Analyze This: How To Improve the NHL

Mark RitterSenior Writer IDecember 10, 2009

CHICAGO - MAY 22:  A detail of an NHL logo on the uniform of a member of the Chicago Blackhawks against the Detroit Red Wings during Game Three of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 22, 2009 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Over the years, many fans have chimed in with their thoughts on how to improve the National Hockey League. Needless to say, the NHL is not perfect, but with a little tweak here and there I think the League, and the game could be better.

Clearly, I am not NHL commissioner Gary Bettman so I suspect many of my thoughts on how to improve the NHL will likely fall on deaf ears. That said, much like any fan, I feel the game can be improved so I felt compelled to throw out a few ideas.

First, I would instigate a no-touch icing rule. Far too many NHL players are sustaining injury as a result of racing into the boards for the puck. Fact is, the players of today are too big, too fast, and when you consider that many NHL players livelihoods are on the line every shift, it is too much to ask the players to hold up on an icing play.

For the most part, there are very few occasions in a game that a race for the puck to get an icing call actually has an impact on the end result. We have reached a point where the risk of getting injured is far outweighing the reward of getting that coveted icing call. Numerous players have been brought off the ice on a stretcher because they ended up on the wrong end of a bad hit on an icing call, and it is my opinion that one day soon a player may very well be paralyzed as a result of a insignificant race for the puck. Simply put, it’s not worth it.

I grew up watching hockey in the 1980’s. When I look back at my O-Pee-Chee card collection one thing stands out, the equipment was much smaller then. Look at the size of the shoulder pads today, NHL players look more like football players, and from my point of view, the extra bulk is not necessary and, in fact, is dangerous.

Many of the so-called “head shots” everyone is so concerned about are not a result of an errant elbow, they are a direct result of a player's bloated shoulder pads getting caught underneath an unsuspecting player's chin leading to head trauma and more than a few missing teeth.

Due to the security that the over-sized shoulder pads offer a player, many NHL players play with recklessness—void of fear and unafraid of the consequences to themselves or their opponents. There is no accountability.

The fact is, hockey players were just fine when they were equipped with what I will call “reasonably” sized shoulder pads. There is no reason for today’s players to use the massive shoulder pads, and there is no reason for the shoulder pads to be as hard as they are.

Simply put, by definition, these are supposed to be “shoulder pads”, not highly sophisticated manufactured plastics. Bring back the pads...

Sticking with the equipment theme, another area of concern is (and you knew this was coming), the size of the goaltenders equipment. I shudder every time I look out onto the ice and see “the Michelin Man” in the net. Simply put, the goaltender's equipment has reached the point of ridiculousness, and until the NHL gets serious about it, they are allowing the goaltenders to cheat their way through their careers.

Seriously, look back at some of the photos over the past three decades, the increases in size to both the pads and the gloves are a joke! Despite the NHL’s recent implementation of a more standardized equipment size for goalies, there seems to be little to no real changes being made. Most goalies stand between 6-0 and 6-4 these days, add to that the mammoth equipment and the shooters have very little chance of scoring, which, in my opinion, hurts the game.

Visors. Every NHL player should be required to wear a visor, end of story. Look around at today’s NHL and what you will observe is that almost every superstar wears a visor; if Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Jarome Iginla can wear a visor and get the results they do than every NHL player can and should be wearing one.

I do not buy the argument that the visors are dangerous.  I also don’t buy the argument that visors restrict a player's vision, and with all the recent improvements, we no longer see the visor fogging up as they once did. Therefore, visors should be mandatory.

This brings us to helmets. Recently, NHL legend Mark Messier got behind the Cascade M11 Helmet, which is designed to absorb impact, protect the head, and most importantly, significantly reduce the risk of a player getting a concussion. Far too many NHL players have had their careers cut short by concussions, and while not the only reason, poor helmet choice is a factor for many players.

Again, if a piece of equipment can protect you from a career-ending injury such as a concussion, then why not make it mandatory. Here is a quirky stat I came across the other day: The first testicular guard, or "cup" was used in hockey in 1874. The first helmet was used in 1974. It took 100 years for NHL players to realize that the brain was also important!

If left to figure it out for themselves, it may very well be another 100 years before NHL players start wearing the “right” equipment. Again, if the NHL made it mandatory, they could speed things up significantly and save a few careers in the process.

Mouthguards. Many NHL players are already using mouthguards. They offer a considerable amount of protection against concussions, and when combined with the proper helmet, they can significantly reduce the likelihood of a player ever getting a concussion. Once again, mouthguards should be mandatory.

Let the goalies play the darn puck! When I look back at when former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall became the first goaltender to score a (uninterrupted) goal, I thought his ability to handle the puck would revolutionize the NHL game.

For a while, it did as many NHL goaltenders adapted to playing the puck and, in some cases such as the New Jersey Devils Martin Brodeur, playing the puck gave his team such an advantage that opposing teams had to devise a way to deal with the dangers that Brodeur’s puck-handling ability posed.

Eventually the NHL stepped in and instigated rule changes that essentially took away any advantage the goaltenders had from playing the puck, most notably those annoying red lines at the side of the nets behind the goal-line. It was asinine for the NHL to adopt a rule change based on the abilities of a few NHL goaltenders.

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Let’s face it, there are very few goalies that were ever a threat with the puck and for that reason, the NHL should have left things as they were. Get rid of the lines!

Clearly, not everyone will agree with my recommendations, as former Toronto Raptors TV announcer Chuck Swirsky used to say, “That’s why they have chocolate and vanilla, baby!” Let your thoughts be known in the comment box. What changes would you make?

In case you didn’t know, Gabe Morency (formally of The Score ) recently launched his new Web site. Louis Pisano, my B/R counterpart, and I will be throwing down our podcast “Get The Puck Out ” starting this Saturday, Dec. 12, from 6p.m. to 7p.m.

The live podcast will be broadcast in studio from Toronto featuring some betting analysis, fantasy advice, trivia, team analysis, player updates, and more puck talk than you can imagine.

Be sure to call in and let your opinion be known. You can catch Morency (Monday through Friday from 4p.m.-6p.m. EST) and “Get The Puck Out” (Saturdays from 6p.m.-7p.m.) at www.morencysports.com.

To phone in, call 1-866-964-5710 . SPORTS RAGE—it’s the “Evolution of the Ragulation".....Don’t miss it, puckheads!

Until next time,


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