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Vulgar Opinions: 10 Ways For The NHL To Recover From (This) Lockout (NSFW)

12/26/12

If you’re active on Twitter, you probably saw Pierre Lebrun’s article floating around today.  I’ll be honest, I expected it to be the same kind of empty crap we can expect from the worst media in professional sports.  A media that was just as reactive instead of proactive on the issue of player safety as the league itself and received none of the crap for it.  But LeBrun’s list is pretty good, and after discussing it, I’d like to venture one of my own.  Because there’s nothing else to write about.

1. Give away the NHL Center Ice package for the entire season after you return, as well as the Game Center package online. If you’re going to beg fans to return, might as well make it easy on them.

This, a thousand times this, and other leagues should follow suit.  I don’t pirate game feeds because I want to rip somebody off or freeload, I do it because so often there is literally no other alternative.  It is absurd that I can’t access any game I want in any professional sport from my computer, even if there has to be a fee for it.  The most successful leagues now are the ones that figured out TV the quickest.  The most successful leagues in the future will be the ones that figured out the internet.

2. Ensure that realignment happens for the 2013-14 season. The buzz that surrounded the realignment conversation last season during the NHL’s failed attempt at switching up its conferences and divisions was surreal. Fans loved debating the future look of the league. The NHLPA, which blocked realignment last year, must work with the NHL to make realignment happen for next season. It’s what the fans want.

Again, yes.  But I want it to be done with intelligence, not the preposterous 8-7-8-7 four conference proposal that was floated last year.  That was moronic.  Expand to 32 teams (Seattle and Toronto II) and go with four eights…oh wait, that’s probably impossible for the foreseeable future because you locked out again.

3. Add a “play-in” round to the playoffs. Depending on realignment, this could take on different forms. But the essence of it in my book is that you have four teams play a preliminary playoff round, two concurrent best-of-three series (perhaps two teams playing each other in the East and two in the West), to determine the final 16 spots in the playoff dance.

No.  Oh wait, this would have given the Sabres a chance in 2008, 2009, and 2011?  Still no.

4. Bring back the World Cup of Hockey, but make it permanent. More importantly, have the tournament played in February every four years, right smack in the middle of the NHL season — just like the Olympics. And yes, send your NHL players to the Olympics. So in February 2014, you’ve got NHL players in Sochi, Russia, followed by a new World Cup of Hockey in Toronto/Montreal/New York/Philadelphia/Boston in February 2016, etc. So every two years you either have the best in the world playing in the Olympics or the World Cup. Playing it in February instead of September, like the old Canada Cups/World Cup, would bring more legitimacy to the event. As for the All-Star Game, all of you know I’d like to see it canned. But for the kids out there who still get a kick out of it, I can live with having All-Star Games in the years we don’t have a World Cup or an Olympics.

I don’t see the point in a World Cup with the Olympics already in existence, other than to have more players playing in their primes internationally, something an ‘every four years’ event can make difficult.

5. Let’s bring in Ken Holland’s idea regarding three-on-three overtime as a way to freshen up the overtime/shootout format. You still play four-on-four for five minutes, but if there’s still no goal scored, you also play a three-on-three, five-minute period. If there’s still no goal, then you get your shootout. Three-on-three, wide open would be exciting to watch. Plus by lowering the number of shootouts, given that the three-on-three would end more games, you preserve the novelty of the shootout so it doesn’t become a tired exercise. Right now there are too many shootouts deciding games.

Again, no.  Three on three is unnecessary.  Just make it a ten minute overtime and you’ll see the number of shootouts decrease drastically without any added gimmicks.

6. Shorten the preseason, start the regular season the third week of September and make sure there’s not a single playoff game played past May 31. People don’t want hockey in June. OK, so maybe that’s the Canadian in me, but I’m going with it anyway.

I wouldn’t mind a slightly shortened season to reduce the risk of injuries and increase the quality of hockey.  Something like 75 games would be worth trying I think, and hopefully eliminate having so many M-W-F-Sa weeks.  On the flip side, I like watching hockey.  A lot.

7. Change the start of free agency from July 1 to an extension of draft weekend. So when the draft ends on that Saturday in the third week June, I would make Day 1 of free agency that Sunday and keep all 30 NHL front offices (and player agents would be welcome, for obvious reasons) in the draft city for three to four days to create a huge buzz for the start of free agency.

Sure, why not.

8. In a similar vein, why not also gather all 30 front offices in the same arena for NHL trade deadline day? Make it an even bigger media event with fans in the stands when trades are announced?

I like this idea even more, although I think it needs an extra wrinkle to make it worthwhile to be there, and watch.

9. Strongly study the merits of having NHL teams in Europe. I’d move my six weakest NHL markets to Europe and create a European division. I know people will laugh when reading this, but I’m dead serious. Unlike some southern U.S. markets, you don’t have to explain the icing rule to folks in Helsinki, Stockholm, Prague, Zurich, Berlin and Moscow. They love and know the game there. I know there are travel issues that make this less than perfectly ideal, but it’s worth it.

I don’t hate this idea, but I hate it right now.  LeBrun is, in other words, advocating for the partial destruction of every foreign hockey league.  The KHL is already trying to put itself on par with the NHL.  I don’t think the SEL, DEL, SM Liiga, and others would enjoy essentially being made into minor leagues.

10. And finally, the NHL and NHLPA should agree to a 20-year CBA with mutual options to back out in Years 7, 11, 15 and 18. I would think 20 years of labor peace sounds pretty good to everybody who cares about this game right about know.

Ensuring that we don’t lockout so damn much should be one of the top priorities.  I don’t know that you can create a 20 year CBA with any more security than you can, say, give Rick DiPietro a million year contract, but a better solution is definitely worth pursuing.

I like #1, #2, #8, and #10 enough to steal them for my own list.  Here are my remaining six:

1. Return to 2005-2006 hockey.  No, no matter how you many times the NHL claims, the players aren’t adapting to the “new” rules, the officials are getting lazy, and NHL brass is letting them.  Squeeze a forward out on a dump-in?  Interference.  “Unintentional” pick play?  Interference.  You want to bring the old fans back, and draw in new fans?  Sharpen up the worst rules and the worst officials in professional sports.

2. Commit to player safety by firing Brendan Shanahan and everyone else currently involved in player discipline.  Clean that house with bleach.  Replace them with smart former players like Pat Lafontaine and Paul Kariya, who were the ones suffering from cheap shots, not guys like Shanahan who were doling them out.  Take intent out of the equation.  You don’t wave off a high stick penalty because the guy isn’t “that type of player,” but you do it with headshots?  People will complain that it’s sissifying hockey, but at the end of the day, I’m there to watch skilled players put the puck in the net before anything else.  There’s no reason clean body checks shouldn’t be as difficult to do right as dangling a world class defenseman and beating a stud goaltender.

3. Commit to the growth of hockey in general to shore up support in southern markets.  Look, there is a large portion of the country that, barring a global catastrophe, will never see ice more than once every few years.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be good hockey markets.  I myself got into playing hockey through inline hockey.  The NHL should design a basketball hoop with a regulation size hockey net built into the base and do whatever it takes to get them on every playground in the southern U.S. and commit to bolstering roller and youth hockey leagues if it really wants to make a dent down south.

4. Stop being the old white men league.  The first European official in the NHL was Marcus Vinnerborg…in 2010.  He has already retired.  That’s pathetic and embarrassing.  North Americans will always dominate the NHL, but if the league really wants to assert itself, it should be constantly asking itself why there are so few black players and so many European players that prefer to return (or stay) home.  Even though the majority of those guys have been mid to lower tier players, losing them is not a good thing.  I know we have this attachment to grit and fighting, but fourth liners are not more fun to watch than guys like Alexander Radulov.

5. Look at what the other leagues are doing, and either do things differently, or do them better.  This goes hand in hand with making any game available to anyone, even if there’s a fee.  One of the great things about the NHL is how readily available highlights are online.  I can go to YouTube and find just about any clip I want, and several entire games.  That’s a stark contrast to the NFL that actively polices the internet for such things.  LGBT inclusivity, commitment to player safety, poor use of replay, inaccessibility of players…these are all things that every professional sports league screws up in some degree, and there are many more.  The NHL should be asking itself where it can blaze trails.

6. Give back to the fans.  This piggybacks on Lebrun’s #1, but at this point, it needs to be said again.  Gary Bettman can talk all he wants about the NHL having the greatest fans, but every single action that has been taken during the lockout screams that no one gives a shit.

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