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.
Hockey is a great sport, and it can succeed as a major sport in America. But changes have to be made for that to happen, both on-ice and off-ice. Over the next few weeks, i'll post a series of blogs with my ideas on how to improve the NHL. For now, here is an overview:
1. Fire Gary Bettman
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
4. Crack down on the cheap shots, head shots, and use of equipment as weapons
5. Get the NHL back on ESPN
6. Address the failures of the league's "Southern Strategy"
7. Improve marketing of the game
8. Start a Champions League format similar to what UEFA does in soccer featuring the top teams from the NHL, European leagues, and the KHL
9. Develop alternate sources of revenue to ease the cost burden of fans attending the games
10. Remove the salary cap and increase revenue-sharing
If i think of any other changes, i'll add them to the list.