Thursday, January 29, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Editors Note: Sorry for the lack of updates. I worked in excess of 50 hours last week while Dave's in the middle of a move to San Diego. Thanks for your patronage in the meantime.
Ah, so we get to talk about the league having some problems with revenues during the recession and what not. People like to see the problems that the Coyotes and the Predators are having financially and ask "Was the expansion worth it? Was the lockout worth it? Why didn't they just stop at 21 or 24 or 28 teams? Why didn't they put teams in Canada or a Northern market that would be sustainable for a team?"
You can say that having a team in Phoenix, Nashville, or suburban Miami might not be the best place for having a team because hockey isn't as popular there as it is up North, but how in the world do you expect the southern part of the country to get into hockey when there isn't a major league team there in the first place? Simply stated you have to expand into those markets and if there's anything that's been a hindrance to the teams in those regions it has less to do with interest in hockey and more to do with the performance of those franchises and how they've managed (or rather mismanaged) themselves as opposed to a lack of interested in the game in those areas.
While the Nashville Predators may be the exception (who've had attendance issues in spite of four straight playoff appearances), the Coyotes haven't made the playoffs since the 2001-02 season, and the Florida Panthers haven't made an appearance since the 1999-2000 season! Maybe Toronto can take a year off from playing well and still have decent attendance, but if markets like Edmonton or Boston are an indication, people are going to go in droves to teams that are winning. Look at the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004,when they were losing left and right, versus 2009, when they have a dynamic team to root for. Should they have been subject to relocation rumors? No, because they're an Original Six franchise. People like to see winning teams, and while the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Florida Panthers get a free pass for actually improving as of late, I think the league needs to intervene in certain situations to address organizational issues that affect fan support in certain markets (this especially holds true with the Atlanta Thrashers in regards to making them get rid of Don Waddell as their General Manager. How ever this guy has managed to remain at the helm of this team is something I can't figure out for the life of me. Bizarre.)
So my suggestion proposal to this is... Expansion? Expansion?! Did I forget that it's puff-puff-pass and not puff-puff-puff-puff?
Not at all. I think the league needs to do three things:
1. Award two teams to new cities. The first would be Winnipeg. While it lacked corporate support when the team set sail to Phoenix, their economy is performing more favorably and considering the amount of corporations based in Winnipeg, there's no reason to suggest that a new group of owners couldn't help prop a team up there. MTS already invested in an arena there and with some modification, it could ready for NHL action.
The second would be somewhere in Southern Ontario. Ideally, it would be in a spot that would be equidistant between London and Kitchener, but the only cities between the two, Stratford and Woodstock, only have populations barely over 30,000 and wouldn't be sustainable enough to dedicate a hockey team to. Considering that the league doesn't want a team in Hamilton and that Toronto could sustain two teams, Mississauga is probably a better destination.
I chose these locations because while having an upstart team in the United States can be a mixed bag, Canada's love of hockey will assure that a new team will get decent support, winners or not. Both would be in markets where they'd get both corporate and fan support, which is something necessary to a team's survival.
2. Relocate two of the existing teams.
So which teams would I pick?
The New York Islanders would be the first team I'd look to move. The third team in a market already filled by the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, the Islanders have consistently been ranked last in attendance in the league for quite some time. Meanwhile, Kansas City is not only hungry for a hockey team, they've got quite the facility to host a team.
For the second team, like I said before, the Predators are having attendance problems in spite of the fact that this will be their first season in 5 that they're not poised to make the playoffs. Not even a playoff team can thrive there, so what good is it doing the league to keep the team in Nashville? I say that there's another city that wants a franchise back... The Whale! Hartford has recently talked to the NHL about getting a team. A team that lost their first home meets a city that lost it's first team. Frankly, I couldn't think of a better match.
(And when Quebec City can get significant support toward bringing an NHL team back, I'd give them consideration over anyone else if someone were to relocate.)
3. Change the Divisional, season, and playoff formats.
First off, with 32 teams, you could realign the conferences and have divisions that make sense. Assuming that teams either relocate or start anew at the places I listed above, this is how I'd align the divisions (and if you want to rename them something to the effect of when the teams played in the Campbell or Wales Conferences, awesome.)
|Western Conference||Eastern Conference|
|Southwest Division||Southeast Division|
|Anaheim Ducks||Atlanta Thrashers|
|Los Angeles Kings||Carolina Hurricanes|
|Phoenix Coyotes||Florida Panthers|
|San Jose Sharks||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Northwest Division||Northeast Division|
|Calgary Flames||Boston Bruins|
|Vancouver Canucks||New York Rangers|
|Central Division||Atlantic Division|
|Colorado Avalanche||New Jersey Devils|
|Dallas Stars||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Kansas City||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Saint Louis Blues||Washington Capitals|
|Great Lakes Division||Ontario Division|
|Chicago Blackhawks||Buffalo Sabres|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||Mississauga|
|Detroit Red Wings||Ottawa Senators|
|Minnesota Wild||Toronto Maple Leafs|
4 Divisions with 4 teams per division.
So how would scheduling work out under that suggestion? Glad you asked:
16 Inter-conference games (West Vs. East, every team would face each other once. Two divisions from the East go out West while two divisions from the West would go out East.)
48 Intra-conference games (each division faces a non-division Conference Opponent twice in each of their respective buildings per season.)
18 Divisonal Games (each division opponent would face each other three times in both of their respective buildings.)
For a total of... well look at that, 82 games!
Now on to the playoffs. When the NHL first went to the current 16-team playoff format, there were 21 teams in the league. That meant that roughly 24% of the teams in the league didn't make the playoffs. Yet now that there will be 14 teams missing the cut, however, nearly half of the teams in the league will miss out on making the playoffs. I would suggest that with a 32-team league, 12 teams per conference would make it to the playoffs. However, I would suggest a preliminary round precede the Conference Quarterfinals. The winner of each division would draw a "bye" while seeds 5-8 would take on seeds 9-12 in a best-of-three game series, where the first game would be at the lower-seeded team's arena and the second and third game (if necessary) would take place at the higher-seeded team's arena. The winners of that would go on to face seeds 1-4 per usual.
So how would all that help the league out?
1. If you give people the illusion that their team is playoff bound, the fans will come. Even if it's a chance, the fanbase of teams like Columbus and Florida would be more hopeful that their team actually has a shot at seeing the playoffs. You bet that would drive up fan support and, if nothing else, give an owner an extra game to help off-set what he owes towards hockey operations.
2. With abundance of talented players like Ray Emery, Kyle McLaren, and Ville Leino playing in either the minor leagues or Europe, given how national hockey programs have evolved to develop top-tier players, there's going to be enough talent to go around to fortify teams and make the league more competitive with the European leagues. The NHL is losing ground on the KHL and the Swedish Eliteserien because of this principle. North America alone develops an astounding amount of prospects and while the minor league teams may not be as deep initially, it could only flourish with the development of the game in non-traditional markets.
Crazy? Perhaps, but when has a game that endorses fighting as part of its curriculum ever been sane? By putting hockey back in places where some feel it belongs, it will no doubt help generate revenues for the league and help keep teams in places where some may consider it doesn't belong (except for those who know better.) When you consider that the NHL is now in an era of "cost-certainty", teams are not only more competitive as ever, but the cost of putting together is now less of an issue with money and more of an issue of good planning and development. If there was ever a time to consider this, that time is now.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
January 20, 2009, the Phoenix Coyotes managed to do something they hadn't done in almost 3 years: The managed to secure a victory over the Detroit Red Wings, the defending Stanley Cup Champions. As a matter of fact, with a final score of 6-3, it wasn't even a close contest.
Wait a minute, the Phoenix Coyotes beat the Red Wings?! Aren't they that abysmal team in a place where no one likes hockey?! Aren't they the guys who have that coach who has delusions of grandeur because he was arguably the best hockey player ever? Aren't they the team that couldn't build through the draft so they signed either rental players or the castoffs from other teams?
To paraphrase the late Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, "It Ain't Like That Anymore..."
So why was this victory imperative for the Phoenix Coyotes?
Respect. The Coyotes haven't gotten much of it at all lately. Going into the season, the fans in Phoenix knew between their combination of feisty rookies, blooming sophomores, and a mix of veterans who still have plenty of NHL life left in them and knew they had a team to be excited about. But everyone outside of Phoenix was convinced that Dallas was going to reign supreme, and with the competitive San Jose Sharks and aggressive Anaheim Ducks in their division, Phoenix was assured a spot no higher than fourth or 12th in the Conference with some analysts feeling that even the Los Angeles Kings stood a better shot of getting fourth then they did.
It doesn't end there. Many of the people in Phoenix don't even give this team the respect they deserve. Their future in Phoenix depends on the team finding investors who might be interested in hockey, let alone helping keep the team in Phoenix. The local paper does what it can to promote the team, but many of Phoenix's news outlets are more dedicated to the efforts of the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and Suns (you know, the teams that have had winning records in recent history) than they are the Coyotes. I've heard some "hockey purists" in East Valley say they can get better value watching San Jose's "AA" minor league team then they can going to see the Coyotes. Heck, even last night, the Coyotes played in front of an army of Red Wings fans... in their own building!
Yet as the obstacles have piled up, as the patience of the team, their coach, and their die-hard fans have been tested, the team has managed to hold their own and persevere. A team many figured would be "also-rans" as far as playoff contention would go are actually second in their division and fifthin the Conference. Could Dallas be better then them? Not with the their goaltending woes. Could Anaheim be better? Not when they can't get balanced play from their players (save Perry and Getzlaf.)
Wayne's commitment to the players and their commitment to his program has given them all the tools and confidence to be a competitive team in the NHL. With victories this season over the Ducks, the Sharks, the Calgary Flames, and now the Red Wings, the Coyotes are not only starting to deserve the respect of hockey fans everywhere, they're starting to command it.
On the other side of the coin, why did the Red Wings need to lose?
This is the team that when I was a kid, I rooted for the greatest captain of all time in Steve Yzerman as well as rooted for the greatest fighter of all time in Bob Probert. Through the 90's, the team moved into a puck-possession style team but could still display glimpses of toughness that made them fun to watch. Into the first decade of the 21st Century, they've become a finesse team that doesn't use toughness, but rather skill to beat their opponents into submission.
Yet with the season, it's not so much that they've suffered from a "Stanley Cup Hangover" as they've just become complacent with winning. They've gotten used to it to the point where they don't try as hard as they used to. And you bet that's a problem. No team with Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Hendrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, and Chris Osgood as starters should be 2nd in their conference, let alone the league. Their reputation has preceded them and it's gotten the better of them. They're going to need to play hard game in, game out to maintain the reputation they're known for.
Going into the second half of the season, they're going to take the NHL All-Star Break to rest, rejuvenate, and pounce on all the other contenders in the league and show them what's up. Once everyone heals and is firing on all cylinders come playoff time, the Winged Wheel will be in full force, kicking butt and taking names...
... and when they look back at on it all, they can thank the kids in Phoenix for giving them the kick in the pants that they badly needed.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Thanks to Coyote Q and Night Angel for checking us out. You can participate in their forum over at the Fanster website
Mega Thanks to Reggie Dunlop, Phreespeech, Alonzo, and TrialNError04 for jumping into the fray and offering their insights on our commentary, whether sane or insane. Many of them came from commenting on articles from the Coyotes section of the Arizona Republic/AZ Central website, so go over there and see if you can... um, find their posts between the ongoing verbal war between two guys who either love the Coyotes or love to hate the Coyotes.
Thanks for reading... and tell your friends :-P
While the return of Brendan Shanahan is worth it's own story (and believe me, there will be one here sooner than later), something pretty extraordinary happened today when the San Jose Sharks recalled Claude Lemieux from their AHL affiliate and gave the 43-year-old player an opportunity to play in the NHL for the first time in nearly 6 years. I say this is extraordinary because while you have cases like a 40-year-old Shanahan coming onto a team mid-season after a respectable tenure with the NY Rangers or the seemingly eternal 46-year-old Chris Chelios still being able to play the role of a Top-6 defensemen in the NHL, it's not every day that someone comes back to a pro sport after a 5 year hiatus from playing professionally (Lemieux's last season prior to this one was in 2003-04, where he spent time playing with EV Zug of the Swiss Nationaliga A.)
Now, as a born-and-raised fan of the Red Wings, I can't soon forget the dirty hit he laid on Draper during the 1996 Western Conference Finals. But as a person who believes it's more important to be fair than to be right, I can't soon forget the payback returned by Darren McCarty. Not that Draper was the first person to fall victim to Lemieux's dirty antics, Jim Peplinski had his finger bitten by Lemieux back in the 80's, but that was definitely a moment that galvanized Lemieux's reputation as a dirty player and cheap shot artist.
But in spite of his dirty play, Lemieux was also the type of person who was fiercely determined to win, no matter what the cost, and was one of the most key players whenever his team was faced with a clutch situation. As it stands, Lemieux is one of eight players ever to have won the Stanley Cup with 3 different teams (the 1986 Montreal Canadiens, the 1995 and 2000 New Jersey Devils, and the 1996 Colorado Avalanche.) Further, while his point production during regular season play was consistent of what was expected for a second-line player, his point production during the playoffs was either met, exceeded, or came pretty darn close to a point-per-game basis. While he might not have played up to his full potential during regular season play, he hardly, if ever, took a night off when it mattered most.
People can scoff at the notion of the team with the league's best record giving a 43-year-old, five seasons removed from professional hockey, a shot at being on their squad, but Lemieux brings something that the Sharks haven't demonstrated that they possess: Fierce determination and the ability to win when it counts. It's not just his playing record either. In a league where players either opt for retirement when faced with playing in a lower league or run to another league to take more money when they haven't played well enough to earn what they're asking for, Lemieux opted to mount a comeback by playing in the Asian Ice Hockey League (which is more on par with the CHL or ECHL than either the AHL or the elite leagues in Europe) and subsequently the AHL in order to prove to the Sharks, and himself, that he still had something to give. Combine that with the fact that he's gotten better at picking his spots (the book Blood Feud recounted a story where he wished Darren McCarty well with his battle with alcoholism after McCarty gave him the beat down) and you've got a player who can be absolutely dangerous on the ice, even if in a limited role.
Love him, hate him, or love to hate him (except when he's playing for your team), you can't deny the determination and effort Lemieux has put forward to return to the NHL despite the fact many would consider him to be past his prime. It goes to show that much like when playing against him, you have to expect the unexpected from Lemieux. Should San Jose choke in the playoffs, then you might be able to find more fault with the talent on the team who's expected to carry them into the post-season (Jumbo Joe, Patrick Marleau, and Evgeni Nabokov come to mind.) Yet if the Stanley Cup does end up in Nor-Cal this spring, the success might be pinned to the old dude who still liked to win enough to have staged the most unlikely and surprising comebacks in professional sports.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
If you take a good look at the NHL rule book, there's a rule that's rarely ever called, but it's there:
28.7 Participating in the Play Over the Center Red Line - If a goalkeeper participates in the play in any manner (intentionally plays the puck or checks an opponent) when he is beyond the center red line, a minor penalty shall be imposed upon him. The position of the puck is the determining factor for the application of this rule.
I couldn't make that up if I wanted to...
I guess seeing that begs the question: What is the best way to address goaltender movement? I mean, I wouldn't consider this a hot issue like say, hits to the head, but is there any way we can address how goalies are used in a game that could add for more excitement to the game?
I say yes!
Currently as it stands, goaltenders have a trapezoid that they can play behind the net and if they play outside of it, it's considered a minor penalty. Why? Because if anyone hits a goaltender, it's considered goaltender interference and whenever a goalie would play the puck behind the net, it would theoretically slow down the game because a goalie would be playing the puck and no one could touch him. So what would I suggest the league solve this problem? Implementing a new trapezoid and reapplying how goaltender interference is called. Check this out:
Above would be an alternate design for the trapezoid. If a goaltender played the puck within the trapezoid and someone hit them, the referee would call the offending player for goaltender interference. Yet if the goaltender plays the puck outside that trapezoid, then that goaltender could be checked by an opposing player without penalty. In exchange, the goaltender would not be issued a penalty for playing the puck over the red line or leaving the crease. This would allow the goaltender to play the puck wherever they'd like and get certain functions more in line with a player.
So why is this significant? Video Reviews Below:
While the fights are a bit gratuitous, the fact is as the game's evolved, we now have goaltenders who're becoming excellent puck handlers. Yet whenever there's a critical situation where a team is down by a point in the waning seconds of the game, they're forced to pull their goaltender for an extra attacker because the goaltender cannot be used in an offensive manner. Goaltenders like Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco, and Martin Brodeur are shown to be excellent puck handlers. If they can be used to lob shots from the point (and can be counted on to skate their tails off should the possession of the puck turn over) then I think allowing goaltenders to play the puck on the opposite side of the red line could be exciting.
As it stands, hockey remains pretty bright and exciting without the dimension I've just described. And of course, as long as there's Datsyukian dekes and Chara's checks, we're going to be talking about the excitement that forwards and defensemen can bring. But in addition to just making great saves, I think the rules should be revamped to help exceptional goaltenders stand out by being able to demonstrate the ways that they can be more than just guys that throw themselves in the way of a shot to keep the team in the game. They can be playmakers, agitators, and most importantly of all, teammates. I say let's expand the spectrum from which they play and allow some of their other talents to shine.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Well, as much as any hockey fan in the desert would hate to attest to, it hasn't necessarily been a secret that The Coyotes are in financial trouble and are expected to take a big financial hit once the season is over. It's entirely possible that a long trip to the playoffs can help alleviate some of that, but when it comes down to people talking about the Coyotes being moved or contracted, you have to ask yourself the imperative question...
... What went wrong?
Location, Location, Location
Of course, a winning team is going to bring fannies to the seats. But it seems like something's amiss when despite having similar attendance figures for nearly a decade, that the NHL is penalizing the Coyotes for not hitting attendance figures. While the Coyotes do indeed have similar attendance figures to the ones they had while located in Phoenix, it's no secret that many of those tickets are given away as promotional prizes, including ice-level seats. While the attendance might be there, when you have 20 people sitting for free in seats that have a value of $80 at the gate, you're essentially missing out on $1600. Start adding that up, along with a general lack of attendance, and you start to realize you aren't getting your return on investment. So why has it resorted to this?
Ice hockey in general is a sport that's found throughout the East Valley. The cities of Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe, and Scottsdale all have their own ice rink, while the only ice rink in Phoenix is located at 32nd St and Thomas, which is located in Phoenix's East Side. The same cannot be said for the West Valley, which has a handful of roller hockey rinks, but no notable programs supporting the development of ice hockey. Tie that in with the fact that the East Valley towns are the most populous in the Phoenix area and the decision to place the Coyotes in Glendale as opposed to an East Valley town seems to be absurd. Ultimately, you're taking the product away from the people who'd support it and placing it in an area where there's far less interest in what you're trying to sell to them.
Another factor holding them back is their 7PM start time during weekday games. Assuming you're an East Valley resident who wants to go to a game and you get off work at 5PM, by the time you've went home home, grabbed someone to go to the game with, sat through rush hour traffic that doesn't begin to dissipate from the downtown area until 6:30ish, complete the drive to one of the west-most points of town, and arrive at the arena, you've more likely than not missed most if not all of the first period. To put it in perspective, it takes nearly 30-45 minutes for an East Valley resident to make it to a game when traffic isn't an issue. Throw in a start time that essentially guarantees that you're missing a portion of the game and you're going to have your average fan become disinterested in seeing a game.
Detractors will say that if this were true, the Arizona Cardinals football team would have poor attendance and because their attendance is good, it must mean that no one is interested in hockey or the Coyotes. That may seem plausible until you realize the Cardinals can still have respectable attendance because they play once a week, typically on a Sunday, and only have 8 regular season games at home as opposed to the Coyotes' 41.
A Terrible Draft History
Another thing that's hurt the Coyotes is the fact that they've not made the proper draft choices for sometime and have attempted to patch the holes for far too long before going through the option of rebuilding. Below is a table that shows the Winnipeg/Phoenix first round draft picks since 1995:
|Draft Year||Player Name||Overall||Current Team/Role|
|1995||Shane Doan||7th||Phoenix Coyotes/Top-Six Forward|
|1996||Dan Focht||11th||Retired after 2005-06 season after finishing career in minors.|
|1996||Daniel Briere||24th||Philadelphia Flyers/Top-Six Forward|
|1998||Patrick DesRochers||14th||Vålerenga IF Oslo of Norway's GET-ligaen/Starting Goaltender|
|1999||Scott Kelman||15th||Coventry Blaze of Britan's EIHL/Second or Third-Line Forward|
|1999||Kirill Safronov||19th||St. Petersburg SKA of Russia's KHL/Checking-Line Forward|
|2000||Krys Kolanos||19th||Minnesota Wild/Reserve Forward|
|2001||Fredrik Sjostrom||11th||New York Rangers/Checking-Line Forward|
|2002||Jakub Koreis||19th||Sparta Praha of the Czech Republic's Elite League/Checking-Line Forward|
|2002||Ben Eager||23th||Chicago Blackhawks/Fourth-Line Enforcer|
|2004||Blake Wheeler||5th||Boston Bruins/Second or Third-Line Forward|
|2005||Martin Hanzal||17th||Phoenix Coyotes/Checking-Line or Scoring Forward|
|2006||Peter Mueller||8th||Phoenix Coyotes/Scoring-Line Forward|
|2006||Chris Summers||29th||University of Michigan in NCAA/Top-Pairing Defensemen (rights still retained by Phoenix)|
|2007||Kyle Turris||3rd||Phoenix Coyotes/Power-Play Specialist|
|2007||Nick Ross||30th||Vancouver Giants of the WHL/Top-Pairing Defensemen (rights still retained by Phoenix)|
|2008||Mikkel Boedker||8th||Phoenix Coyotes/Second or Third-Line Forward|
|2008||Viktor Tikhonov||28th||Phoenix Coyotes/Checking Line Forward|
So while this paints an encouraging picture that the draft choices have moved in a better direction as of recently, this goes to show that from 1996 to 2003, the Coyotes only drafted one player who could be a difference maker in an NHL game, and he, being Daniel Briere, was traded because he wasn't designed for the "old" NHL (the deal looks terrible now that the rules on obstruction have changed drastically.) In fact out of the 69 players drafted by the Coyotes from 1996 to 2003, only 5 are still in the NHL (several others are on two-way contracts and playing in the minors) and only one, Matt Jones, remains in the Coyotes system as a minor-league defenseman. During this time, the talents of Nikolai Khabibulin, Keith Tkachuk, Aaron Ward, Daymond Langkow, Temmu Selanne, and Teppo Numminen escaped the system and were a benefit to other teams around the NHL. Add all that up and it's easy to see how the team has failed to make the playoffs since 2002. People in a non-traditional market want a winning team and because of their past futility, there's not a whole lot of support to be given to a losing squad.
So What To Do Now?
Well, as the later draft selections have indicated, the guys that the Coyotes are picking now are starting to not only make the NHL, but stick around as part of their future plans. Add that to the moves that have brought players like Steven Reinprecht, Olli Jokinen, Ed Jovanovski, Zbynek Michalek, Derek Morris, Kurt Sauer, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Mikael Tellqvist to Phoenix and the squad is starting to resemble a winning team. If the Coyotes can have a playoff spot secured by April, they'll see additional revenues that they wouldn't see during regular season play. A deep playoff run could help address some of the losses they would incur during regular season play.
Hopefully, a decent playoff run could help offset the losses by the organization. But if they don't and cannot find a new group of owners willing to support a team in Glendale, the franchise should declare bankruptcy and return to the U.S. Airways Arena until they get their ducks in a row. While it would be embarrasing to not have their own arena anymore, it is imperative to keep the team in Phoenix. People, especially those in Canadian markets, may see a team in Phoenix as unnecessary. Yet given the development of the game in the East Valley area since an NHL team has arrived, the franchise is doing something that the Phoenix Roadrunners or any minor league team could fail to do, and that's expand the game to a place where it was never thought possible to host.
So if you have to take anything away from this article, it's that a centrally-located and winning hockey club would be highly successful in the Phoenix area.
Friday, January 16, 2009
This article is dedicated to the memory of Don Sanderson. You can find out more information on the Don Sanderson trust fund Here
Though this was going to be one of the first things I touched base on, TSN wrote a nice article on how the NHL should address fights. I've been chewing on this one for a while because I was afraid that we would ultimately see what happened with Mr. Sanderson. While fighting is tolerated in hockey, it isn't legal, nor are there any standards as to which players can either gauge or be instructed on how to conduct themselves in a fight. While your traditional enforcer adheres to "the code", anyone else is at risk of either putting themselves or a fellow player in harm's way, which can ultimately prove fatal as we've seen recently.
So, what's to do about changing things up?
The laziest answer in my eyes is to outlaw fighting outright. But if alcohol or drug prohibition has shown us anything, it's that prohibition doesn't necessarily work. In this case, you not only have the old-school fans saying "fighting's part of the game!" but also the contingent of hockey fans who're interested in the game due to the fact that hockey is the only major sport that allows players to have it out without ejecting or suspending them. The first year after the lockout, there was some interest in hockey because it was back, but it wasn't until the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup that everyone started to square off again, which actually led to the fans coming back to the game! If they really were disgusted by the on-ice antics, certainly we would have seen the trend go in the opposite direction.
The first thing for the league to do is to revamp their fighting policies as well as their stances on the instigator rules. I say the referees need more leeway to make the decisions as to the severity and the league only intervening when absolutely necessary. I support the league adopting a 2-minute minor for fighting in addition to allowing refs to assess five-minute fighting majors. How would that look like? Well, how about this:
On January 6th of 2009, Andre Roy of the Calgary Flames and Alexei Semenov of the San Jose Sharks got into that fight as seen above. While both threw punches, both agreed to square off and kept their equipment on. No one was jumped, no one was injured, and both guys skated to the box without being jerks about it. I saw some bloggers, reporters, and fans be like "Two minutes?! What in the world?!" But I think those referees made the right call there to give them off-setting roughing minors.
So what would constitute a 5-minute major? How about during situations where the fight occurs during play where it wasn't necessarily due to a "lets fire the team up" kinda scenario and more of the "I'm gonna rip your flippin' head off!" type of scenario. The referees should still retain the ability to call for misconduct or game misconduct penalties where applicable.
As for instigating, the referees should have the option of assessing anywhere from 2 minutes to a game misconduct for instigating and any game misconducts issued from fight instigating (as well as any instigating penalties taken within the last 5 minutes of a game) should be reviewed to see if their severity warrants additional penalties. The current rules are rather vague and seem to go after only the goons as opposed to "star" players. If the NHL wants to be taken seriously, they need to be uniform with their punishments. This is the league that suspended Sean Avery for insulting Dion Phaneuf's girlfriend but didn't do anything when Sidney Crosby decided to punch Boris Valabik in the testes. Here's the footage:
As for my final suggestion as a rule for fighting, I like the OHL's new model of not having players remove helmets during fighting. I think it's a great idea and once that should be enforced as vigorously as keeping the jerseys tied down during a fight. So how is a player to get into fisticuffs without equipment being an issue?
The second thing for the league to do is to get with hockey equipment manufacturers to develop protective equipment that could serve as a protector during fights. For players who like to wear visors, how about a visor that has a mount on the helmet so that the visor can attach to (and detach from) the helmet instead of having the visor permanently mounted to the helmet? If a visor-wearing player got into fisticuffs, they could lift their visor off the mount while still keeping their helmet attached. As for the hands, anyone who's seen the Don Cherry Rock 'em Sock 'em videos knows that he prefers the older style hockey gloves to the newer style hockey gloves because they protect the wrists better.
See the difference in how protected the wrists were? Well, how about instead of revamping gloves, hockey equipment manufacturers make gauntlets for the players to wear underneath their gloves. It would require some design to repel moisture, but the gauntlets could have padding around the wrists and knuckles, which would look like something similar to MMA gloves...
See that? That way not only could players be protected from slashes, but when they fight and leave their helmets on, there's less of a risk for them to break their hands. I would also suggest anyone caught altering their gauntlets to gain advantage in a fight be suspended for 10 games and have their salary forfeited based on 10 games, not 10 days, and the teams fined $50,000 USD You won't see too many guys trying to alter equipment to get an advantage then. I would also like to see that type of equipment be mandatory for all players so it doesn't appear to be just for goons.
Finally, I'd like to see the integration of fighters either in coaching for teams or in the league itself. In terms of a team perspective, old enforcers could get a job teaching the new guys how to fight properly and how to protect themselves should they get into an altercation. I would never suggest teaching fighting in youth hockey, but by the time a player reaches junior status and beyond (ages 16 and up), it starts to become necessary for them and their development to figure out how to fight if the need arises. From a league perspective, instead of having linesmen breaking up fights, you could actually have an "enforcer" type of official who'd come out on the ice to break up fights and scrums. Maybe that's a little far-fetched, but how cool would it be to see Rob Ray and Tie Domi break up a battle between Colton Orr and Andrew Peters?
Would it require some work to make fighting truly integrated into the game? Perhaps, but if the games can end based on a shootout competition for the sake of fan interest, why not redesign the way the guys "have it out" in order to keep both the fans entertained and the players safe? I think that with a few adjustments, you would not only have more interest in the game, but even encourage a few of the more timid guys to get out there and jump into the fire themselves. Because as cool as a Godard-Brashear fight would be, watching Ovie and Malkin having it out would just be too cool for words.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Hey. We're The Brothers LaRue and welcome to our hockey blog. We're 20-something hockey fanatics from Detroit who've been Red Wings fans as long as we can remember (hence the title. We used to pretend we were Bob Probert and Joey Kocur when we were little kids.) We've moved to the southwest to further ourselves in life and while the Red Wings are far (not to mention our family), we still follow the game and what it's all about. Dave's a bit more of the "homer" (he'll live and die a Red Wings fan), Mike's a bit more oriented to being a fan of the game while still being a fan of the Red and White or the Sedona Red And White... the details of his love affair with the Phoenix Coyotes will definitely come out in our future posts.
So what's our station? Why are we doing this? First off, we think a blog would be a cool idea as a means to start networking but we want to have it branch out to be more than that. Baby steps at first, but we want to start getting into markets outside of Detroit's and not just see the teams in action but meet the fans who support it. What we would ultimately like to do is be able to write a book about the people we meet while seeing all of the 30 teams in the NHL and donate the proceeds to Hockey Fights Cancer. It's ambitious but if we keep with this and can prove to our readers that we're legit, we'd hope to get your support in having us out to see you, your fellow fans, and your team. And should a first book be successful, maybe we can take a tour of the "A" and other leagues as well (Des Moines, let us see your Chops!)
So what are we gonna write about? A lot and from our different perspectives as well. We'll talk about the NHL, but we'll talk about minor or Euro leagues too. We'll talk about the players, the rules, and the game itself. But most important, we wanna talk about the fans who've dedicated themselves to following the game. If we find a sweet bar that supports the game, we're gonna let people know about it. If we find the biggest group of butthead homers, we're gonna let you know about that too. But if you give us Molson, we're automatically going to assume you're awesome, even if you're a Pittsburgh fan...
So yeah, keep tuned in and let us know what you think. Happy Reading!