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Replay or not to replay
League needs to address more than CBA
1/3/05 - by Mike Lee

With the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 NHL season on the horizon, I spent part of my Christmas weekend reminiscing with Shark Bytes Classic. Shark Bytes as you may know, is the television "magazine-esque" show produced by the Sharks. During the lockout, the Sharks decided to try and hold on to some fan interest in the sport by replaying a handful of great games in Sharks history. I Tivo'd an episode earlier in the week and finally got around to watching it over the weekend (note to the NHL, I did not illegally reproduce or rebroadcast the pictures and / or events without the express written consent of the Sharks or the NHL).

This particular classic game featured the Sharks Game 6 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in the 2004 Western Conference Semi-Finals. It was great to relive the thumping the Sharks put on the Avalanche that day, but it was even more depressing to think how good that Sharks team would have been this year. With young players like Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan and Jonathan Cheechoo coming into their own, this season could have been a real barn burner.

The Sharks handed the Avalanche a good old-fashioned thumping for three periods. This was something that made me think about what really might have been. That was until the Avalanche scored their lone goal of the game. Milan Hejduk scored on a 5-on-3 late in the 2nd period on a shot that flirted with the goal line. The play was reviewed by the video reply officials, because both on-ice referees didn't see the puck cross the goal line. My thoughts of the Sharks future came to a screeching halt when Sharks color commentator Drew Remenda blurted out his disgust with the Pepsi Center game operations folks for showing the replay of a close call on the arena Jumbotron.

I'm not questioning Remenda's position that it was classless for the Pepsi Center folks to do this, but rather why the NHL doesn't want fans to see replays in house? You see, this is one of those arcane rules that the NHL abides by to the death. Why? I'm not quite sure to be honest with you. Perhaps they're afraid that the wrong call, left unchanged, could instill a riot amongst the fans? Picture a thousand Ron Artest's storming onto the ice because Kerry Frazier blew a call and the replay clearly shows that the call was incorrect.

Perhaps the NHL doesn't want anyone second-guessing its decision to put inadequate supervision on the ice? Ok, that's a different debate.

All I know is, the paying fans should have the clearest interpretation of the events that they've paid good money to see unfold. Talk about an incentive to stay home and watch the game on TV rather than shell out $100 to $1000+ to take your family to see a game. The message essentially says that regardless of the money you've spent to see an NHL game in person, it's up to you to see and interpret the event as it happens.

So if and when the NHL decides to settle their differences with the players union, both sides will have the responsibility of re-engaging themselves with the paying customer. When the two sides unite once again to put a product out on the proverbial arena shelves, they have some relationship mending to take care of with fans.

They can start by abolishing the dumb replay rule. Furthermore, they can go out of their way to fill fans in on exactly what's going on during the game regardless of questionable calls. How about broadcasting the conversations between referees and coaches?

I'm not a hockey neophyte so I don't need an explanation of why Peter Forsberg isn't called for diving every tie he steps out on teh ice, but it would be interesting to hear what guys like Frazier are telling guys like Ron Wilson after an opposing player like Jody Shelly takes out a Brad Stuart for 30 games and is allowed to go on head hunting in the same game.

"Well Ron, we all had our backs to the play so we didn't see the alleged mauling."

"Kerry, Brad was handling the puck at the time?!?!?"

"Well Ron, it gets really crowded out here on the ice…we can't watch everyone".

Can anyone tell me the last time a fan ran out on the ice to attack a player? Perhaps someone should inform NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that even the crazy fools that try that stuff in Major League Baseball parks have enough sense to realize that a) attacking someone on the ice in sneakers is tough and b) the targets in any such attack are all wearing skates. Furthermore, there are twelve guys on the ice and an additional 32 on the benches all armed with carbon fiber machetes. I don't see anyone lining up to start a riot in any NHL barn anytime soon.

The NHL has so many ways to bridge the bitterness gap that fans are sure to forge in the coming months. Marketing a sport is more than flashy television commercials and free t-shirts. Sometimes it's as simple as improving the product itself.

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