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Just Give me the Game
Or (Why I'm Sick of the NHL)
2/25/15 - By Ryan Hall -

I'm sick of the NHL. There you go, I said it. I'm sick of the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series, of Wednesday Night Rivalries, Hockey Day in Canada/America, All-Star Games, Skills Competitions, and all the other gimmicks and shticks that the league puts out. I'm tired of crazy shoot-out controversies, and expansions questions, and I'm certainly tired of watching teams tank to try and secure the best player in the upcoming draft.

For the life of me I can't figure out where the team aspect of the game starts, as the only things that seems to get media coverage these days is the actions of league executives and special 'events'.

I know that I'm in the minority when I say these things, as by all accounts the league is doing better than at any other time in its history. Viewership numbers are up, money is flowing in, and the league is even considering expanding again. There isn't even an argument to be made that the game has been watered down, as nearly every team has at least one legitimate star playing on their roster; or at least one developing in the AHL, CMJHL, or NCAA.

Yes, the NHL is strong - but I'm still stick of it.

Strangely, I'm not sick of hockey though. The actual game itself continue to interest me as passionately as it ever has. I still get together with my friends and play every week, and if I had my way I'd play more than I currently do. For the record, I'm not an old man by any measurement (early 30's), so my problem isn't driven by nostalgia or rose-coloured reminiscence.

Rather, to me it feels like the league has lost sight of its soul: namely the game of hockey.

As way of explanation, let's do something horrible and compare the NHL to the NFL. In particular, let's examine a regular conversation between fans or media after a game, in which they are recapping what just happened. While I might be simplifying things the majority of post-game football talk is about the details: why did they run that pattern, how come they didn't call a roll-out to give the QB more time, or how come the defense was in nickel coverage, etc. In other words the strategy and details of the game.

Conversely, all too often conversations about the NHL focus only on the individuals or the spectacle, with no thought given to the way the game was played. Why isn't their conversations about the Power Play set-up of a particular team, how come they were playing a passive 1-3-1 instead of a more aggressive forecheck, or why in a given a moment the defense were fronting the opponents forwards in front of the net rather than trying to clear them out?

My point is that the NHL does not spend the same amount of time and resources promoting the game of hockey as it does hyping its own brand name. It's almost as if the game itself has become an after-thought to marketing. Perhaps that is the reason that the league feels the need to trot out all the gimmicks, as if you stop focusing on the game, all you have left is spectacle.

There can be no question that the NHL has the best players in the hockey world, the best coaches, and the best facilities. With all of these things in its favour, there is no reason why it shouldn't embrace the finer points of the game as well. Not only would this help focus the league on its bread and butter (the game of hockey), but it would help create fans of the sport in every current market; while laying the groundwork for future growth as well.

Don't believe me? Think about how easy it is to get into a conversation about the last play of the Super Bowl with any football fan. There are countless ways to dissect it, but within each is a discussion of how the offensive and defensive formation of each team, the execution of each play and player, and the overall game strategy factored into what happened. This shared understanding about the game ties fans together, and it's something the NHL is sorely lacking.

After all, if it wasn't for the game itself, the NHL wouldn't have anything to sell. Their arrogance in forgetting this fact is something, frankly, I'm sick of.


Contact Ryan at at ryanhall@letsgosharks.com



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