Tag:fixing the NHL
Posted on: June 7, 2009 5:59 pm
One major issue that the NHL (not so surprisingly, since it's the NHL) has failed to crack down on is cheap shots, especially shots to the head and equipment (mainly sticks) being used as weapons. Not only is this a major issue involving player safety, but it's an issue that affects the bottom line for the league, as they could see a loss of attendance or TV ratings if a star player is injured and misses a large amount of time.
The incidence of these cheap shots has gone up in the 15 or so years of the Bettman Era; out of the 10 longest suspensions in NHL history, 9 have been on his watch, and all of them for illegal hits or flat-out vicious attacks. I personally think that rules enacted to cut down on fighting have played a major role in the increase in goonism (see my last post), as the players who are delivering these cheap shots are not facing retribution from the other team's enforcer nearly as much as in the past due to rule changes like the instigator penalty (which needs to go NOW), and the third-man-in rule.
The NHLPA, while in favor of opening up the fighting rules so that players can police the games themselves, have told the NHL that they want an outright ban on blows to the head, but the league's GMs have refused to address the issue. Toronto GM Brian Burke said that there is "no appetite for an automatic penalty". Some of them feel that it would take some of the physical side of the sport.
While there will always be instances where a player is unfortunately injured on a clean hit, where he just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the league NEEDS to cut down on the intentional shots above the shoulders. You can't allow goons to be headhunting other players (or running at their knees, or using their sticks as weapons, etc.), especially while you're tying the hands of the enforcers and preventing them from doing their job of protecting their teammates.
The NHL should remove the instigator rule and ban intentional shots to the head. If it's incidental contact (wrong place, wrong time, or the player recieving the hit moves at the last second and inadvertantly puts himself in harm's way, cases like that), then no penalty should be issued to the player delivering the hit. If the player goes at his opponent with an intent to injure (aims for his head, skates leave the ice, etc.), then that player needs to be fined and/or suspended. The league's players need to be protected from these acts of goonism.
Posted on: June 4, 2009 8:27 pm
Edited on: June 9, 2009 11:32 am
A major issue that comes up when hockey is discussed is fighting. I'll come out and say it right now: I LOVE fighting in hockey. It's great when 2 players square off and duke it out, and while I wouldn't want to see this happen in EVERY game, I do like the occasional games where there are multiple fights breaking out all over. Is this the only reason that I'm a hockey fan? No, but if it was ever eliminated, honestly, hockey would lose some of its appeal for me (not to mention the fact that I'd feel that it was another case where the NHL has ignored its own traditions and alienated the true, hardcore hockey fans like me, who have supported this league most of my life, to try to appeal to people who most likely will still not pay attention to the sport).
1. There's no fighting in international hockey, European leagues, college, or kids leagues.
2. Hockey cannot be considered a family sport as long as fighting is allowed.
3. Fighting isn't a "necessary" part of the game and slows up the pace.
4. Fighting is rare in the playoffs and they're still exciting, so that means that the regular season would be more exciting without fighting.
5. Hockey isn't as popular as other sports because of the fighting.
6. Hockey would be better if you got rid of the goons and added more scorers.
Posted on: May 28, 2009 11:43 pm
One of the critical problems facing the NHL today is the instability of certain franchises, the vast majority of which are teams that were part of the late-90s expansion or relocated during that era. The biggest issue facing the NHL right now in this area is the Phoenix Coyotes.
But the Coyotes are just the poster child for problem franchises in the NHL. There are several other franchises in trouble.
The once-proud New York Islanders have been struggling with attendance for the past decade, finishing near or at the bottom of attendance during that time. They have also been in a struggle to replace Nassau Colisseum with a new arena. Several plans have been proposed, but nothing has happened as of this point. The Atlanta Thrashers, one of the late-90s expansion teams, has, with the exception of a few years in the middle of this decade, struggled to produce a winner. They have also been plagued with ownership problems, to the point where the owners are in court to see who has the right to buy out who. The troubles of another of the late 90s expansion teams, the Nashville Predators, began before the team even took the ice. Founding owner Craig Leopold had to deny rumors that the team would be relocated before ever playing a game when they only sold 6000 of the 12,000 season tickets the NHL required. They even got Nashville to pay over 30% of the $80 million expansion fee to the NHL, as well as cover any operating losses from their arena. In May 2007, Leopold agreed to sell the team to Balsillie. This deal fell through when Balsillie, who had told Leopold that he'd keep the team in Nashville, started selling season tickets for the Hamilton Predators. The team instead was sold to Boots Del Biaggio, a venture capitalist who has since filed for bankruptcy, and a group of buyers based in Nashville. The team also has a buyout clause in place with Nashville, which allows them to pay a modest (compared to Phoenix's lease) $20 million buyout to Nashville if the team loses at least $20 million and fails to average 14,000 per game attendance by the end of the 2009/10 season. Del Biaggio's financial problems has led to a federal investigation into his business dealings involving the Predators. Other teams reportedly losing money are St. Louis, Carolina, Buffalo, Florida, Washington, and Columbus.
Posted on: May 22, 2009 1:34 am
Edited on: May 31, 2009 11:14 pm
Of all the things necessary to fix the NHL, step # 1 is simple: Fire Gary Bettman.
Bettman has been NHL commissioner since February 1, 1993. Since that time, the league has hit a series of low points, including 2 major work stoppages, the loss of national television revenue, an increase in the amount of goonism in the game, poor expansion strategy, unstable owners, the neutral-zone trap, and a lack of respect for the league's history, among other things. All this has led to a league that was ready for a breakthrough into the mainstream in the early 1990s to a league that is on the verge of slipping into complete irrelevance in less than 15 years. How did this all happen? Let's start at the beginning.
When Gary Bettman took over the NHL, he became its first commissioner (the head of the NHL to that point had been the league president). After having spent most of his career in the NBA, where he rose to third in command, the NHL hired him to replace interim president Gil Stein. Bettman worked in the legal and marketing departments in the NBA, and was one of the people involved in developing the NBA's salary cap. This was key to the NHL owners, who had just gone through the first work stoppage in league history, a 10-day strike late in the 1991-92 regular season. The strike was a victory for the players, but the CBA that was signed lasted for only one season. The owners fired then-NHL President John Ziegler and replaced him with Stein on an interim basis. Bettman was eventually hired with the goal of instituting a salary cap in the NHL.
The 1993-94 season was arguably the high point for the league in at least the past 30 years, if not ever. Hockey was on the verge of becoming a true major player in American sports, due partly to the Rangers' drive to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years (and the resulting media attention); expansion to new markets in California (San Jose and Anaheim--with the resulting backing of Disney, who named their team the Mighty Ducks after their hit movie franchise), Florida (Florida and Tampa Bay), and Ottawa; and a surge in merchandise sales due to the expansion teams, as well as crossovers such as rappers wearing hockey sweaters during videos, giving the league exposure to a new audience. However, the seeds of the league's downfall were also in place.
Bettman, who had never even BEEN to a game before taking over as commissioner, showed his lack of hockey knowledge by snubbing his nose at league tradition by changing the name of the conferences (Wales and Campbell) and divisions (Patrick, Adams, Norris, and Smythe), which honored some of the league's founding fathers, to generic geographical names, taken right from the NBA. He also tried to turn the NHL into the NBA on Ice by taking steps to remove fighting from the game, angering fans and creating disciplinary problems on the ice. The league also played without a CBA in place during the season, and when the NHLPA wouldn't agree to a salary cap, Bettman locked the players out right before the start of the 1994-95 season. When an agreement was finally reached, half the season had been wiped out. The league, which had signed a new national TV contract with FOX to begin showing games that season, suffered a blow that it still has not recovered from.
Even after losing half the season, Bettman and the owners had only managed to get a salary cap on rookies, and not on all players. The CBA was eventually extended to the 2004-05 season, when the league decided to make another push for a salary cap. Backed by hardline teams such as Chicago and Boston, the NHL gave Bettman the right to veto any offer from the union as long as just 8 of the 30 owners backed him. The league's insistence on a salary cap eventually cost them the entire season, as the NHL became the first pro sports league to lose an entire season to labor issues.
By this point, the league suffered a major blow to it's revenue, as NBC was only willing to do a revenue-sharing deal with the NHL, instead of paying a rights-fee upfront (putting the NHL on par with Arena Football as far as American network TV was concerned). Also, ESPN declined the option on their contract with the NHL, causing Bettman to take the league from a basic cable staple seen in almost every household in the country to Vs. (the recently renamed Outdoor Life Network), which is a much smaller network lacking ESPN's availability. This loss of television revenue has also caused teams to shift more of the cost burden onto fans attending games.
And let's not forget that just last week, the NHL was forced to alter its playoff schedule due to a Yanni concert. Yes, you read that right.
I don't want to go too long in this post, and I'll go into greater detail in future posts about the following topics:
What else has Bettman done? He's pushed for eliminating fighting in the game, which angers hockey fans, as well led to an increase of ugly on-ice incidents due to the players' inability to use fighting to police the game because of the stricter penalties. Out of the 10 longest suspensions in NHL history (handed down due to cheap shots by players), 9 of them have come in the last 15 years under Bettman's regime. While incidents such as this have unfortunately happened throughout the history of the game, they have increased as the league has cracked down on fighting.
The NHL has also done a half-assed job when handling expansion. After seeing the revenue rush into the league coffers in the form of expansion fees and new merchandise sales from the early 1990's expansion, the NHL rushed to add more teams and relocate existing teams into new markets in the American South, relying on the retirees living there to support the new teams, a strategy which has, for the most part, failed. While trying (and failing) to grow an American audience, he's done nothing but spit at the league's Canadian fans.
The league has also had problems with owners (and potential owners). Bruce McNall, who owned the Kings during their glory days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was sentenced to 70 months in prison due to fraud, and the Kings were forced to file for bankruptcy due to his dealings. Disney bailed on the league, selling the Ducks at a loss in 2005. The Penguins went into bankruptcy, forcing Mario Lemieux to take ownership of the franchise because they couldn't afford to pay him. The Islanders have been gimping along trying to get a new arena built for a decade now. The Predators and Thrashers are struggling. The NHL is currently in a court battle with Phoenix owner Jerry Moyes to see who controls the Coyotes. And Bettman has been carrying a years-long feud to keep Jim Balsillie, CEO of the company that makes BlackBerry smartphones, out of the league. Balsillie is currently trying to buy the Coyotes out of bankruptcy and move them to Hamilton, Ontario, after being blocked from buying the Penguins and Predators.
A major on-ice issue that emerged during the Bettman Era was the use of the neutral-zone trap, in which teams would score a goal to take a lead, then clutch-and-grab opposing players in the neutral zone (and pretty much all over the ice) in order to prevent them from moving the puck and be able to score. This led to a steep reduction in scoring, and a very boring style of hockey to watch. This style of play, which took hold in the mid-1990s, was not addressed for 10 years, with rules to crack down on it going into effect during the first season back from the lockout. Somehow, I can't imagine the NFL letting something like that go on for so long.
Then there was his suspension of Sean Avery for his "sloppy seconds" comment earlier this season. While I am not a fan of Avery at all, and yeah, it was a crude comment, it did not merit a 6-game suspension (which was announced as "indefinite" at first). While there's a LOT things Avery's done in his career that could've merited suspension, this was the least of them--but it's the one Bettman went after.
While there is one--and only one--thing I'll give Bettman credit for (The Winter Classic), even THAT'S tainted by the fact that he told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year that he didn't see it as something the league would do every year. Bettman HAS to go. This league can never succeed to it's true potential as long as he's in charge.
My choice to replace him: Flyers owner Ed Snider. He knows hockey, having been in the league over 40 years as the Flyers' founding owner, and has turned them from one of the "Second Six" in a non-hockey town to one of the strongest franchises in the league. Hockey went through an incredible rate of growth during the Flyers early years, and they continue to try to create new fans, going as far as taking over the operation of city-owned rinks in Philadelphia when the city was going to shut them down due to budget problems. They also run clinics for inner-city kids to expose them to the game, as well as promote youth hockey throughout the Philadelphia area.
Posted on: May 15, 2009 12:19 am
Edited on: May 16, 2009 9:23 pm
Back in the early 1990s, the NHL was poised for a breakthrough into mainstream American sports. Rappers wore hockey sweaters in their videos; the Rangers brought a lot of attention to the league by winning their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994; the league expanded into new markets (San Jose, Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Florida, and Anaheim), and got the resulting revenue from merchandise sales for the new teams; after a short-sighted decision to abandon nationwide coverage on ESPN to go after a bigger-money contract with Sports Channel in the late 1980s, the league went back to ESPN, as well as showing a game of the week on FOX; and Sports Illustrated even ran a cover story in their June 20, 1994 issue, titled "Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not". That all came to a crashing halt by the fall of 1994. The 1994-95 lockout was the league's second labor stoppage in two-and-a-half years, and cost the league half of its season. Fifteen years later, the NHL still has not recovered.
2. Fix the problem franchises like Phoenix
3. Get rid of the instigator and third-man in penalties to allow the players more leeway to police themselves, and accept that fighting allows them to do that
If i think of any other changes, i'll add them to the list.