With under ten games left per team, give or take, until the end of the NHL regular season, now is a pretty good time to look at some improvements the league could make to enhance the game. I say now is a good time because typically the games tighten up and less offence is found as teams clamp down defensively after the trade deadline. With fewer scoring chances because of obstruction and clogged up play, the game looks as if it’s being played in an elevator, in preparation for the run to the playoffs.
Some of these suggestions could be implemented right away, and others for the start of next year. Either way, fans certainly enjoy seeing exciting, fast, hard-hitting hockey, with flow of play and scoring chances a plenty.
Sadly, the closer we get to the playoffs, the further we are from that style. In note form, and in order of importance, here are changes I’d like to see to put forth to improve the NHL product:
-Instruct the referees to enforce the rules already in the rule book, throughout games and throughout the season, playoffs included.
This is the most basic and simple of all the ideas to make the game more enjoyable to watch. In no other professional league I know of do the rules on what is or is not considered a penalty change in degree as the year goes on. The score and/or time of year should not influence what is considered a penalty. When referees choose not to call something because they do not want to influence the outcome of a game, there are doing exactly that. If the standard is enforced from the rules already written out clearly within the NHL rule book, the better, stronger and faster teams will profit and the lesser-than teams will have to catch up. This notion would be embraced by all teams because it would end the refrain of not knowing what is or isn’t considered a penalty within the game or the season.
-Improve ice conditions.
Although supposedly included within the new CBA, the commitment to improve ice quality has yet to be noticed. With multi-purpose buildings sharing concerts and other sports, the ice conditions for games have seemingly declined. Again, there are rules in place to keep people and things off the ice at certain times before the game and between periods, but they are rarely enforced. Did you know that the new CBA includes the provision for an extra minute of intermission specifically to allow for the ice to freeze better before the start of the next period? That’s a good start. But what about in Los Angeles, where they actually roll out carpeting on the ice BEFORE warm-up so fans can shoot pucks into an empty net! Laying carpet on top off ice that needs to stay cold two hours before game time only worsens the problem.
-No glove passes allowed in the defensive zone.
Allowing glove passes in the defending end only puts the team on offence at a disadvantage. If the league can create a penalty for winning a face-off with the glove (passed for this season), why is passing to a teammate with the glove still allowed? Goals are scored when mistakes are made or when there is a breakdown, and most glove passes in the defensive end are because a defender has lost his stick, or is in a panic and can only advance a play with his hand. If eliminating glove passes in the defensive zone creates only one more scoring chance per game, than we are already ahead.
-No more shootouts to decide games.
If a scoreless team game through 65 minutes that gets decided by individual breakaways doesn’t reinforce this idea, I don’t know what else does. After regulation, go from five minutes of 4-on-4 to five minutes of 3-on-3. If there is still no winner, then the game is a tie and both teams keep their point.
All of the above ideas are easy to implement, would improve the game of hockey, and would be positively received by all involved. The game would be as fast and exciting as it claims to be and larger nets, bigger ice surfaces or fully served two minute penalties wouldn’t even be contemplated.