in the number of games played so late in the season. In fact, in baseball, which plays about twice as many games, there is seldom a gap of three games between teams, despite the risk of rain-outs. In basketball, which has the same number of games played, rarely has any team played more than two fewer games than another. This puts an undue burden on some teams down the stretch.
- Standings. How is a team in first place because they are one point ahead of another when they have played three more games? Baseball would recognize that team as one game back, not a point ahead. And how can you have some games worth three points and others worth two? Either do like international play (3 points for a regulation win, 2 for an overtime win, 1 for an overtime loss, 0 for a regulation loss) or just award two points, but allow the winner to get that all-important tie-break because they are credited with a win. Say the Rangers and Flyers go into the last game tied and end regulation tied and with 46 wins: the winner of the shootout gets just one point, but gets that all-important 47th win to break the tie....probably should use the international system.
- Disciplining players. This is the most irregular system of all, as stars will get half the games of suspension as fringe players for the exact same crime. For instance, all star Chris Pronger came into last season with seven league suspensions and stomped on a player with his skate; Chris Simon had the same number of suspensions and did the same thing. Pronger got nine games, Simon got 30. If the league did this more consistently and more sternly, there would be less fighting.
- Carrying failing franchises. The league needs contraction. It would not only help make the game better by making each roster more full of skilled players and getting rid of hacks like Simon, it would make the league more financially viable. In this decade alone, two teams declared bankruptcy (Ottawa, Buffalo) but were kept alive, two are currently running huge deficits (Phoenix, Atlanta), and two more were practically barred from moving (Nashville, Pittsburgh).
A side benefit to going down to 24 teams is the Western Conference could at least span only three time zones instead of four to the East's one, making travel a little more even and leveling the playing field a bit. Also, Detroit's rivalry with Toronto, right across the St. Lawrence Seaway, could be reborn.