The NHL has little man syndrome. It walks into a bar hoping to take home the hot chick but it just isn’t tall enough or popular enough. In it’s head it doesn’t stand out enough. Meanwhile the NFL, NBA, and MLB strut around with all their big money and mainstream popularity getting whatever they want. Why can’t little ol’ NHL get some too?
Personally, I could give a shit if the NHL hits the financial and mainstream stratosphere that those other major leagues have. Each year hockey has still been steadily growing on the balance sheet and with fans. But that’s not to say it can’t improve. If the NHL truly wants to sit at the adult table with the other sport kings like it thinks it can it’s going to have to evolve in how it does business.
A couple weeks ago my fellow BostonPucks.com writer, Nick, wrote about the Boston Globe’s own Fluto Shinzawa’s proposed rule change ideas that he thinks would benefit the NHL. Fluto’s ideas weren’t exactly the best. In fact I’m not sure I liked any of them. I’d argue the NHL’s problems lie more in marketing than they do actual hockey issues. Luckily for you guys I have the right ideas for both off and on the ice to help improve the NHL game.
So sit back, relax, crack a cold one, and enjoy my “to-do” list for the NHL.
1. Teams Sell Regionally, But Personalities Sell Everywhere. The NHL suits desperately want the casual sports lover to flip on any game like they do with the NFL and pay attention to it. Well, they don’t. NHL fans by and large are extremely regional. Even diehard NHL fans on either coast don’t take in a Predators/Wild central game on a Tuesday night. They stick to their teams and their guys. The NHL should learn from daily and yearly fantasy sports, and the John Scott All-Star scenario they tried to bury last year; personalities sell nationally, not teams.
But the NHL is so focused on selling Chicago Blackhawk outdoor games they forget team interest is mostly regional. If they want new fans nationally they’d be better served promoting Brent Burns beard around the clock instead. And I’m not joking. I’m sure the NHL would have botched something like the “Lin-sanity” craze of the NBA, a league that’s mastered marketing players like they’re the WWE.
The NHL needs to aggressively promote unique personalities rather than the same three teams if they want to be heard by new fans because they’ve already got us regulars.
2. Make The Trade Deadline Like Draft Weekend. Along the same lines of focusing on players, stick all the rich owners and GM’s in some ritzy Las Vegas resort for the 3 days leading up the trade deadline, get ’em drunk, and let’s see what happens. Yes, more and more trade deadline deals nowadays are going down the week of the deadline rather than on the day of, but it’d be cool to have a televised GM trade headquarters for the 72 hours leading up to the deadline.
3. Make Every Infraction On Breakaways A Penalty Shot. It happens all the time. A guy breaks in alone on the goalie, he’s taken out as he’s about to shoot, and we hold our breath as the ref dramatically delays announcing the call. I can hear Jack Edwards now, “What’s it gonna be?! A penalty shot?!” Nope. Tripping.
Make it a penalty shot every time. If a guy is free from the blue line in and the pursuing defender illegally disrupts his shot attempt, a trip, hook, or hold is no longer an option. Eliminate the grey area and treat it like a foul in the penalty area in soccer. It’s more severe than the same penalty at mid field. It doesn’t make sense that an inadvertent tripping penalty on a forecheck, 200 feet from scoring, is the same punishment as tripping a guy who’s about to bury on a breakaway. Give him his breakaway.
4. Anything That Is Reviewable Is Done In Toronto. Help out the television broadcast and have reviewable calls checked independently in league offices, not on-ice.
The second a goal is scored there should be nerds with rule books already watching the replay in 4k-def in a Toronto war room getting the correct call in real time. By the time the goal celebration fist bump train has made it’s way down the bench they’d already know if it’s a good goal or not just like they do with every touchdown in the NFL. No official should have to skate over to the scorers booth, with drunk people slobbering on the glass, to watch a looping clip of himself on an iPad making a mistake. Reviews would speed up tenfold, determinations would be more consistent, and it’d take the headache out of the refs hands.
5. Learn From The Greatest Mind Of Our Lifetime (Bill Belchick) And Make Anything Challengable. Our lord and savior Bill Belichick has made the argument for years that if you’re going to give coaches a challenge to use then let them use it how they wish because you never know what play is the one that is going to be called wrong. Anything outside of the standard subjective penalty (trip, hook, slash, crosscheck, etc.) should be reviewable. I agree with him 100%.
Think the puck your defenseman flipped over the glass hit something on the way out? Challenge it. Down a goal late and think you beat out an icing? Challenge. That high stick actually hit the shoulder not the face? Yup, challenge it. You only get one so choose carefully.
It sounds like a lot, but it’s not. In fact it makes too much sense. It should be available for any standard measurable call. Try telling new fans why you can’t review a blatantly obvious missed call. It gets tiring hearing the color analyst every night say “but that play isn’t reviewable.” So stupid. Let the coach decide how he wants to use his only challenge.
6. Extend 3-on-3 Overtime To 7 minutes. Just give us a bit more time. Just a little bit. It’s so fun to watch and that little increase in time would probably be just enough to render the shootout extinct.
7. Regulation Wins Should Be Worth 3 Points. This won’t happen because the NHL wants as many teams packed tightly together as possible down the stretch. Three point wins would likely make for a more dramatic separation in the standings. Hell, last year the Washington Capitals would have probably clinched a playoff spot by Christmas in a 3-point win system. But I don’t care. Do the right thing and give teams that win in regulation a 3rd point.
8. Start And End The Season Earlier. Pretty simple. Much like the new bye week, the Stanley Cup Final rolling into June is also a joke. Let’s get this puppy going by mid-September and stop it all sometime in May.
9. Embrace and Sell Non-Hockey Entertainment/Tailgating. When I lived in Arizona regardless of how shitty the Coyotes were they had an awesome pregame atmosphere due to the weather advantage. They had tailgating, kids played street hockey outside the arena, and live music. Entertainment was the focus (to distract us from their product on the ice).
Tailgating, concerts, a “fan” party area, or any pre-game party atmosphere, helps. It invites everyone in, diehard fan or not. And it helps a league hell bent on eliminating fun and personality wake up to the times. Again, warm weather teams have an advantage but somehow this needs to become a thing everywhere. Even cold miserable NFL teams like Cleveland and Buffalo have fans show up for the party. Just wait until Las Vegas unveils their pre and post game entertainment options in that setting. Most NHL organizations settle for people just rushing to and from the parking garage and that has to change.
10. Have In-Season Bragging Rights Type Series’. The Chicago Blackhawks Invitational, often referred to as the Winter Classic, was initially a brilliant idea. So piggy back off of the concept of celebrating heritage and history and set up new bragging rights “series”. Think of it like Army vs. Navy, or other regular season college football games played for some jug or bowl mid-season against a rival school.
The NHL could create “The Original Six Cup”, “The Cali Series”, or “The Canadian Challenge”. Just designate certain regular season games as part of the “series”.
For example, in the case of “The Original Six Cup”, every Original Six team would have five regular season game against each of the other five Original Six teams count toward a Cup. At the end of the “series” of five games whichever team has the best record gets a unique trophy and/or bragging rights. Do one with the Cali teams and one to crown the best Canadian team. It’s one way to spice up the regular season rather than one-time Wednesday Night Rivalry games that again, always feature the same overplayed matchups.
11. Do Away With In-Game Coach/Player Interviews. Name one time a player or coach said anything of any interest during an in-game or between period interview. You can’t. In fact, I’m pretty sure they all use the same script. I appreciate the NHL wanting us to hear players and coaches during a game but unfortunately it’s just the same ol’ clichés. Find a way to bring new entertainment into the broadcast and save player/coach interviews for post game.
12. Be The First To Eliminate TV Blackouts. I cut the cord 5 years ago and haven’t missed watching any Bruins game I could in that time frame thanks to the internet. Young people don’t use cable and everything can be found online. Everything.
It’d be great if the NHL were the first league to drop their TV blackouts and sell an NHL package where you can watch any game, on any device, in any market, anywhere. It makes so much sense that they definitely won’t do it.
13. Embrace And Promote “Jersey” Culture. It started with the NCAA’s Oregon Ducks football team and took off from there. Jersey’s are hot. And the variety needs to be embraced and pushed hard.
The NBA and NFL have more jersey’s than they know what to do with and they take advantage of that. The NHL has a rich heritage of awesome classic and ugly retro sweaters as well. Use them all. Every NHL team should be wearing as many of their throwback jersey’s as possible. Even the Joe Thornton-era, urine yellow “Pooh Bear” Bruins jersey’s. I know I’d dust mine off.
I see way more right with the NHL than things that need fixing. However, I do think because of its little man complex hockey sometimes markets itself poorly. It’s an old school, traditional culture, and it can have a hard time connecting with new people. It wants to be broadly liked but it agonizes over improving itself because “it’s always been that way”. It doesn’t help that in America there are so many other mainstream high level sport and entertainment options. Hell, our country’s best athletes don’t even play hockey yet USA still won the World Junior Championship. Other sports just market themselves far better.
If I’m the NHL trying to be heard in a world with ever shrinking attention spans then off ice I’m teaming up with the entertainment industry and flipping how we sell this thing to everyone on its head. I’m calling Barstool Sports, I’m calling my blog, I’m calling the WWE, I’m calling out-of-the-box thinkers. It’s why I’m all in on the NHL in Las Vegas working. They’ll get it and reinvent it. Couple a new vision with some minor on-ice tweaks and all of us diehards will remain happy right alongside new fans too.
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