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How We'd Fix It: The NHL [article - LONG read]


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I wanted to share an interesting article I read about how to fix what ails the NHL, but it's a VERY long read. So, in the interest of sparking a discussion I'm only including the outline with selected quotes here to try to give a general overview of each point. Though it is very long, it's a pretty good read so I do suggest you read the full article @ Grantland.

How We'd Fix It: The NHL

Part I

Fix the standings and kill the loser point

The loser point deadens third periods by encouraging teams to play for overtime, makes the playoff races worse, and adds confusing columns to the standings that new fans are bound to struggle with.

Longer overtime, fewer shootouts

Look, the shootout is awful. It's a sideshow, a gimmicky skills competition that has no place deciding the results of key games in an actual professional sports league. Ideally, we'd be able to scrap the shootout altogether.

But unless we're willing to go back to having ties, we're kind of stuck with it. ...

So we'll grudgingly keep the shootout, but we'll try to have fewer of them. That means expanding overtime from five minutes to 10.

Lose the puck-over-the-glass penalty

It penalizes players for a play that's almost always a random accident, with no room for a referee's discretion or any common sense.

Instead, we'll treat pucks shot into the crowd the same way we treat icing: with a faceoff in the defensive zone without the opportunity for a line change. After all, the puck-over-the-glass and icing rules are both intended to punish a player for essentially the same thing (delaying the game by shooting the puck away while in his own zone). It only makes sense that they should carry the same penalty.

Hybrid icing

Hybrid icing is a blend of the current rule (in which players race for the puck) and the no-touch version (in which the play is automatically blown dead). It gives the officials the discretion to blow the play dead unless they feel the trailing player has a realistic chance of touching the puck first, and is meant to eliminate the dangerous moments when the player who goes in first gets knocked off balance and slams into the boards at full speed. (Players have already recommended a test run for the new rule, which will take place next year.)

Fix the diving problem

Let's be honest: Diving is

because it works. It's a relatively low-risk/high-reward activity, so players who've been trained to look for any competitive edge are more than happy to do it.

We can't change player psychology, so instead we're going to flip the cost/benefit equation with a three-part fix:

  • First, no more coincidental minor cop-outs, where the ref makes offsetting calls for both the dive and the original foul. From now on, a dive negates the original call.

  • Second, referees will be told it's OK to make diving calls based on reputation. Oh, sure, that goes against the whole "impartiality" thing that we're supposed to expect. But referees already use reputation as a basis for calls — think about the final minutes of a blowout, when any tough guy who so much as blinks at an opponent gets a phantom misconduct. We're just applying the same concept to divers. You do it often enough to get a reputation, you're going to pay for it.

  • And finally, we're going to encourage our valued partners in the TV world to change the way they talk about diving. No more "Well, gosh, he seemed like he went down a little easy there, har har" type of commentary. If somebody dives, say so.

No more Bettman Cup presentations

Instead of watching the commissioner get booed and pelted with garbage while he Tom Joneses his way through another awkward presentation, we're going to go with the idea that everyone else in the hockey world seems to want and let each team nominate a former player to do the honors.

Part II

Aim to increase offense back to early '90s levels

We can argue over what sort of goals-per-game rate we should aim for. If the early 2000s were too low, maybe the run-and-gun 1980s were too high. Personally, I thought the early '90s were a good compromise. That would mean we need to find a way to add about a goal and a half per game (up to roughly 7.0 from the current 5.5).

...There are plenty of options, so let's start by figuring out what won't work:

  • We're not going to increase the size of the ice surface. Even if it would work (debatable), it's just not a realistic option given how many new rinks have already been built with the old dimensions.

  • We're not going to shrink the goalie equipment. Well, we are, actually (more on that later), but we're not going to expect it to help much. This has been the league's go-to solution to the scoring problem for years, yet it never seems to change anything.

  • Most importantly, we're not just going to call more penalties, because we want our solution to go beyond simply having more power plays. That's the easy fix, and it actually accounts for most of the 2005 post-lockout increase. There's a certain appeal to calling the rulebook tighter, since it would theoretically create a more wide-open style of play, so there's a place for cracking down on certain infractions, and we'll get to that.

But it's not enough to rely on penalties to create added offense; when you do that, you just end up training hockey fans to sit back and wait for power plays. What we really want to do is increase scoring across all situations.

How do we do that?

Make the nets bigger

Making the nets just an inch or two bigger all the way around would probably be enough to get us that extra goal or two per game. And the change would be subtle enough that even a die-hard fan would have trouble telling the difference.

Change the way we determine draft position

Here's how it works: The top draft positions will be awarded based on points earned after playoff elimination. Once a team is officially out of the playoff race, it starts the clock on amassing points toward its draft position. Bad teams still get an advantage (because they're eliminated earlier), but now the emphasis is on winning, not just on riding out the string.

Redefine late hits

So here's the new rule: Any hit that is initiated after the puck is gone is a late hit. And "initiating" a hit will mean actually starting to throw it, not just http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgDUNn8q4qo. The onus will be on the hitter to avoid contact with a player who no longer has the puck, and unless that's impossible, the hit will be a penalty.

Keep the instigator rule, but tweak it

First, let's clarify how it should be called, because right now there's too much emphasis on whose gloves hit the ice first.


We're also going to lose the extra minor for a player who instigates while wearing a shield. The idea made some sense at the time, but now we want to encourage players to wear facial protection, so it has to go.

Finally, we'll do away with the automatic suspension for players who instigate fights in the final five minutes of a game.

Keep fighting, but eliminate the enforcers

We'll institute a series of escalating suspensions for players who incur more than 10 fighting majors in a season. Your 11th fight of the season results in a two-game suspension. The 12th gets you four, and so on.


(By the way, we obviously don't want to see star players getting targeted for fights in an attempt to get them suspended, so we won't count fights in which the opponent earns an instigator.)

Part III

Crossover final

Here's what we'll do: Once we're down to a final four, we'll reseed and play no. 1 vs. no. 4 and no. 2 vs. no. 3. If those matchups end up being inter-conference, that's fine.

Continue to enforce the rules against obstruction

The NHL took a major step in this area after the 2005 lockout, making obstruction fouls a point of emphasis and undoing much of the damage done by decades of letting the game turn into a rodeo. But there's been some sense of a relapse in recent years, especially at playoff time, so we're going to put a halt to that.

Don't call it a crackdown — more like a gentle reminder to officials to call the rulebook, consistently, in all situations. Oh, and speaking of the refs …

Get rid of the referee microphones


They've never worked. And more importantly, having a referee turn and dramatically point to center ice on a disputed goal was way more fun than listening to him stumble through a contrived explanation.

Place a moratorium on redesigned logos/jerseys

Is it too much to ask that NHL teams pick a uniform design and actually stick with it for, let's say, five years before redesigning? Not everyone wants to shell out for a new jersey every year or two because some marketing consultant convinced you to replace your angry animal holding a hockey stick with a slightly angrier animal holding a hockey stick.

You get a home jersey, an away jersey, and one (one!) alternate jersey for special occasions. And no more changing your mind about which is which every year.

Go back to home whites

They just look better. No, I have no evidence to support this claim. Yes, it's almost completely based on my preference for what I grew up with. What can I tell you, I'm old and cranky and this is my column, so home whites it is.

More home-and-homes

That's right, we're going to tell the schedule-maker to give us more back-to-back games between division rivals. And here's the key — those back-to-back games are going to be on back-to-back nights. No more of this "two random days off between games" nonsense. You play a game in one city, you get on a plane, and you play the next night in the other city. The quick turnaround should keep the bad blood flowing, and the travel will make the players tired and cranky.

The players may hate it, but that's fine. A real rivalry needs a bit of hatred sprinkled in.

Smaller goalie equipment

The NHL has tried to regulate goalie equipment for years in an effort to increase scoring, and is promising another crackdown this year. It never seems to help. Luckily, we already fixed the scoring issue by making the nets bigger, so we don't have to go overboard on the equipment.

We'll still reduce it so that Corey Crawford's leg pads don't reach his armpits, but we don't have to rely on the changes to have much impact.

Close the salary floor loopholes

You could make a strong argument for scrapping the salary floor altogether (or at least drastically lowering it), since the escrow system guarantees that low-spending teams can't take money out of the players' pockets. But we said we wouldn't make drastic changes to the CBA, so the floor stays.

But we are going to close a few of the loopholes that make a mockery out of it, like teams trading for inactive players just to take a cap hit (while not spending any actual dollars). No more using buyout hits to get to the floor, either.

You sign a contract, you disclose the terms

Even in the age of instant information and CapGeek, most NHL teams still insist on announcing new signings with the dreaded addendum "As per club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed."

Stop doing that, NHL teams. As per fan policy, we hate it. So we're going to mandate that every announcement of a new player contract include all relevant information. And yes, that includes no-trade clause details.

No more "upper/lower body" injuries

...let's just drop the upper/lower distinction altogether. Specifying upper or lower body doesn't add any clarity for fans, and it just reminds us that the NHL can't be bothered to give fans the same information that other leagues do. If a guy's injured, just say he's injured and move on.

Fewer outdoor games

The Winter Classic is cool. An occasional Heritage Classic (the Canadian version) is fine. Six outdoor games in one year is ridiculous overkill. This is why you can't have nice things, NHL.

So we're limiting outdoor games to two — one in the U.S., one in Canada. These games mean something today; let's make sure it still feels that way in a few years.

And finally, here's a quick look at some of the things you may have expected to see on this list that we didn't end up changing at all.

Banning all hits to the head — I'd love to see a plausible way to make this happen, but I can't come up with one. A blanket ban that puts all the onus on the defender just doesn't seem workable given how easily a last-second shift by the puck carrier can change a clean hit into a head shot.

Coach's challenge — Neat idea, virtually impossible to implement. There are just too many "what ifs" involved to make it worthwhile, given that the sort of missed calls most people point to when the subject comes up are actually very rare.

Eliminating staged fights — Everyone wants to eliminate staged fights, but nobody seems to know exactly what that means. They usually point to scraps that happen right off of a faceoff, but those are often some of the http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXMswsz44WI. Besides, if you tell players they can't fight after a faceoff, they'll just wait a few seconds. And that would look silly.

What people really want is to eliminate pointless fights that serve no purpose beyond padding PIM totals. And we've already done that by more or less eliminating enforcers. So staged fights can stay.

Fixing the All-Star Game — The NHL All-Star Game is terrible. It's also beyond fixing. We're going to just accept that, do our best to ignore it, and hope that someday it goes away.

Overhaul the suspension system — It doesn't work. Do you know what else won't work? Every other possible system. The fact is, we'll never get everyone to agree on how league discipline should work because nobody actually wants it to work, at least when it applies to their own guys. So we're going to have to just shrug and accept that everyone will complain about this until the end of time.

[be sure to read the full article @ Grantland.]

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The ones I liked the most (with a few tweaked)...

Fix the standings and kill the loser point

Longer overtime, fewer shootouts

Fix the puck-over-the-glass penalty

No more Bettman Cup presentations

Crossover semi-final

Go back to home whites

Fewer outdoor games

Keep fighting, but eliminate the enforcers

Some of these I have been advocating for quite a while and some I think we will actually see in the next few seasons (puck over glass).

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Dammit poetica, I literally just finished reading and came to post this!

But seriously awesome article - McIndoe is probably the funniest hockey blogger writing, even better than Mooney, but every now and then he decides to get serious and I wonder why he doesn't do it more often.

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I actually like a lot of the article's suggestions. Hybrid icing is a must. Frankly, it's embarrassing the NHL is taking so long to make such a relatively simple change that could protect players without negatively impacting the game.

The better defining of a "late" hit is a must. The Rome hit was "very late" at 0.8 second but other hits well over that weren't late at all? As it stands, the rule leaves far too much room for bias and the NHL has shown time and again that when given the opportunity, bias will flourish.

I love his "no Bettman Cup presentations" suggestion, especially since as he points out in the full article that Bettman seems to love doing it and not letting him would make him sad. *lol* I also just think it would make a better ceremony to have previous players or someone else who will resonate emotionally with fans without making them want to throw up their $8 beer.

And I'm totally with him about closing the loopholes in the salary cap floor. If the NHL has their panties in a bunch about "cap avoidance" contracts and contracts buried in the minors, it's only fair to get a wedgie over teams claiming credit against the players' share that they're not actually paying.

I'm not even opposed to making the nets slightly bigger. Like he said, it would all but guarantee an increase in scoring but fans wouldn't really be able to see a difference otherwise and it would really only equalize things a bit since goalies are larger now than they were when the net size was determined. Seems like a win/win and significantly cheaper and easier to implement than a larger ice surface.

There are a few suggestions I don't agree with, though. I don't really see the point in the back-to-back home-and-home games just to watch our guys drag for the next 3 games after because they're exhausted. Sounds like a recipe for injuries. (Edited to remove my screw up.)

I'm also not okay with his suggestions on diving, probably because a few of our guys are already getting punished based on what refs think of them. It's just not fair. If human memory were infallible it might be, but since it's not you're left with a reality where some players are thought to be bigger divers than other players who might actually dive more than they do. There has to be a more objective way to punish/discourage diving. I just don't know what it is...

I'm not really sure what I think of a few of the suggestions, especially the top 4 shuffling in the playoffs. Seems worth thinking about though.

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Dammit poetica, I literally just finished reading and came to post this!

But seriously awesome article - McIndoe is probably the funniest hockey blogger writing, even better than Mooney, but every now and then he decides to get serious and I wonder why he doesn't do it more often.

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There are a few suggestions I don't agree with, though. I don't like the shootout either. We're not very good at it either, so that doesn't help. But, I also like my sleep and don't want to be up until 3am just to watching us lose in some overly drawn out OT. And then watch our guys drag for the next 3 games after because they're exhausted. That would only be more pronounced if the NHL did take the author's suggestion of more back-to-back home-and-home games with rivals. Sounds like a recipe for injuries.

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Yeah, you're right! Thanks for the correction.

I think got confused and mixed up the back-to-back home-and-home games with OT. Should have went back and re-read it again after spending so long figuring out how to edit it down to an outline.

I edited my post above.

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ah, yeah I hadn't read the last few suggestions, so I just got to the home-and-home/back-to-back part. Can't say I agree with his suggestion there. But I think that last section is more fun little tweaks, kind of more in his joke blogging style. Sections 1&2 are the more serious, meat-and-potatoes ideas.

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follow-up today


feedback/suggestions from readers, with McIndoe back in his typical jokey self responding.

it's long so I'll just select a few choice cuts:

Goalies play 60 min. Give 'em a break & play sudden death OT without goaltenders in net. It should be more exciting than a shootout, and shouldn't take too long to determine an outcome.

— Kerry S., Fort Wayne, Indiana

Right now, every Flyers fan is trying to figure out how this idea would be any different from what they’re already used to.

What's the most exciting play in basketball? Would you rather watch a fast break or a post-up? Hockey can't have fast breaks because of the offsides rule. Get rid of it. Talk about opening up the offense with end to end action!

— Doug C., Westport, Connecticut

The NHL ran a brief test pilot of this idea a few months ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7pN56VZOfM.

5v5 OT for 5 minutes then 4v4 OT for 5 minutes and so on until it gets to 1v1. Instead of a shootout.

— Trevor W., Los Angeles

Hmm. Intriguing. We asked Grantland’s elite computer animation team to put together a high-tech simulation of what Trevor’s 1-on-1 OT idea would look like. It was

Please eliminate all of the post-whistle shenanigans (and yes, I am looking at you Boston Bruins …). It is tiresome to see all of the clutching, grabbing, face washing, deliberate interference and gamesmanship/brinkmansship go on. It is boring and sends and incredibly bad message about both the individual players who indulge in such behaviour and the overall misconception of the 'loutishness' of the game.

— Charles W.

I just liked this idea because it included the word “shenanigans." Has anyone started referring to suspendable offenses as “Brendan Shananigans” yet? If not, can we start?

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Change the OT time from 5 to 10.

If still no winner after 70 minutes, give both teams 1 point and call it a draw. Neither deserves 2 at this point.

If there is an OT winner, that team should get 2 points and the losing team should get 0

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I hate how we are penalizing our goalies for being "too good" why should we handicap them for exceeding at their position? You want more points watch Football...I am all for a goaltender duel.

Bettman ruins every cup final with his face we can all use a good dose of no bettman.

Hybrid icing goes without saying. Considering they forced visors why this hasn't been implemented is beyond me.

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Some really good points. I liked the mandated suspensions after 'x' amount of fights to rid the world of the Eager's and Orr's.

I'm all for increasing net size, as long as it's not overly ridiculous. 1" is fine, and as he said, most fans wouldn't even notice.

I also like the change to the Delay of Game penalties for throwing the puck over the glass. Shouldn't be a penalty.

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