Thursday, July 13, 2006

Commissioner for a Day: National Hockey League

(HT: Michael Farber)

If you're not a baseball/college football/NFL/NHL/college hockey fan, follow the links I've provided and check the list of "Commissioner for a Day" features available. They have plenty of sports represented. And I again thank them for the really cool idea that I have blatantly stolen all this week.

I'm a huge hockey fan, and this post is going to be relatively short. After all, the league just instituted a bunch of rules changes that, by and large, worked pretty well. That said, I still have some ideas to present.

1. Mandatory visors.

It has to happen before something really serious happens. I know the old guard will protest, and the old-school reporters and fans will scoff at the idea of mandatory visors.

It doesn't matter. For the safety of the players, it's a move that should have happened ten years ago. Certainly, you can't make active players wear them if they don't want to. But put it in now, and in ten years, everyone in the league will be wearing one.

Frankly, if what happened to Bryan Berard isn't enough to convince someone to put a face shield on, I don't know what else is going to convince them. Legislating it is the only remaining option.

2. Go back to ESPN.

Even if it means buying out the last year of the OLN deal, the NHL should go crawling back to the Worldwide Leader.

Does ESPN have serious flaws? Yes. There is no doubt that ESPN, your home for the 2006 International Brat-Eating Contest...LIVE from Sheboygan, WI, is not the perfect television partner.

But they're infinitely better than OLN. The NHL's reasoning behing taking the OLN offer was seriously flawed; sure, money is important, and so is having a partner who appreciates your product, but none of that matters if no one can see the network you're working with. OLN isn't growing, and their programming just doesn't fit the NHL's target demographic. ESPN's does. And no matter what the hardcore sports fan thinks of what's been happening at ESPN over the last five years or so, ESPN is still recognized as being all about sports.

Buy out the OLN deal, and take even one or two games a week on ESPN, with the same no-rights-fee, revenue-sharing deal that exists with NBC. Build the audience back, and everyone will be happy.

3. Go back to the "home team wears white" format.

I know the NHL wanted to give teams a chance to wear their alternate jerseys at home, while allowing teams going on the road to only take their white jerseys.

But the fans still aren't used to it after two years.

It doesn't help that most college hockey and high school hockey leagues still have home teams wearing white.

4. Goalies who venture outside their protected area to play the puck are fair game for reasonable physical contact.

No more "goalie interference" when a goalie who is not in his crease gets inadvertently bumped.

At the same time, no more trapezoid. You won't need it (not that it does any good now).

Any goalie who leaves the crease to play the puck can be hit, provided that it's within the context of the play. Guys who go out of their way to blow up the goaltender will still be penalized, but incidental and innocent contact must be permitted. Goalies have too many advantages in the rules, and as we saw from Dwayne Roloson's Playoff Diving Exhibition, they are going to take full advantage.

5. Do a better job promoting the individual stars.

Yes, hockey is a team sport. And the sport is a great one.

But people aren't going to respond to the marketing of the sport. They need to promote the creativity and gracefulness of players like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, Marian Gaborik, and other young stars. They are the future of the sport. Start building them up now before it's too late.

And while you're at it, you can have those individual stars be the ones promoting the game, instead of Lance Armstrong, Howie Mandel, and Denis Leary.

(I really liked the "My Stanley Cup" ads, but I thought it was silly to have people with no ties to hockey talking about the legendary trophy. The players should have been doing that from the start, instead of just during the Stanley Cup Finals.)

(Well, except for Kiefer Sutherland. I'd pay to hear that guy read the Climax, Minnesota, phone book.)


Chris said...

For the record, I've really enjoyed the Commish for a Day posts.

Anyway, I still say that if you're trying to avoid tragedy, you can't have 200 lbs. players crashing into goalies that essentially have no protection on the back of their head.

Bruce Ciskie said...


I'm just glad someone's reading them.

In all seriousness, the crease is there for a reason. If goalies are going to be untouchable wherever they go, why don't we just paint the entire area from the faceoff circles back to the walls blue?

As much as I hated what happened to the Merrimack goalie, that right there should have been enough to get a movement underway for safer hockey helmets, especially for goalies...because there's no way that the hit by Eaves should have caused the damage it almost did.