OK, our sport is already amazing. But as the new season gets underway, why not play devil’s advocate and point out some ways it could be even better.
#1 SHORTEN THE SEASON
If you’re reading this, you already know hockey is the greatest sport on the planet. There is no valid counter-argument to this. What you might not know is you’re getting too much of it. The NHL doesn’t need an overhaul, but there’s one change that would guarantee increased enjoyment while doing nothing to alter the game itself: shortening the season. Of course, there is a downside to this… less hockey, but there are also a handful of benefits to cutting the schedule.
First, it would jack our anticipation. Hockey fans are already out of our minds. The things we look forward to most are the things we enjoy best. North America’s most successful league, the NFL, is ranked #1 partly because there’s so little of it. Each game is an event with a built-in hype. You gotta get it while you can. Second, the increased break between games would give players more rest and recovery time. The more fatigued an athlete is, the more susceptible they are to injury. Hockey has an 82-game slate – with quick turnarounds, intense travel and the shortest off-season among the big four pro sports – its long, physical and grueling.
The more rested a player is, the better the hockey will be. Quality over quantity am I right? By the time we get to the Stanley Cup final, the quality of play is past its sell-by date. How about a 60-game season, two games a week for 30 weeks? Talk amongst yourselves.
#2 REFEREE IN THE PRESS BOX
There are few things in hockey more aggravating than the referee furthest from the play getting a penalty call wrong. What did he see that the closer official didn’t catch? It’s mind-bending and also mind-numbingly stupid. And while the rulebook must absolutely be called if we want the NHL to be the most exciting game possible, there’s one move we can make that would vastly improve matters: kick one of those blind zebras up to the press box.
Perhaps it is a little creepy to have an eye in the sky but you’d really cut down on the shenanigans away from the puck. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a game from the nosebleeds or the press box, you know the view you get is very different than it is from up close. With the on-ice ref concentrating on the play, the ref in the press box could look at the big picture and catch the players when they’re up to no good long after the puck is gone. Logistically speaking, the press box ref would simply call down to the timekeeper’s bench when a penalty is spotted, and perhaps the timekeeper gets a whistle to blow to stop the play. It wouldn’t slow the game down because it’s the same number of refs who can make calls – but their calls would be more accurate. And as an added benefit, it’d take a body off the ice to provide more room for the players. Win-win.
#3 ELIMINATE SHOOTOUTS
All-in on OT. Death to the shootout. The “goalie vs. shooter” showdown was a fun and entertaining part of the skills competition during the all-star weekend – at least it used to be before the league got rid of the breakaway challenge last year – but it has no place deciding the outcome of regular season games. And don’t even get me started on the Olympics. Why? Because hockey is a team sport, and the shootout is a 1-on-1 sideshow. The shootout in no way relates to the previous 3 periods of hockey played. It is a skills competition I am tired of seeing.
Besides, do you know what’s, even more, fun and entertaining than the shootout? Overtime. You know, that sudden-death thrill that might end before you’ve even had a chance to get a snack from your fridge or go on and on into the wee hours of the morning. Why not go all-in on OT?
Of course, given the constraints of the regular season – a busy schedule, back-to-back games, coast to coast travel – it can’t be playoff-style overtime from October to April. The league went to 4-on-4 overtime in 1999-2000, then to 3-on-3 in 2015-16. How about starting with five minutes of 4-on-4, followed by five minutes of 3-on-3 – and if the score is still tied, five minutes of 2-on-2, and then, yes, you guessed it, five minutes of 1-on-1? You may say that sounds ridiculous but keep in mind that it is 2017 and we still operate with a shootout. The vast majority of OTs would end in the first 10 minutes – during 4-on-4 or 3-on-3. After the change in 2015 majority of games were ending in OT. The rare games that require 1-on-1 might not be the most credible – but they’d still have more integrity than the shootout, and they’d be memorable in and of themselves due to the fact that 5 minutes of 1-on-1 is absolutely ridiculous. But hey, so is the shootout.
Food for thought people.