Reasons to be Optimistic: What the Future Could Hold

The NHL has become a living model of ‘how not to run your business’, and has had more than it’s fair share of bad publicity with headlines like; goalies vs. goals, players vs. owners, the league vs. the fans, and most notably the recent headline, Bertuzzi vs. the people. It would appear that Gary Bettman is steering his ship off the edge of the earth. But with doom and gloom hanging over the league like a bad stench, there may be light at the end of a narrowing tunnel. There is no denying the league’s immense financial troubles, but as one of the few optimists left, I feel it’s just a matter of time before the owners and the NHLPA reach an agreement. One main point of concern is the quality of game must greatly improve to become more fan friendly and enjoyable to watch. A major suggestion that has been shot down without hesitation is a crackdown on violence and fighting in hockey. Being a die hard hockey fan, I believe there is a place for fighting in the sport and accept that it is a way of the player’s policing themselves. But the ultimate objective is to get more fans back to hockey and repairing the league’s tainted reputation of brutality. Bertuzzi, as “innocent” and accidental as he has pleaded to be, has done absolutely no favors to the sport with his incident. This may sound radical but try to look at this from the perspective of a hockey critic.

Game misconducts, if not suspensions, should be handed out for fighting. There are so many levels to this argument against-and for-fighting that I can barely even begin to defend my standing, but listen; the talent pool in the NHL is depleted when 2-3 spots on a roster are reserved for guys that are sent over the boards to enforce, protect, and fight. It is the job of the referees, as questionable as they may be at times, to police illegal activity on the ice. Officials should be given the opportunity to use their discretion when dealing with penalties. Stiffer and more frequent penalties should be assessed when dealing with stick infractions, i.e. slashing, hooking, spearing. Unruly use of the stick should be heavily penalized. Over time, if called by the book which often seems too much to ask, I believe the game will open up. As far as other aspects of violence, bodychecking has always been and should always be a part of the game, but fighting does not involve the same skill and technique that bodychecking does.

Step two of reviving the league’s reputation is to revive the scoring era. For God sakes, remove the red line! There is no doubt in my mind, removing the two-line pass will result in better and more effective transition, as well as add 5-10 more scoring chances per game. The age of the trap is seemingly dying off, with the emergence of a run and gun team like Tampa. Where were the Wild and Devils during the playoffs? The crackdown in goalie equipment was long overdue, and ‘handling the puck behind the goal line’ is still under scrutiny, but both new rule changes should help to increase offensive flow of the game. I fully understand that there are many complications to be worked out when dealing with drastic rule changes like cracking down on violence and increasing scoring, but there is no argument over the fact the league must deal with these issues, and deal with them immediately.

But outside of what could be and should be, what will be is the coming of hockey’s new crop of superstars. Waiting on the doorstep are what the league has needed for a long time, marketable players. Alexander Ovechkin is known as the best prospect to have ever come out of Russia and hockey’s Lebron, Sidney Crosby, represents a new horizon for the league. I don’t care what anybody says, Ilya Kovalchuk is the most exciting player in the game right now. He displays *****y confidence on the ice with skills to back it. Marc-Andre Fleury is the next in line of great French goaltenders. His acrobatic style and oversized grin should become the new face of goaltenders across the league. What the NFL, MLB, and NBA have that hockey doesn’t, other than a great TV deal and fan support, are marketable players and household names. Sure, Joe Hockey Fan knows who league MVP Martin St. Louis is, but does your average baseball fan? Better yet, do they care? Hockey needs to sell what they’ve got.

I am fully prepared for an onslaught of criticism for my comments, but before shooting me down like a hostile bogey on your radar screen, consider how you think the league could possibly begin the healing process? After all, what good is a site like hockeytraderumors if there isn’t a league at all? We might as well be discussing trade rumors for Mexican kick ball. Who knows, with good marketing by the WHA we may be discussing what commissioner Bobby Hull could do to improve the quality of the game in a of couple years.