Yearly Archives: 2007

ERIC DUHATSCHEK: Speed kills Speed kills:

A nice thought too, on the surface – technologies making hockey better and better, or until you thought it through a little longer. At the highest level, the NHL, do they really need more speed in the game?

Think of it this way: Every week, it seems, there is talk about a new issue causing trouble for the NHL — hits to the head, hits from behind, a fall-off in post-lockout scoring. Everybody tut-tuts about the problem for a time, without coming to a definitive solution – and then the discussion eventually grinds to a halt, when a new cause celebre slips into the headlines.

But what if all these issues were merely symptoms of a larger problem and the root cause was simply too much speed in the game.

Or to put it another way: Maybe it’s time to frame the discussion about what’s going on by asking the question: Is the game of hockey, played at the NHL level, too fast for its own good?

Interesting question, but my answer is “hell, no”. I think the day you start “downgrading” the players through equipment limitations or in other ways is the day you start REALLY killing this sport. This needs to be dealt with in other ways. Larger ice surfaces would be a nice option, but not practical for most teams now.

I do so wish the NHL had been forward-looking when they started the last expansion and the round of building replacements. If they’d allowed teams to build larger ice surfaces while building those new buildings; one of the big things we’ve lost in the last 15 years are these unique buildings and the ability to tailor a team to it — whether it was the old Boston Garden, the old Chicago Stadium, or even, god help us, the Cow Palace of the Sharks first two years (our motto: it’s a pit, but it’s OUR pit!).

Now? everyone’s playing the same game the same way. Major league baseball figured it out, just look at Camden Park or whatever it is we’re calling it in San Francisco, or even the new park down in Houston, where they decided if a little uniqueness was good, lots of uniqueness was better, so doing every possible unique thing had to be best, right? well, no..). Imagine teams being able to build a rink at some size at least the current size, and up to an international surface. Allow them to customize the corners a bit, flat and shallow, or deep and sharp. Not HUGE differences, but things that teams can use to their advantage, while still having to build a team competitive in other arenas, too. That was part of what made the old Boston and Blackhawks teams so tough — but now, it’s a bit late to bring that back, but if the league would plan for it now, over time, we could bring it back. and should.

For now? to me, the answer isn’t slowing players down. It’s better safety gear for better protection, which means the NHLPA needs to get on board big time. And less tolerance for stupid and dirty play (the whole “respect” thing, but that’s a different rant I’ll do later).

And honestly? I think Duhatschek is headed in the right direction, but choosing the wrong solution. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about moving hockey to four on four — there’s precedent for reducing the number of skaters in the past as speed and skill increased (hockey once had six skaters and a goalie). as someone who remembers Roller Hockey International, I think 4on4 is ALSO a mixed blessing, but where we see it in the NHL game today, it does open up the ice and speed things up and give players room to play, so while I’m not saying we should do it, I AM saying the league and players and fans need to talk about it and think it through.

But I doubt it’s going to happen any time soon. but I sure prefer it to slowing the players down, or mandating that goalies have to be fat and slow, or that skaters need to wear suits that look like those damn sumo suits teams use to embarass fans during intermission….

Never the Fan’s Fault

Tom Benjamin’s NHL Weblog: Never the Fan’s Fault:

Bunk. Whatever the Leaf problems – and I don’t think they are as bad as the Toronto media makes out – none of them can be laid at the feet of the fan. The fan can’t do anything about the fact that corporations will buy all the tickets win or lose, and the fan can’t force the league to put another team in southern Ontario.

Furthermore, while the Leafs may make a ton of money with a mediocre team, they would make much more with a Stanley Cup Champion. Even if that was not the case, the hockey people hired want to win just as much as the hockey people in every other city. Perhaps more, simply because the pressure in that market is so unrelenting. Finally, I don’t think anyone can accuse the Leafs of being unwilling to invest. If anything they have been too willing to spend money over the years. They haven’t necessarily spent wisely, but they have spent.

I almost want to agree with Tom here, but there are a couple of problems with his assumptions here.

First problem: corporations may well buy most of the seats, but someone inside that corporation is making the decision to buy them and is allocating the money to pay for them. And that person is very likely a FAN, or they would be spending the money somewhere else. Corporate spending starts with a fan who decides to do the spending, because it’s a lot more fun to get their company to pay for the tickets than paying for them directly.

Second problem: there have been studies in baseball (I’ll try to find references, I don’t have them handy) that show that the MOST PROFITABLE teams tend to be teams with really strong fan bases who play .500ish baseball but never spend the money to go out and Win The Big One. Two words: Chicago Cubs.

And the Chicago Cubs are a great analogy for the Leafs, because of the real core of the second problem with what Tom says: it’s true that the hockey people hired want desperately to win — but the people that hire them want to make money. In Chicago, it’s the Tribune, in Toronto, it’s the Teacher’s Pension plan. And if you look at both organizations, the “Hockey people” and “baseball people” in management tend to turn over fairly frequently, because they come in thinking they can fix the organization, and they quickly learn that their bosses don’t really want them to, because it’d cost money….

I think you’re seeing similar problems with Sather in Edmonton — After years of buying in expensive free agents who didn’t perform well enough, he finally started to restructure the team towards home-built youth and good drafting, and you saw that team really improve. And this year? Way overpaid for some free agents and they’re struggling again. Back to the Good Old (or Bad Old) Rangers. Not because Sather went senile again, but, I think, because his uber-bosses told him they wanted “names” to market around, and that was more important than actually winning hockey games. New York is, after all, a Marquee city, and when you have a Marquee, you need Marquee names.

So I wouldn’t be suprised if Sather left New York fairly soon. He tried to fix the team, and then something made him go off and start buying expensive free agents again. I don’t think that was Sather’s idea, either, although he won’t say so.

Players Need to Take Responsibility

Players Need to Take Responsibility:

“There’s always talk about a lack of respect [among NHL players],” Ference added, “but the biggest question is if guys understand how much trust is involved in playing hockey – trust between you and your opponent.

If you ask me, the “Players Need to Take Responsibility” mantra is bogus. The history of the league is full of players who’s career was based on not having respect for other players. Stop to think that of the old-timers who talk about “respect” and the “good old days” you have Bobby Clarke, the guy who once broke an opponent’s ankle on purpose, and Phil Esposito, who when he’s not talking about players needing to respect each other on XM radio, is telling stories of fondly remembered players from the old days who’s specialties included enthusiastic stickwork (especially to opponent’s groin area or head) and guys who used their elbows as weapons of mass destruction.

Now, having said that, respect between players is an important aspect of the game, but the reality is, there have always been a subset of players who’s job is was to “stir it up”, or disrupt the game — or simply didn’t care what happened to someone on the other team.

After all, esposito loves to talk about the Good Old Days when players on different teams didn’t talk to each other — and some who carry the grudge forward to today. And teams that has to take turns in the dining cars on the trains to avoid the inevitable fights.

When was the last time you heard about two NHL players fighting outside of a game environment, anyway? Yet for some reason, the old days had a higher level of respect than today does. Hmm. Selective memory, perhaps? Perhaps.

the problem isn’t respect, although that’s the word people are using. The problem is that there are (and always have been) players who’s job depended on them being willing to stretch (or ignore) the rules — and beyond that, we have to remember that the teams are judged based on winning, and players are giving jobs based on their willingness and ability to make teams win, and frankly a player that isn’t willing to do “whatever is necessary” to win is a player looking for a job. A player that puts “respect” above helping his team win is likely an ex-player.

That’s why the league gives out the Lady Byng with an embarassed smile every year. Because Sportsmanship is a nice concept, but winning games is what counts. And Sportsmanship often gets in the way of winning.

Now, I’m all for the NHLPA getting involved with teaching players to be more respectful (or more correctly, more AWARE) of the implications of the kinds of dirty hits going on — but until that kind of play hurts a team’s ability to win, this is all nudge-wink land. Players will talk the talk, teams will talk the talk, the league will talk the talk, and when the whistle blows and the game starts, players of marginal talent will go out and push the envelope (and yes, I’m talking about you, Jordin Tootoo) and if someone gets hurt, well, that’s someone else’s problem, because the alternative is Tootoo not having a job in the NHL (and an NHL paycheck).

So you can talk about players learning to respect each other — maybe Bobby Clarke can give a few lectures here — but until the league structures the rules and penalties so that it’s in the team’s best interest to “encourage” it’s players to cut it out, it’s simple: they won’t.

For the record: the Downie suspension is a great start. The league needs to keep it up. I’d also like to see the league suspend that roster spot, too. That would DEFINITELY get the team’s interest in a way simply suspending the player won’t. Once you do that, you can bet Coaches will get involved in “teaching respect” and GMs will be more careful to sign “respectful” players. Until then — it’s all talk, because if it helps your team win, then that’s what REALLY matters.

(and that’s frankly how it SHOULD be; which is why the rules and enforcement need to be structured so that the best way to win is to win with respect. If it’s not within the rules, it ain’t gonna happen)