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With the New Year upon us, it’s the perfect time for New Year’s resolutions and pie-in-the-sky hopes for the future. Optimism and high hopes will never be bigger or better than it is in the first few days of a new year.
Of course, there are also some that clearly think self-help-ish resolutions aren’t necessary and you can most definitely count Brad Marchand among those folks.
Begging to differ with No. 63, though, it’s obvious that most things in life can be improved upon and the NHL is absolutely no different. At a time when COVID interruptions and some very unorthodox hockey seasons have opened the door to rethink everything about the game, here are some improvements we’d like to see in the hockey world during the New Year of 2022 and beyond.
1) Get Connor McDavid deeper in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This is obviously a two-way thing as the Edmonton Oilers need to play winning hockey in the Stanley Cup playoffs as well, but it’s also very much in the best interest of the NHL to get their most marketable superstar playing games at the most important time of the year. Connor McDavid is a viral goal-scoring experience just waiting to happen as everybody has seen. Clearly McDavid needs to be better than he’s been (one goal and a minus-2 in four games last spring) recently in the postseason too, but this is also about a hockey league that needs their referees to call the game properly. They shouldn’t be ignoring the rulebook and obvious infractions in order to give opponents a fighting chance to slow down the fastest, most skilled game-breaker in the league. They should treat McDavid like they treat every other NHL player, but they don’t really do that as videos this one show.
2) Go back to the Major League Baseball-style schedule adopted last season. The NHL stumbled onto greatness out of necessity last season when the realigned COVID divisions and a crazy schedule forced NHL teams to play consecutive games against each other in the same city over the course of a few days. It would turn into a two-game series, or in rare cases even a three-game series, between the same teams in the same arena similar to what you see in Major League Baseball, or sometimes what you see in the American Hockey League as well. It sparked new rivalries and made travel easier for the teams as well. The NHL went totally away from that schedule this season as they moved back to a normal 82-game schedule and regular divisions, which means each NHL team plays each of the other 31 NHL teams at least twice (home and road) during the regular season. The change was something the players actually loved about last season amidst so much COVID strangeness that was way, way out of the routine. It could have even been a help this season once COVID postponements started rolling in for so many of the teams. But it’s something the NHL should strongly consider moving forward along with adding a focus on more divisional games as the league constantly looks to create rivalries and on-ice conflict.
3) Say Adios to the Offside video review. There are few things worse during an NHL game than watching a good goal get overturned due to a play that was offside 45 seconds prior to the score and had absolutely nothing to do with the play in question. Certainly, there are times when video review will have to be used because the league has to use the technology available to them. At this point it doesn’t feel like Goalie Interference Video Reviews are going anywhere, and some of the other uses for video review are needed when it comes to controversial goals. But let’s be honest: The Offside Video Review rarely works exactly the way it was intended and that’s a problem. What we’d like to see: a review system similar to the VAR system in soccer where a team of officials monitor games and communicate with officials if there’s a scoring play called incorrectly. The NHL already has the Situation Room in place for this and it’s trending in that direction anyway. Scrap the coaching reviews altogether and just get as many calls right as possible regardless of the circumstances around it.
4) Get rid of the TV blackouts. People celebrated initially when it was learned that ESPN had won the TV rights for the NHL away from NBC because it meant hockey would once become relevant at the Worldwide Leader. And it’s great for true hockey people at ESPN like John Buccigross and Linda Cohn that they can dig in on the NHL like they haven’t been able to professionally for a long, long time. But the introduction of ESPN+ to the NHL and the fact they get exclusive TV rights to some NHL games means there are instances this season when fans are shut out of watching their team on even regional networks unless they’re an ESPN+ subscriber.
It’s the way of the world when it comes to streaming, exclusivity and cord-cutting these days, of course, but the NHL really isn’t in a place where they should be blacking out broadcasting hockey games to loyal fans. This is something people in the league office should be thinking long and hard about as they’re counting the bundles of TV money ESPN forked over for the broadcast rights. Because it’s pissing off the longtime diehard customers.
5) Move the Arizona Coyotes. They’re having trouble paying their bills. They’re selling off their best players because they can’t afford them. They’re getting kicked out of their home arena because of disagreements stemming from financial issues. And the Arizona Coyotes have never been a draw for hockey fans in Arizona while making the playoffs just three times in their 30-year franchise history. Hockey fans in Quebec are dying for the return of the Quebec Nordiques and have everything that Arizona doesn’t, and it’s also no secret that the NHL would like to put a franchise in Houston sooner rather than later. So let’s put the Desert Dogs out of their misery and move them somewhere where they’ll be loved and appreciated.
6) Bring Back the NHL All-Star Draft. Look, NHL All-Star weekend has been a constant work-in-progress over the years as the league attempts to drum up interest when hockey simply isn’t fun to watch with players coasting in an exhibition. All-Star games in each of the pro sports are in the same boat with that issue. Sure, the skills competitions like hardest shot and fastest skater have stood the test of time and are entertaining enough to watch. Who wasn’t wowed by Zdeno Chara rocking a 108.8 mph slap shot?
But the NHL All-Star game in every incarnation has been dreadful and always has been. The only ones entertained by the actual game are young hockey fans just wowed by the star-power on the ice, even if they are all in cruise control. One wrinkle that made things a little more enjoyable was the “NHL All-Star Draft” invented by Brendan Shanahan 10 years ago. Who can forget the awkward moment when both teams were bypassing Phil Kessel and Alex Ovechkin thought it was the funniest thing in the world?
Or when Ovechkin himself requested he be taken last in the draft? As players dipped into green room refreshments things got funnier and more entertaining in a reality show kind of way. We really, really miss that even though predictably it wasn’t something the players themselves enjoyed. That was part of the reason it was scrapped after a couple of seasons. But who knows? It might even be more interesting now if it’s four captains picking players for a 3-on-3 tournament as the current All-Star format has been the last few years.
7) Remove the Instigator Penalty. Please, please, please get rid of a penalty that protects cheap shot artists and dirty players. The NHL has effectively pushed most of the enforcers out of the league over the last handful of years with the way the on-ice game is legislated these days, and incidents of hockey fights continue to shrink with each passing year. There are far more instances of cross-checking, slew-footing, head shots and dangerous boarding hits from behind into the boards. The NHL Department of Player Safety does the best they can to fine and punish these infractions with supplemental discipline, but the best deterrent continues to be old-fashioned fisticuffs. The bottom line is that the instigator was brought in to protect unwilling combatants from the fearsome NHL enforcers, and they have essentially gone extinct in hockey. The league could take the governor off now by scrapping the instigator penalty for a kinder, gentler NHL that doesn’t need it anymore. After all, wouldn’t we all want to see more calls like this from ref Wes McCauley?
8) Gotta have more Gritty. More NHL mascots around the league could learn a thing or two from that irascible, fuzzy bundle of attitude in Philly.
Happy New Year to all the hockey fans out there. Onward and upward for everybody in 2022.