Today I read a posting, Idiots Guide to the NHL Lockout, on ESPN.com by Bill Simmons. The story, while it does make some decent points, is overall a sham. He focuses the games rough nature and the fighting as the only saving graces of the NHL. Forget the skill, the power and the grit that makes up each game. He leaves me believing that he doesn’t enjoy a game unless a fight breaks out. Pity! Personally, I like the one-on-one battles in the corner or in front of the net. I love the slick passing plays. I love the grind that it takes to kill that 2-man penalty. Forget the fighting, give me a good clean hit that rattles the entire arena. The game, however, did have its issues … and I think the new CBA and rule changes are a good step in the right direction. But then, unlike Bill, I have been waiting for the game to come back …
I came across this article through Krishen and realized that a comment could not provide the full context of my thoughts. So, after being prompted, I will diverge from my regular posting of little Joe (against my mothers wishes I am sure) … but lets tackle the end of the hockey lockout and the future of the “coolest game on earth”.
Basically, I have been a long supporter of the cap. It limits “big market” teams from snatching up the games stronger players at the expense of the league. And last year just helps prove that having a team of stars does not buy you the Cup. However, if the salaries are no kept in check then players will look for the higher wages … no fault of their own, they have to keep their “value” in check with the league. At the same time, while it is true that most players would likely play for pennies on the dollars that they are making – they should be getting a fair slice of the pie. Thus, you have a cap that is tied directly to the revenues … while 54% of the total league revenues (broken into 30 bite-sized chunks) does seem a bit small – that is what happens when you gamble and loose. What we have to remember is that there are a number of other costs to running a team … so … 54% likely is not really that bad.
Minimum salaries keep rookies from getting underpaid, while a maximum salary (20% of the cap) keeps a single player from gaining too much value in the league.
The subsequent “shuffle” that is occurring as we speak is intended to bring balance to the force. Big market teams are clearing their roster and making room in their cap while smaller market teams are building on the largest free agent pool in the leagues history. So, essentially, stacked teams are being split up and bottom feeders are grabbing up the left-overs … we should be looking at a number of balanced teams when this is all said and done – or at least a balanced playing field. The exceptions will be those players that decided to take a lower wage to stick with an organization (likely coming to the end of their career). Otherwise, winning teams will be based much more off the coaching staff and management teams than ever before – no longer can you just open you wallet and expect a big payoff.
A big part of any competitive sport is the rivalries that develop and draw people to the game. These are the rivalries that sell t-shirts and create bi-laws. The subsequent player shuffle that will occur in most teams are going to break a lot of loyalties that fans have … as they are as much tied to players as they are organizations. To try and help with that the schedule has been ratified to player more against division rivals – though who determine your fate at playoff time. What sucks here is that it is even more unlikely the Vancouver will visit Tampa … but … there are always the finals right 🙂
Now, for the actual changes that will effect the game, as it is played on the ice rather than in a boardroom. There are several adjustments to the rule book in this coming season, and for the most part I am not seeing a problem. The NHL actually does a great job of explaining these. Designed for less stoppage of play and higher scoring, I think they often cause themselves more problems – but that could be the purist in me. Just remember, scoring isn’t everything, it is the action and suspense that drives people to the game. A 13-10 game gets boring around the second period while a 2-1 game is has your attention all the way to the end … you never want to miss a point cause it could determine the game.
So … to the changes, not all, but those big boys:
Shrinking the neutral zone, this one is fuzzy for me. Put in place to “encourage” more offensive play … I don’t know … think it just give more room for the defense to clear the puck. More room does not mean a better game.
Shrinking the space behind the net, question: does this not just take us back again? I thought I remember space being added to “encourage” more Gretzky-esk play-making. In either case, I like this change … it will likely produce more grinding and skillful play-making deep in the zone.
Offside “tag-up” … FINALLY. How annoying was that rule? And how the heck did they ever think that it would produce “fewer stoppages”. Thank you!!
2-line passes allowed … cherry pickers wanted. I am not fond of this update, the breakout pass – while exciting – I believes takes away from the overall game. Sure, it produces a lot of breakaways … but I personally prefer a nifty move to slip behind the D-man than a straight out break. Then again, breakaways were exciting when they did happen … but rare things are always eye catching. Once they are regular occurrences they lose their effect.
Teams caught icing the puck can’t change up. Oh, this one is fun. No longer can a team just ice the puck because they are caught in their zone and running out of steam. While not a bad strategy at times – it could be abused and really slow a game.
Linesmen can wave off icing due to attempted pass. This is good as long as they stick to it. Missing a pass only to result in an icing was annoying to watch – and it will also likely help reduce ‘puck racing injuries’.
Fight instigator gets a game during the last 5-minutes. Fighting, while a part of the game, is due to emotions from the highly intense play. Fights in the last 5 minutes can kill a well played game. They are often retaliatory and have little effect on the current game. This is a good stance … as the game of hockey is not about fighting – go watch boxing for that. It is a side effect … one that has to be kept at a reasonable level. (Love the fines to coach as incentive to keep things under control – not to mention hurting repeat offenders)
Reduction to goalie equipment … I have to say sorry friends, but things are just getting out of control. Have you seen the pads lately – they are huge. Time to bring it down a notch.
Restricted puck handling for goalies, a good puck-handling back-stopper can really help control the game – in some cases almost eliminating the ability to dump-and-chase. So, restricting handling of the puck in the corners helps with that – though, maybe simply opening them up to being hit when outside the crease would have solved that problem. We might be seeing more “delay of game penalties”.
Defensive zone clearing Previously, goalies could not put the puck directly over the glass without getting a delay of game. This rule has now been expanded to everyone. I honestly don’t think this will change much since it is not often seen, though players will hesitate more before putting the puck up on the glass to clear it. Guess, with the new rules on icing, players might look to putting the puck out of play to get a line-change. So this is probably a good thing.
The Shootout… ahh, the purist in me hates these. The player in me doesn’t like them either (I ended a championship game in one … it was the worse way to end the game – even though we got the win). However, I have hated the way they have handled ties … OT with points to both teams. All that did is cause teams to go into a defensive mode as the game winded down in a tie. Why be risky when both teams benefit? This will help put an end to that … teams will play for the win right up to the buzzer since a shootout is anyones game. Just don’t bring the shootout to the playoffs and I will sit back and enjoy.
Suck-it-up laws … keep your opinions to yourself and leave the acting to Hollywood. Hockey is not a game for complainers … keep two hands on the stick, skate hard, and blame only yourself for a loss. Otherwise you will be fined … even if your not caught during the game. And as far as I am concerned … you deserved it! I have hated the diving, the crying, the general unsportsmanlike attitude that has infected the league. The few are ruining it for the man … and hopefully this will help.
Finally … the fans
So, is it enough … will the fans come back? Honestly, I believe that they will. Baseball was hit hard post their lockout … so maybe I will be proven wrong. I know that I will be back though … will likely be looking for seats on opening night if they are cheap enough. In Canada, I don’t think there will be a problem … in fact, most of the Canadian teams probably won’t drop ticket prices due to demand rather than need. Smaller market teams down here in the south will probably be giving out plenty of deals on tickets – though season tickets did not drop a lot. Personally, I just am looking at finding a seat … something I doubt I would be able to do in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Detroit, or New York.
Teams will be testing the waters this first year, fans will be upset at the player swapping, and some teams will have to remind the local community what hockey is. But … never the less … I believe that the game can return with few losses to the group. Sure, there are two teams here in Florida … but heck everyone down here is from Canada, or northern states.
I wait for Oct 5 … like I know many do … it is time to lace up the skates and hit the ice.