Jan 042012
 

In the spirit of the New Year, here are five resolutions the NHL should make for 2012:

1. Abandon the “game is too fast” narrative

As the NHL concussion issue has grown, so too has the argument that the game is currently too fast. According to Ex-NHL’ers (most recently Eric Lindros) and several general managers (Carolina’s Jim Rutherford is the most vocal at the moment), putting the red line back in would slow the game down and reduce the number of concussions taking place on ice.

This, naturally, is complete poppycock and a classic case of conservative, backward NHL thinking.

If someone were to study this issue (and you have to assume someone with the NHL and NHLPA is studying this), the numbers would prove the majority of concussions occur away from the middle of the ice, along the boards, whether the puck is part of the play or not. The numbers would also suggest fighting contributes a significant number of concussions to the league’s totals.

The flow of NHL hockey – the quickness with which teams’ transition from offense to defense and back again – has never been greater. As a result the games, even with scoring trending downward, remain exciting.

Putting the red line back in would reduce this flow and give us an NHL product not unlike the dead puck era of the late 1990s early 2000s.  

No thank you.

2. Change overtime

Are shootouts exciting? Yes. Have we exhausted the premise? Absolutely. Shootouts are a nightly occurrence. Also, when was the last time you talked about a shootout goal around the water cooler the next day?(Probably after this one?)

Let’s presume the NHL’s reasons behind the current 4-on-4 overtime and shootout format were a) to guarantee a game result and eliminate ties; b) to keep teams in playoff races longer by offering up extra points; c) to give games a consistent length of play for easier television network scheduling.  

These issues would all still be addressed if the NHL adopted the 3-on-3 overtime proposition they’ve been studying.

Think about it. Everyone loves 4-on-4 overtime hockey and 3-on-3 would bring even more offense and drama to the sport. There would be more mistakes, more scoring chances and naturally more goals because it’s tougher to defend 3-on-3 than 4-on-4. 

 The NHL should adopt 3-on-3 overtime. It can keep the shootouts if it wants to, but they’ll rightfully be the rarity rather than the norm they’ve become.

3. Put the Winter Classic in Detroit

This one feels like it might actually happen, and the arguments are nicely summarized here. Besides, Detroit didn’t insist on moving to the Eastern Conference in realignment after all, so the NHL may owe the team a favour. The Red Wings have been the NHL’s marquee U.S. team – not to mention the league’s elite franchise – for almost two decades. They deserve a chance to host the Winter Classic, preferably against the rival Chicago Blackhawks. What an alumni game that would be.

4. Move the Phoenix Coyotes

Let’s put everyone out of their misery, shall we? The most logical place to move the team is Quebec City, but they’ve still got arena and ownership issues to address. Besides, as Elliotte Friedman points out, the NHL might want to leverage interest in Quebec City and Metro Toronto to reap an expansion fee windfall down the road. If this means the Coyotes have to therefore move to Kansas City, Seattle or (god forbid) Las Vegas, at least there’s hope those markets could one day love hockey. None of that hope exists in Phoenix anymore.

Sadly, the NHL probably can’t sell the team until after a new collective bargaining agreement offers a new ownership group some cost-certainty. This means 2012-13 could feature another year of lame-duck, desert dog hockey.

5. Negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for September 1st, 2012

Forget the details of potential negotiations for a second – here’s why the NHL and NHLPA should only come to an agreement in September 2012.

Other than the NHL draft and the start of free agency on July 1st, the NHL off-season is a snooze fest, confined to the margins of the sporting landscape. Many fans are okay with this, having been exhausted from an NHL post-season that drags on until June. In general, fans are happy to forget about hockey until training camp in September.

Both the NFL and NBA generated huge buzz and sent their fans into frenzy by forcing their off-seasons into a compressed amount of time. The NHL could also benefit from this, using the first two weeks of September as the off-season, and the last two weeks as a compressed training camp schedule. Then they can drop the puck as planned, without having lost a single game to a work stoppage but having created a month-long extravaganza for fans.

No one wants to miss a game of NHL hockey due to collective bargaining. But it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the NHL and NHLPA waited until August to start serious talks.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • In case you missed it, here’s the story that says the six Canadian teams account for 33% of the league’s profits.
  • One more Toronto Star link – this time about the hometown team’s terrible December. That’s what happens when you’ve got some historically bad penalty killing by the Maple Leafs.
  • Hard to believe, but the Montreal Canadiens have lost 15 games in which they’ve held a lead so far this year.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. He had already started to come back to earth performance-wise. His December numbers: 2 goals, 6 assists in 12 games.
  • Having said that, Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle started this morning 8th overall in the league scoring race (16 goals, 25 assists, 41 points).
  • The Colorado Avalanche are 18-1 in their past 19 shootouts. They’re still not the best shootout team of all-time though. That’s the New Jersey Devils (50 wins, 26 losses). The Devils are 8-1 in the shootout this season.
  • Four favourite things about this year’s 24/7 Flyers vs. Rangers: New York’s Christmas Sweater party; the Broadway fedora Rangers players give to their player of the game; Brad Richards telling Tom Sestito “One day in the NHL for you. It’s fantasy camp for you”; everything involving John Tortorella. Hard to watch the series and not think there’s something special brewing in The Big Apple this season.
  • Loved the Winter Classic alumni game, and hope it continues to grow in prominence. It was nice to see John LeClair and Eric Lindros combine for the game’s first goal. Lindros was by far the most dominating junior player I’ve ever seen play.
  • Also interesting to see how, even in retirement, Mark Messier can’t stand losing. His interviews during the game were surprisingly intense.
  • Disappointing to see this year’s Winter Classic was the lowest-rated of all-time. That’s what happens when you a) move it to January 2nd, a workday for many people and b) move the start time around.
  • The actual Winter Classic game was a lot of fun, but I wish the audio was mixed differently. Everyone keeps talking about the incredible atmosphere at the ballpark, but the ambient/crowd noise is mixed to a minimum for broadcast.
Dec 212011
 

Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens-Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup Final.

Don’t expect a repeat appearence from either team.

Today, the Kings made it official, hiring Darryl Sutter as their new coach.

We talked last week about how hiring Sutter might just be the least imaginative, worst-thought-out decision GM Dean Lombardi could make for his team.

The Kings already defend well – it’s hard to see Sutter adding to this area.

The Kings already had a coach who demanded accountability – and it’s doubtful Darryl Sutter will do this in a way that’s more innovative than Terry Murray.  

Scoring is the Kings primary area of weakness, as it has been for the past couple of seasons.

Who knows – hatred of Sutter may rally players in the dressing room and get the team into the playoffs. There’s certainly enough talent on the roster for the Kings to be a playoff team.

But it’s doubtful the Kings make it, and blame should rest squarely on Lombardi’s shoulders.

He’s the one who’s had incredible difficulty acquiring the game-breaker Los Angeles has needed for the past three seasons (despite having a bevy of young talent to trade).

He’s the one who played hardball with Drew Doughty, resulting in a missed training camp, hurt feelings and a sub-par season to date.

He’s the one who traded for Dustin Penner last year, when anyone following the Oilers knew motivating the big guy was a challenge.

He’s the one who decided to give Justin Williams another $3.5+ million contract after his first 20-goal season in four years.

To his credit, Lombardi’s created a deep organization with strength on the blueline and in goal.  

But teams that win in the NHL can score. And most of Lombardi’s moves to help the attack have been like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

 *****

Speaking of the Titanic, sorry Canadiens fans, but the Habs have hit their iceberg, and it’s named Pierre Gauthier.  

While Jacques Martin may be the devil for creating hockey devoid of any offensive flourish, the fact remains that he got an incredible amount of success out of an (arguably) mediocre cast of players.

Firing coach Martin was clearly the act of a general manager (Gauthier) scrambling to keep blame off his shoulders.

You know, where it should be.

It’s Gauthier who completely botched the Andre Markov situation, giving him a long-term contract without first confirming the extent of the defenseman’s knee injury. Four months in, it would be a surprise to see Markov play this season.

Gauthier built the 2011-12 team with Markov penciled in on the blueline, and he has had to scramble (Chris Campoli, Tomas Kaberle) to fill the gap. Results of the scrambling have been mixed to say the least.

Meanwhile, the Habs continue to feature a pop-gun attack. Assistant coach Perry Pearn was the scapegoat earlier in the year. Now Jacques Martin’s fallen on the sword. In either case, it wasn’t their fault the team hasn’t drafted or traded for a 30-goal talent since Michael Cammalleri joined Montreal three years ago.

Even in the Cammalleri case, good goal-scorers need to play with centremen who can create space and opportunity on the ice. This describes something other than the corpse of Scott Gomez, who’s been given more rope by the Montreal front office than all the cowboys at the Calgary Stampede.

Now, St. Patrick himself, Patrick Roy, has let it be known he’d be interested in coaching the team… if they call him after this season. That’s nice of Patrick to give the Montreal media something to chew on over the holiday season, if not the rest of the NHL season.

In Gauthier’s hands, the 2011-12 Habs are devolving into a circus.

Expect a new ringmaster under the Habs big top next year.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • How about that ego on Patrick Roy? The NHL is an old boys club, and yet here’s Patrick, throwing Randy Cunneyworth and Joe Sacco under the bus. Coaching junior hockey is incredibly different than coaching in the NHL, and we’ve seen how other icons (cough Gretzky cough) have struggled reaching and motivating NHL-level players. It’s one thing to use your legend to push a team of kids; it’s another to get men to that. Roy will create headlines, but good luck to Montreal or Colorado if they hire him – they’ll need it.
  • It’s pretty easy to guess Patrick Roy’s future: successful QMHL coach/owner; failed NHL Coach; outstanding NHL studio analyst. Basically, it says here he becomes the new Jacques Demers or Mario Tremblay.
  • One more thing about the Habs – so their powerplay is miserable (12.3%), yet they just made the man responsible for the powerplay (Randy Cunneyworth) the head coach. That is a bigger red flag to me than a coach who can’t speak French. You can learn French – a coach either knows, or doesn’t know, how to make a powerplay excel.
  • Add Doug Maclean’s voice to those suggesting Mike Richards’ off-ice “issues” have continued in Los Angeles.
  • Interesting to hear Ken Hitchcock say during an interview on Prime Time Sports that his approach to coaching in the NHL today is the exact opposite to the one he used coaching in Dallas. Why did Hitchcock change? It’s a new generation of players (Generation X, Generation Y), who respond and are motivated differently. I wonder if Darryl Sutter is taking notes.
  • For being in a playoff race, there are few teams in the NHL softer in front of their own goal than Toronto. You can put a lawn chair down in the slot comfortably, especially on the powerplay.
  • Doesn’t Mark Messier have enough money? Saying the Canucks “owe” him, even if justified, just reopens old wounds locally. Make no mistake – Messier’s time in Vancouver contradicts the legend he built for himself in Edmonton and New York. It’s like the Canucks got Mark’s evil twin “Mike” Messier instead.
  • Love these Fenwick power rankings. Bottom line – Minnesota will be hard-pressed to keep their season up through 82-games, while these advanced stats are more evidence of the great job Kevin Dineen’s doing in Florida.
  • Here’s Puck Daddy’s 10-worst hockey decisions of 2011. It’s a great list, although I’d say Crosby playing back on January 5th should be #1.
  • Always enjoy reading about Mario Lemieux getting back on the ice, even if it’s just to practice. Probably the most physically-gifted player of all time.
  • Players with more points than Alex Ovechkin (who has 22): Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, P.A Parenteau, Rich Peverley and 78 others. Players with more goals (Ovechkin has 10): Ryan Jones, Jason Chimera, Chris Kelly, Jannik Hansen and 69 others.
  • Final Ovechkin pile-on: he’s got 5 points in 9 games under new coach Dale Hunter. It’s early, but the coaching change doesn’t seem to have altered much in Washington.
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