(Boston Globe) – One of the biggest puzzles of 2016-17 is how TD Garden reports every single ticket to be sold. At least one of every three games is unwatchable — little in the way of offense, creativity, hitting, fighting, or anything resembling entertainment. The never-faster tempo results in two teams going up and down, throwing pucks at nets that thud off bodies or sticks or goalies with little chance of going in.
I don’t want to take too much away from Fluto Shinzawa’s recent Boston Globe column where he lists 7 ideas on “how to fix the NHL”. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I respectfully disagree with some of his ideas. The NHL is certainly not perfect and there are things that would make the game play better. I’m just not fully on board with his ideas.
However it could be worse. Hockey could be like the NFL. In my opinion if you even sniffed last weeks playoff games they were almost unwatchable. And outside of maybe the final two minutes of a close one, NBA games are not even worth changing the channel to.
I simply want hockey games that have flow and scoring chances. I don’t even mind a 2-1 game as long as it is well played with good pace. You don’t have to look much further than the Bruins/Lightning 1-0 Game 7 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final as an example where even goal total didn’t matter. It was one of the best hockey games I’ve ever seen due to the officials getting out of the way and letting the natural tempo dictate the outcome.
And hockey at an amateur level can even outshine the NFL or NBA in entertainment value too. Specifically, the Gold Medal game last week at the IIHF World Junior Championship. It was one of the best hockey games to date and could rival any NHL Game 7. Again the refs, for the most part, put their whistles away and let the kids play the game. It showed how hockey, with its speed advantage over other sports, still has so much untapped entertainment value.
So, what changes did Fluto suggest in the Globe to improve the NHL game that got me writing this? Here they are, alongside my rebuttals:
1. Restrict net-front time for defenses. As I stated above, how the NBA is borderline unwatchable, the NHL needs to stay as far away from basketball rules as possible. How would the hockey version of the three-second rule be enforced? Would the linesman have to monitor this while there is a tornado of action going on around him? Basketball is a much slower game than hockey, especially on offense. Is his suggestion a horrible idea? Not really. I just think it would be difficult to implement and enforce. Would you paint a box in the slot for the refs to police? I just don’t think it would improve the game. It’s not like defensive players are just hanging out in front of their net all night. It wouldn’t really affect teams that play a man-to-man style. All it would really be doing to a goal starved league is slowing it down more.
2. Bring back the red line. This is a hot topic in the hockey world. Even Bruins legend Bobby Orr suggested the same change last summer in an interview. I understand folks wanting to put the red line back in. The idea is that it’d create more passing and carrying of the puck and less teams trading dump ins. And personally I do not think having a two line pass would slow the game down much. So maybe they’re right. But the NHL is all about speed while preventing injuries and I don’t see how putting the red line back in really helps either. I don’t think it’s enough of a change to do what people think it will.
3. No more icing on the power play. Call me a traditionalist, call me an old fart, but I do not like this. I have been watching hockey for over 30 years and you have always been able to ice the puck when killing a penalty. Also, by allowing icing for teams shorthanded it actually creates offense for the killing team too. A team may be down a skater but they have a chance to spring a guy for a stretch pass without fear of icing. It creates excitement. And to be honest, if icing were called against my shorthanded team and I were a coach I would still take icings all day to kill momentum and 3 to 5 seconds off the penalty. I wouldn’t give it a second thought to still ice it when needed. It would just create more stoppages and games would take longer. It would end up like the NFL.
4. Ban fighting. I like that the NHL basically got rid of the staged fights. There was really no need for it. But, fighting is what makes the NHL unique and different from other sports. Fights that happen organically are fine in my book. But all of this recent bullshit of linesmen jumping in and breaking up legitimate fights before they happen is bad for the sport in my opinion.
Instead, get rid of the instigator penalty. Without fighting, combined with the current instigator penalty, it’s harder for players to hold each other accountable. Hockey is the only sport where you carry around a weapon while you play. If fighting disappears any third and fourth line plug would be able to cheap shot a player without any fear of consequence from his opponent. And we’ve all seen how officiating is in the NHL. We know we cannot trust them to keep the peace on the ice.
5. Enforce penalties. So more stoppages of play? Again, turning it into the NFL where there is a flag thrown every other play. How about you just alternate playing 5-on-4 every two minutes instead? This would not promote good flow to the game. In Fluto’s NHL he wants more penalties AND you can’t ice the puck when killing the penalty. Not a fan of that. I want good up and down tempo to the games.
6. Make the goalies use skaters’ sticks. I will give him credit for this one. It’s a unique idea I’ve never heard before. However, I really don’t think this would create more goals. Streamline the oversized bulletproof goalie equipment first and let’s see where that gets us before we talk eliminating goalie sticks.
7. Eliminate the offside challenge. Now here is one I can get behind. Overturning goals because a ticky tack offside was not seen by the linemen 45 seconds prior to the goal is stupid. The NHL wants more scoring and this is counter productive.
I would like to take it a step further and change the offside rule all together to help offense. A few ideas kicked around range from making the blue line narrower, to when entering the offensive zone once the puck touches the blue line it’s onside. Another idea is use the “breaking the plain/goal line” concept we see used in football. If the non-puck carrying attacking player’s skate is off the ice, but has broken the blue line plain, he would be onside. Again, promote flow and scoring chances.
Aside from Fluto’s suggestions, one thing I’d like to see happen in the NHL: when the puck goes out of play in the offensive zone from a shot, regardless of who deflected it out of play, the faceoff would be inside the offensive zone. It would not slow the pace of the game at all, it would just create more offensive zone faceoffs. As it is now if I shoot a puck and my teammate tips it and it goes out of play the faceoff goes out to neutral ice. Keep the faceoff inside the offensive zone instead.
As for off ice, I would like to see the NHL hand out stiff penalties for the unnecessary blind side hits and the hits to the head. With that being said, make those stiff prnalities uniform, league wide for everyone. Be consistent.
I still do not get David Pastrnak, with no history of cheap shots or being dirty, getting a 2-3 game suspension for his hit on Dan Girardi, but William Carrier gets zero discipline for his blind side hit on David Backes. It makes no sense. Come up with a hard scale for how those hits are treated. First time, 10 game suspension, second time 25, etc. Prove your serious about eliminating those hits.
Really no idea is a bad idea. The discussion is important. I’m glad Fluto brought his ideas to the table because it really got me thinking. I just don’t think some of his changes really improve the NHL game. The people above our pay grade will have to figure that out. I just hope those people do what is truly best for the game.