Ramble post: If I were commish...

It’s ironic—down to a man, NHL players are now more skilled than they ever were, talent dilution be damned. It is my (ignorant?) belief that a depth player from today, if transplanted to the NHL of 80s, could stickhandle and skate in that 80s league with ease. But somehow, this collection of talented individuals yields a product that is inferior to the on-ice product of the 80s. Why is this? And just as importantly, what can be done to make today's NHL on-ice product better?

Well, here’s six things NHL Commissioner Sleek would consider:

(Note: don’t read too much into these, they aren’t meant to be dead serious. Plus, if I were really commissioner I would probably just call in sick, stay home, and play with all my money.)

1. I would find a better incentive for teams to want to score goals. My first proposal: teams will qualify for the playoffs the usual way (top eight in each conference), however, the teams will be SEEDED by total goals-scored. The highest-scoring qualifying team would play the lowest-scoring, and so forth. Straight bracketing from thereon out.

My thinking here is that a lot of the problem with competitive hockey these days is that coaches (particularly western ones) stress systems that aren’t so much about chance creation as they are about chance neutralization. Maybe a little home-ice incentive will make some coaches concentrate a little more on creating risks and chances rather than avoiding them.

2. Unless you are an actual proven grandfather, put on a fucking visor. No ifs, ands, or buts. If you can’t do it, go play in some other league (which, incidentally, will make you wear one anyway). This isn’t about tradition, this is strictly about safety. Besides, the old-school "tough guy" mentality developed in an age where pucks and sticks more often than not stayed on the ice; that’s not really true any more.

Now, this mandatory visor thing is not a statement against fighting, by any means. Rather, fighters are encouraged to, in addition to dropping their gloves, also remove their helmets before engaging in fisticuffs. In fact,

3. Not only would I repeal the instigator penalty, but I would put strict language in the NHL Constitution that prevents future commissioners from touching this rule. You want a cleaner game, more respect, and less career-ending questionable hits? You want emotion, team identity, and cult heroes? You want to capture the attention of a certain male demographic, ages 12 – 40?

I’d let ‘em fight, dammit. I’d restore the code (except for that no-visor thing, of course), bring back the enforcer, and win some fans along the way.

4. I would fix the blueline. The blueline, for whatever reason, is becoming too easy to defend, both in creating off-sides situations, and in clearing the puck. To combat the former, I would widen the blue-line significantly, allowing forwards to precede the puck a couple of feet into the zone. To combat the latter, I would call immediate icings if the puck were cleared (a) off the glass, or (b) over the height of the high glass.

Six icings in a game, by the way, results in a 2-minute bench minor. All these rules can be adjusted as their impact becomes clearer. Speaking of 2-minute minors,

5. I would find a way to make sure that less overall time in a game was spent watching a team try to score on the power play. Yes, that means less penalties. The problem with the amount of penalties today is (a) they are becoming so prevalent that teams aren’t even trying to score 5-on-5 any more, rather just "skate hard" until they can draw a penalty and then try to score, and (b) nothing kills excitement that watching a bunch of no-hit, set plays where only one team is expected to score, scattered among a bunch of icings by the other team.

I’m not sure exactly how to do this scale-back, though. I’m tempted to say just stick to pre-lockout enforcement rules, but maybe I could do something like a penalty bank, where if you push the new rules long enough, then eventually the ref will make the call. However it happens, overall penalty-calling will be reduced.

6. I would mandate that salaries for players, GMs, and coaches will be cut in half, a mandatory 50% rollback. Instead, that pay will come in the form of shares in a company. This company will hold partial ownership in all 30 NHL franchises—when the teams make money, the shareholders makes money.

You see, it makes no sense that the players and the owners are on separate sides when it comes to my dollar. The players and coaches need some common incentive tied into the well-being of the sport. It needs to become their concern that hockey is entertaining and drawing fans. This "shareholder" system means the better they are able to fill seats and draw viewers, the better-off they individually become, and everyone wins. It is an alignment of incentives.
Now, as I say, I am not completely serious on these issues, in fact, I really only stand behind two of them (Can you guess which two?), and I think one of them is illegal. Anyway, here are some good gloom-and-doom state-of-the-game pieces from Reality Check and Jim Kelley, both good reads. The common tune? The on-ice game needs some re-tooling. Not all is NHL-rosy.

So, anybody want to fix my suggestions, or offer any other ideas on how to improve / sell / reinvigorate / resuscitate the watchability of this league? Or anybody want to tell me to fuck off, I like the hockey the way it is? Suggestions are welcome.

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