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Vulgar Opinions: Dear NHL, Please Don’t Murder My Favorite Sport

03/14/12

Last night I watched the New York Islanders lose to the Washington Capitals 5-4 and after that the end of the New York Rangers 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.  I was absolutely transfixed and yet the action wasn’t even that good.  Washington managed to hold on to a tie, pinned in their own end in regulation, and helped by a no-call on Alexander Ovechkin running into his goaltender and dislodging the net with no Islander within five feet.  How it wasn’t a delay of game penalty, I don’t know.  When I flipped to the Rangers game midway through the third, they were right in the middle of stacking eleven guys along the blue line in an effort to hold onto a 3-2 lead.  (Unfortunately Biron was in net so I missed a chance to call Henrik Lundqvist overrated.)  Thank god for players like Hagelin and Gaborik in which there is no ‘D,’ otherwise the score probably would have remained that way.

There’s a lot the NHL could do to improve itself, but instead of taking such steps, we get stupid ideas (reinstating the red line) littered in with the good ones (hybrid icing), and even the latter is akin to draping a pinky toe onto the edge of the bandwagon of common sense.  You’d think a league that decided that a skills competition was good enough to decide roughly half of its extra time regular season games would do more to allow its players to showcase those skills within the actual game.  You would think…and you would be wrong.

I can’t stress enough how much interference and obstruction and holding and hooking gunk up the inner workings of hockey bringing the beautiful machine to a brutal crawl.  Whether it’s two players skating into each other on their way to the boards and not coming remotely close to playing the puck, a defenseman riding a forward thirty feet off on a dump and chase, or a skater draped all over an opponent trying to hustle past him to get a break, this sport is a broken mess to watch far too often.

Equally surprising is that the NHL has been here once before, and only seven years ago.  “Hey, our sport kind of sucks, what can we do to make it watchable?”  If only those changes lasted beyond the middle of the 06-07 season.  In my opinion the NHL wasn’t patient enough with the rule changes.  They saw the increase in power plays, feared the game was becoming a gimmick and started to go back on the new rules without allowing them to settle in as the norm and without allowing a large crop of youth players to adjust.  I think if they had given the NHL and the feeder leagues that time you’d be seeing fewer large shaky defensemen with little upside (the Mike Webers) and more shaky defensemen that can actually entertain you once in a while (the Marc-Andre Gragnanis) at the very least, if not a league more densely populated with good skaters and thus better hockey.

I’m really at a loss to explain what drives the NHL’s refusal to become something better other than token guesses.  If I was forced to put a finger on it, I’d probably reference something like an establishment of rulemakers that tends to be older, more nostalgic, and clinging to some ideal of “old time hockey” that never really existed.  It’s the same kind of opposition to change that Major League Baseball faces, and probably something that a league with a lot of history is always going to struggle with.  I would implore the NHL brass to not let that happen.  The NHL already struggles to reel in fans, running towards an MLB level of antiquity would be a death knell.  Evolve.  Show the fans what they want to see, the most talented athletes in the world doing what they do best.

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