Thursday Thirteen: Why the NHL is Quickly Becoming a Joke all over again

Cancelled season

Cancelled season (Photo credit: theMatthewBlack)

It’s summertime in Toronto and even though my Toronto Blue Jays are having a horrid season I still have given very little thought to what is going on with my Toronto Maple Leafs and with the NHL and hte NHLPA.  It’s not that I don’t want to, but I can’t bring myself to do it… It causes me stress and makes me sad.  Lockouts, unions, bad hockey markets, stupidly insane long-term contracts and a terrible local hockey team with an American GM bringing in only American players are enough reasons to stay away from the sport I grew up loving.

My Thursday Thirteen this week will focus on the 13 things that the NHL has done to alienate many fans and are leading to the league once again becoming the joke of all professional sports leagues.

So sit back, grab your Atlanta Thrashers jersey, a Rick DiPietro autographed hockey card (where he is actually playing) and hopefully this edition won’t concuss you.

Thirteen reasons the NHL is becoming a joke all over again:

13. The stupid Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations have been underway for a while now – technically since the last lockout – but of course the players association and the owners are waiting until just before training camp to start the real negotiations.  What this really means is that I get to hear the league cry poor (“we lost $200 million dollars over the last 4 years”) and the players defending their $100 million dollar 14 year contracts which would cover them playing until they are 44-years-old which we know is unrealistic in this league.  If the NHL loses any part of their season because of this lockout, they will lose fans and they may never recover…

12. The 2004–05 NHL lockout resulted in the cancellation of what would have been the 88th season of play of the NHL and it marked not only the first time since 1919 that the Stanly Cup was not awarded but also the NHL became the first major professional sports league in North America to cancel a complete season because of a labor dispute.  The lockout lasted 10 months and 6 days and since that lockout we have seen wide open play not resulting in more goals as projected, but in way more concussions, very dirty plays, unnecessary fighting, untimely deaths of the leagues “enforcers” and teams circumventing the salary cap they fought for, by teams offering extremely large front and rear-loaded contracts to the players who were making too much to begin with.  That make the lockout a giant waste of time and a severe miscalculation on behalf of the league, the owners and the players.  Only the fans got screwed here as salaries rolled back but ticket prices did not.

11.  Stupid owners – Stupid owners cry poor and ask players to roll back their salaries but do not reduce the cost for tickets.  That makes them appear greedy and sways the public favour towards the players.  These same owners also offer and sign off on long-term contracts to circumvent the salary cap they insisted they needed and they put their faith in Gary Bettman who has no longer proven he can do the job by allowing a player to be signed until he is 42-years-old when only a few elite players are capable of playing into their 40’s.  Hey owners… We see right through it.

10.  Long term contracts.  On September 12, 2006, Rick DiPietro signed a 15-year, $67.5 million contract with the Islanders and since that signing their “franchise goaltender” has played in around 200 games out of a potential 570 games and is, and always has been, an average yet injury prone goaltender.  Signings like this and the Yashin, Kovalchuk, Reddon deals and this summer with the Suter and Parise deals are setting a dangerous precent for the league which is seeing team “lock-up” their better players and thus killing the chances for other teams to get better through trades.  Publicly, in times of recession, $100 million dollar contracts are not cool to the average person and it reinforces the stereotype that players and agents are greedy for thinking of themselves only and not about the game, and it makes the owners look like complete tools for approving them and then 2 months later crying poor.  Long term contracts also make the trade deadline boring and it takes a “capologist “to figure out if players can be signed or traded and in causes a swelling of salaries because player A for $98 million but player B had better stats and is worth $102 million.  Watching a team overpay for a player in order to meet the salary cap floor means that player is certain to be buried in the minors and untradable once their stats level off or a better players come along.

9.  Greedy players.  And by greedy players I am referring to the players who have success on a team because of their linemates and the team’s system but take a sick amount of money to sign a long-term contract with another team only to stink out the joint – ahem, Scott Gomez.  Then the player gets bought out or traded back for a bag of pucks.  Hockey is a team game and fans do not come to watch one specific player because the league will not allow for players to be creative and show off their talents.  For every super-skilled player in the NHL there are 3 players like Matt Cooke who does not hesitate to wipe these guys out from any angle under the guise of “doing my job” and “finishing my check”.

8. Fighting in the game.  I’ve got to be in the minority here but I’ve lost total interest in fighting in hockey because I’ve found it to be unnecessary.  The concept of having players on the roster to bully other players – who are on their roster to “pester” the good players – is ruining the game.  If the NHL were serious about improving its game it would immediately cut the rosters down to 3 forward lines as it does with the 3 defensive lines and eliminate that 4th line of “agitators” and “fighters”.  The third lines could be the speedy skilled guys and then players would be more willing to try fancy, creative moves on the rush instead of worrying that they are going to get hammered crossing the blue line and wind up with a career ending concussion.  With this elimination must come an elimination of boarding which has become an accepted practice in the NHL, now known as “finishing your check”.  If a player does not have the puck, they cannot be hit, and if they do, they can only be hit to dislodge the puck from their possession, not their head from their bodies.

7. Horrible locations for teams.  Atlanta, Tampa, Phoenix, Columbus, Florida, Carolina… Really?  How did the NHL really think that 2 teams in California and 2 teams in Florida were equal to 2 teams in Ontario?  I appreciate that the league wants to “explore” Las Vegas and Kansas City but that is an mis-guided a move as putting a team in Markham, Ontario because they have a NHL-sized arena too.  Why?  Hockey is a winter sport and as such should be played in areas where they have winter and people actually like the game!  Not only does having teams like Florida and Tampa winning the cup tarnish the league’s reputation much in the same way having an American team win th CFL’s Grey Cup as the Baltimore Stallions did in 1995.   It took all the history and heritage of the league and cheapened it by helping non-traditional hockey market stock their teams and win.  I still shake my head about that decision.

6. Lack of scoring.  Where are the goals?  Where is the excitement?  Does the league really think that the majority of their fan base wants to see a 2-1 game full of dump-and-chase hockey?  Does the league really think the “trap” is good for the game as opposed to a show of skills?  The product the league puts out tells the general public this game is all about trying to run over the opponent and give the puck away then go and run someone over trying to get it back.  Sadly, the only times the skill and talents of the players are showcased is when there is a blowout or as the game gets late and players start to tire.  The obvious solution as I mentioned earlier is to cut down roster size but the NHL likes gimmicks and instead will make the nets larger.  Since the league cannot make the ice surface bigger and cutting down the number of skaters on at a time is out of the question, they will continue to tweak with the game instead of doing the obvious.  Anyone for another trapazoid?  #fail.

5.  The trap.  Possibly the worst thing for hockey since taking out the redline was allowing teams to play the trap.  Boring hockey and a lack of reinforcement of the rules which allows other teams to not forecheck and instead strategically set up their players in a way to not allow the other team to touch the puck not only is an insult to the fans who pay top dollar to watch but to the game itself which needs goals scored to win.  This allowance of the trap also told teams they didn’t need skilled players they could do well with “pluggers” and out goes the skill and in came the 3-lines of defense first players.  Yawn.  It also meant skilled players who lit up junior hockey were being held back from playing in the NHL until they learned how to play defense.   Terrible.

4.  Concussions.  Absolutely ruining the game as we have seen skilled players miss considerable amounts of time due to concussions – like Sidney Crosby who was the face of the NHL and is now one hit away from being another casulty ina league that does nothing to protect it’s players.  What the NHL / NHLPA is missing is that the trickle down effect is parents like me and many readers of my blog will not be putting our kids in organized hockey because there are other options which will not cause permanent brain damage to our children.  The game is broken.  All respect is gone among players and the NHL can save face by acting… FAST.  No respect, no play.

3. The Hockey Night In Canada theme song.  I’m glad TSN bought the rights and showed the world they could but the lustre has worn off and the song needs to be returned to where it belongs.  It belongs on the CBC, on Saturday nights, otherwise it becomes just another song being played at the beginning of hockey games.  TSN, you made your point.  Now do the right thing… Please.

2.  Gary Bettman.  He’s gotten surely, he lies to protect the face of the league yet he is the face of the league.  He said there was nothing wrong in Atlanta and that a NHL team would never be going to Winnipeg and look what happened.  He also states that the Phoenix team will be in the desert for a long time and I think that is also far from the truth.  He continues to ignore Canada in effort to “grow” the game and his legacy, when he should be pulling back the US teams in the non-hockey markets and filling up Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan (and possibly even one for the Maritimes) and growing the game before adding other markets.   I mean, geez, you don’t have to pull a Gil Stein and elect yourself to the Hockey Hall of Fame, but if doing that will allow you to move aside then please let me cast the first ballot.  It’s 100% time for a change and let’s put this in perspective… I detest unions so for me to be harping on the head of the owners means there must be a change at the top.  If the NHL is so determined to bust the union time and time again then don’t let the players set one up and be honest about it.  The players want more money when they have great seasons but I have never seen a player offer to give back when they have a terrible season.  I’m sure Donald Fehr is not going to roll over for the owners so the league needs to open up their books, be honest about their revenues and tell the players what they want to pay them.  If the players walk out, get new ones.  Then sign a 300 year deal and move on.

1. Taking the youth out of it.  What the NHL has done well in the past 15 years is take the youth out of the game.  By youth I am not referring to young players but I am referring to the increasing costs of tickets to games, the rising costs or merchandise in order to give some money to the players and the NHLPA, and the destruction of the hockey card market.  Kids today cannot expect to see a hockey game live unless their parents are rich, they are given a pair of seats from a season ticket holder, they buy them through a scalper or they live in Florida.  You can’t expect kids to love the game like we did growing up when they never get to see it.  I grew up going to see the Toronto Marlies play because I could never get into Maple Leaf Gardens, but I owned tons of jerseys, tens of thousands of hockey cards and I knew the players inside and out.  Now at $7.99 for a pack of 4 hockey cards and $179.00 for a jersey, kids only get to know the superstars and they look at the value of the card and not the content.  Upper Deck killed the hockey card market.  The NHL / NHLPA are killing their young fan base.  If something doesn’t give the NHL faces a bleak future on many fronts.

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One response

  1. And now with the Parti Quebecois ruling in Quebec I seriously doubt that Bettman will even slightly consider a team in La Belle Province.

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