Hockey is my favorite. I played it as a kid and was fortunate enough to be a young fan in the 90’s when the Red Wings were a dynasty. As much as I love football, a big part of me knows that the Stanley Cup playoffs are way more satisfying and epic than the short post-season lead up to the Superbowl.
But over the past decade, I’ve noticed my enjoyment diminish a little in watching the NHL. I’m not as wild about the way the game is played these days, and I know I’m not alone in a vacuum, as I find myself agreeing completely with crotchety old Mickey Redmond as he complains incessantly about this or that.
I love hockey. I love Mickey Redmond. I want to love the NHL like I used to. The problem doesn’t lie within the great sport of hockey by any means; it lies within the current gestalt of the NHL, which makes change for the better possible.
Therefore, I humbly present two realistic and one completely absurd ways to make NHL hockey better:
1.) Move from the North American to International Rink Dimensions. Totally Reasonable.
Hear me out on this one. In the junior leagues they call the NHL “the big show” for a reason. Not only are the players tops in terms of skill level, they are now also enormous human beings (sorry Theoren Fleury), and all those huge bodies on the ice means that players are running out of room. My biggest pet peeve with the league today is the emphasis put on shot blocking by players other than the goalie. And why wouldn’t you try to block every shot headed towards the net if you’ve got tons of beef on the ice and narrow real estate?
But even if you love the selfless bravery and tactical wisdom of shot blocking, I argue that giving these amazing athletes more space gives them more skating room to create even better plays. A larger ice would reward individual player speed and creative passing on a team level. Think about how much more exciting four-on-four hockey is, and how amazing the new three-on-three overtime is. I don’t want to get rid of a player position; I just want to let those guys have enough space to do their thing. This one’s provable.
2.) Less Offsetting Penalties. Send the Guy Who Instigates for Two Minutes. Also No More Slashing Calls For Hitting a Guy’s Stick With Yours. Totally Reasonable.
I’ve already mentioned that I like four-on-four hockey, but it feels like it’s become de rigueur for the refs to just send both guys to the box at the outbreak of any sort of monkey business. If a guy takes a glove to the chops he’s going to react, and it’s not like the refs are likely to make a roughing call if he shows restraint and does nothing, so there’s no incentive to not smack the guy back. In some ways this one’s a little more philosophical, but penalties should mean something instead of just helping the referees tamp down rising tensions or corral chippy play. Besides, giving out a real penalty to the instigator is going to make a bigger statement to both teams in a game anyway.
Now I don’t necessarily agree with this sentiment, but the NHL says they’ve been rejiggering their rules to create more goal scoring. By that measure, a more decisive policy in regards to what should be offsetting minors, and what should be a single penalty would create more power-play opportunities, which means more goal scoring.
As far as the slashing is concerned it’s not expressly stated in the NHL rulebook that a broken stick as a result of another guy whacking it with his is an automatic penalty, but that’s certainly how it’s treated these days. The reason this needs to change is based on how these composite sticks are built (and it’s not to last). Watch fifteen minutes of hockey and you’re guaranteed to see at least one guy’s stick splinter into kindling, usually from an attempted slapshot from the point. So of course there’s going to be plenty of needless penalties from when one guy’s stick turns into spaghetti after some minor contact with another, which brings us to my final suggestion…
3.) No More Composite Sticks (or at Least Use Sticks that Don’t Explode on Contact). Totally Absurd.
I know the technology’s not going to move backwards and there are obvious benefits to today’s composite sticks. When they don’t fall apart they’re capable of some truly blistering shots. But I’m also completely sick of all the stick breaking one sees in any and every NHL game. Whether a broken stick aborts an awesome slapshot, puts a defenseman at a disadvantage during a penalty kill, or causes one of the unnecessary penalties mentioned earlier, I think the players and companies need to come up with something sturdier and more stable for the good of the game.
When I was a kid I played a couple years with a “Bending Branches” stick. It was solid wood, weighed a ton, and had a rhinoceros as a logo. It never broke, and I’m now left curious to think of what the game would look like today if, like in baseball, NHL players were required to use wood-only sticks. It’s never going to happen, but it’s a fun thought.
It’s not like I’m going to stop watching NHL hockey anytime soon. It might not be the game I watched in the 90’s, but it’s close enough. It’s also worth mentioning some of the things that the NHL has done right since those days: the aforementioned three-on-three overtime is the best change I’ve seen in all my years, and eliminating the two-line pass was a great move as well. Still, part of the fun of being a fan is the belief that the game can always be better.