added 8/28/08 – writers note: I have changed my focus from the NHL to the KHL. “F” it. If I can’t change the NHL, maybe I can change the KHL and lead it to world domination. My league would devour the NHL.
This has been a good ongoing topic on yahoo’s NHL blog. The comments being posted leave a lot to be desired, as do the ideas of the writers. Mine are revolutionary and I think they would improve the game and take hockey to new heights in popularity. And, I believe they would create a better league for established hockey fans. My ideas are strongly influenced by the structure of world football leagues and may sound odd to those who know nothing about those league-structures. I do my best to succinctly explain what I mean, but if you don’t understand post a comment or look some of them up.
First – Institute “Promotion and Relegation” into North American Hockey. If you don’t know about “promotion and relegation,” its a system of leagues that are stratified. The top league is the premier league and draws the television contracts. Basically, the premier division would be composed of 20-25 teams and at the end of the year three would be relegated down, and three would be promoted up. No more rebuilding in the NHL. If you’re not good enough to keep your spot at the premier level, go back down and fix things in the second division. The NHL is supposed to be the best hockey on the planet but I seriously doubt if the Kings could defeat the Calder Cup winners in a series. Or their AEG owned european cousins: Sparta Prague. Hockey fans want great competition every game. “Promotion and Relegation” would ensure a playoff atmosphere all season long. The end of the season would also be enhanced as the “relegation battle” would be epic, perhaps even better than the league winner battle. I’ll go more into this, but imagine the Spokane Cheifs or the Ottawa 67’s (teams I’ve never seen play) working their way into the premier league and competing for supremacy, and even the Stanley Cup.
Second – Automatic ejection for brawling/fighting. In the current regular season format, I’d also suspend for 1-3 games. I know this one will be unpopular with many, but its time to start weeding this out of the game. The fact I think many overlook is that automatic ejections won’t mean that there won’t be fights. Simply put, it will force teams to sign “players” instead of “enforcers.” A meaningful penalty for fighting would severely curtail fighting but guys like your Shanahan’s, Thorntons, and Lacavaliers would still be able to fight if they really felt it necessary. They’d just have to weigh wether it were really worth it to the game and the team before going in. I’ve cheered for McSorley to destroy in the past, but think the sport would be better served if fighting became more of an aberration and the quality of the games escalated. I love the playoffs, the world cup of hockey, and the olympics. Fighting is almost non-existent in these tournaments because it hurts the teams chances for victory. Yet, you could still see a game like the epic Colorado/Detroit battle because in terms of “need,” the fights were necessary. I also think its time to stop setting the example for kids that fighting is a part of the game. Its one thing to have well monitored fights between professionals making millions, and another for uninsured young men to be risking seriously injuring themselves or others without medically trained personnel on hand.
Third – International Club Competition. I want to see the leagues of the world begin competing. I’d love to see the best 4 of North America against the best 4 of Russia, or Sweden. This would require a rule-set that was universal, and I think that’s possible. This idea comes from the European Champions League of football and I think it would be awesome. Not only would the games be epic, but the marketing for all the leagues would benefit. You’d have more Russian Redwings fans and more North American CSKA fans buying jerseys, going to pubs to watch, and funding television contracts. I can’t see how this isn’t Win/Win for everyone and better for hockey. It also requires a move towards getting fighting on the back pages and great, competitive games on the front. Another aspect of this idea is that the Stanley Cup would become a prize any club in the world could conceivably vie for. Many have no idea, but the Stanley Cup is a “challenge cup” that was originally awarded to amateur clubs. The rules for challenging allow for non-NHL teams to compete for it under a challenge system. The NHL is only a steward of the Cup and the Cup Trustee’s give them the right to manage the competition for it. In the 70’s the WHA sued for the right to compete for it but were somehow absorbed into the NHL. There’s more to it than that, but I need to do more research.
Fourth – Abolish the Draft. This goes along with instituting “promotion and relegation” and is fairly straight-forward. Allow teams to sign whomever they want if they’re not already under contract. I don’t care if they want 6 year olds under contract, let them start paying players and developing talent at the youth level. There are 16 year olds competing in the English Premier League. I see no reason why, if a team thinks they’re good enough, they should wait until 18 to get drafted. Additionally, transfers would be allowed on a monetary basis. This would allow clubs to develop players and sell them at a profit. It keeps the money in the game. If a club wants to take a highly valued player, say Ovechkin, and sell him to spend the money on multiple skilled players that are less valued; they just sell Ovie for 30 million and spend 6 million a piece on 5 players. As it stands clubs continue to waste money trying to develop their draft picks, the majority of which never make it to the top. In another sense, this idea also encapsulates “club autonomy” and instead of “franchises,” clubs would be “clubs.” The NHL premier league would control the Premier league and not the “franchise system” they currently operate. I really don’t understand this idea that they control the Rangers website and marketing. Its the Ranger’s property, in my opinion.
Fifth – Set the rules of the game of Hockey and leave them alone. I don’t care if teams develop ways to win with “boring” tactics, set the rules of competition and stick with them. Football had no problem sticking with a dozen or so basic rules for over 100 years now. Tweaking the rules constantly turns into crap like the NFL. Before you reach the bottom of the slippery-slope, the game becomes almost unrecognizable. Constant efforts to increase scoring are crap. Leave it alone. This whole “obstruction/interference” debacle is due to Mario Lemieux’s whining and the frustration of other teams at not being able to beat the Devil’s tactics. Sure, subtle definitions or ammendments are sometimes necessary, but changing overtime or creating new rules for obstruction taint the purity of the game. A big part of this would be a reduction in equipment. I want the goalies to be protected, and Zednik’s neck, but do we need NFL style shoulder pads and ever increasing armor? I think it leads to more reckless behavior on the ice. Accidents will happen, and even tragedy, but that happens every day in normal professions too. Luckily, pro sports pays well and insures the players, so there is plenty of support in these events.