Mar 132011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Gary Bettman, NHL

Photo credit: Barry Melrose Rocks

Between the Zdeno Chara hit, the Phoenix Coyotes drama and the ongoing hits-to-the-head debate, it’s been a bad week for the NHL.

Might as well pile on:

  • Scoring is down from last year, to 5.6 goals per game. The first season after the lockout, the average goals per game was 6.17.
  • This season will likely feature the fewest number of 100-point scorers, and fewest number of 50-goal scorers, since the lockout.
  • Analyzing numbers available on ESPN, it looks like attendance is down slightly. Let’s assume the NHL and teams fudge attendance figures. The fact that the figures show a loss probably means attendance is down far more than anyone’s willing to admit.
  • Like jilted lovers, the game’s greatest ambassador, Wayne Gretzky, and the NHL are currently not speaking to each other.
  • The game’s current ambassador, Sidney Crosby, seems to be in hiding, thanks to a severe concussion received during the NHL’s marquee regular season game (the Winter Classic).

Oh, and Gary Bettman has quietly signed a 5-year contract extension.

So where do we go from here?

Bob McKenzie has done some yeoman’s work asking the league’s GMs what was on their minds heading into their meetings next week in Florida.

The thing is, as a conservative enterprise, change will not come quickly to the NHL. Especially when the kinds of change necessary, and most effective, are unclear.

A smart place to start would be examining the boards and other structures that surround the playing surface.

Smartly (albeit too quietly), the NHLPA has indicated this is their focus.

We’ve clearly reached a point where the NHL product needs to evolve.

This could be a watershed moment for the NHL – a moment that clearly defines how a generation plays this game at its highest level.

If only there was a history of innovation and dynamic, progressive thinking to give one confidence the game is in good hands.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

It’s not like there aren’t positive developments in the NHL.

  • The Sedin Twins are giving the NHL the rarest of storylines: a brother act competing not only for the league’s scoring title, but a place amongst the game’s best players.
  • Alex Ovechkin’s play has really improved, to the point that he was either: a) hurt earlier in the year, or b) saving himself for the stretch run. Or, with Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm back, the Capitals have a legitimate second line to take the heat of OV and company.
  • If the playoffs started today the NHL would be pretty happy with the footprint. Toronto would be the only Original Six team not in the playoffs. Minnesota the only major US hockey-watching market not represented.
  • Oh, by the way, intriguing first-round matchups as of this (Saturday) morning: Philly-New York Rangers (Flyers knocked New York from playoffs on final day of the regular season last year), Montreal-Boston (they may need police on each blueline for every game, the way this rivalry’s peaked this year), Vancouver-Los Angeles (repeat of last year’s first-round matchup), San Jose-Calgary (fourth time they’ve played against each other in the playoffs).
  • That being said, it’s looking more and more like the final day of the regular season will decide who does, and does not, make the playoffs.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk is showing he might be the best player (outside of Martin Brodeur) to play in the New York area since the hay days of Mark Messier and Brian Leetch.
  • If he keeps scoring at his current pace (12 points in his past 14 games) and keeps making plays like this, it won’t be long before David Desharnais is a fan favourite in Montreal. Wonder if he has to stand to see over the boards?
  • Kudos to Willie Mitchell for donating his brain to science.
  • Hey look, a Scotty Bowman sighting behind Barack Obama!
  • An interesting Abbotsford Times piece on the Canucks AHL affiliate potentially coming home to the Lower Mainland.
  • Record-watch – Tim Thomas’s save-percentage: .938. The record: Dominik Hasek’s .937 in 1998-99.
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