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League moves are head-scratchers
Better in the long run?
1/31/07 - By Paul Krill

About a year ago, I had an ongoing email correspondence with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about the league's bad schedule format. He defended the intra-division-laden schedule but never convinced me. While the recent warring among NHL owners over this issue vindicates me, I did gain respect for Bettman for reaching out to a mere fan in the cheap seats 3,000 miles from his New York City offices. This wasn't just a one-email-and-good-bye exchange. It went on for a while.

But if we look at the schedule and several other moves by the NHL, they point to a league in a bit of disarray. I don't blame the commissioner for this - he has done things such as trying to make the league a bonanza for television and attempting to sell the excitement of NHL hockey in non-traditional markets. That, too, hasn't worked out tool well. Look at the Nashville Predators: great team, great colors, great logo, great players - and lots and lots of empty seats.

The league's recent decisions may be great fodder for writers - and plenty of them are writing about all this stuff - but we do have to question the wisdom of the owners and the league management in making some of these moves.


* The league's All Star game drew microscopic ratings on the obscure Versus channel, being played in the middle of the week and going up against American Idol in some markets. I wonder if Simon, Randy and Paula were sweating out this ratings "war" with the NHL. Actually, it more was like a tricycle taking on a Formula One race car. Oddly enough, the 12-9 score might have held the interest of some non-fans who would otherwise never pay attention to a 2-1 NHL game. But it appears almost no one was watching.

* Owners voted to keep the division-laden schedule as is, despite an overwhelming consensus to change it. Apparently, the consensus was not as overwhelming as it needed to be, with a few owners seeking to save a few bucks on travel costs. So, fans in many cities still don't get to see some of the top players and the top teams. And, if I am correct, the annual Hockey Day in Canada event, where three Canadian-based teams play the other three on the same day, goes by the wayside next year. The two divisions in question won't play each other. But I'm sure fans in Calgary will savor that extra visit by the Minnesota Wild instead.

* The league decided a few years ago to put home teams in dark colors, overruling tradition. Now, fans only ever see two colors of uniforms: the home team shade and the opponents' white outfits.

* The shootout and restrictions on goalie movement tossed aside how the game's been played for decades. What's next? Larger nets? Oh wait - they're actually considering that folly, from what I understand. Why not just put up soccer nets and have the players chase a marble instead of a puck? That ought to boost scoring to NBA levels.

Maybe it's time for the NHL to recognize itself as a boutique sport that is never going to be the NFL in the United States but remains the passion of Canada . Let's stop trying all these gimmicks that have so far failed to do much to expand the fan base. If that means the players have to accept lower salaries so the owners can be profitable, then so be it.

Hockey was OK enough for the fans already. How about the NHL hierarchy getting with the program as well?

Penalty shots …

Want to see hockey at its best? Check out a video of the Sharks' third goal against Edmonton last Friday. Patrick Marleau finds himself with the puck after Edmonton misplays it. He uses his speed to race down the ice, halts, spins around and passes the puck to Mike Grier, who shoots on the five-hole and scores. It doesn't get any better… More than half the season has passed and I have no idea if the Sharks can win the Stanley Cup or not. They have won lots of games but have lost too many, in my opinion. They don't even lead their division. I guess it will all depend on who gets hot in April. That could be the Sharks or any one of 16 playoff teams…

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