The 14-Man NHL

ONE of hockey’s greatest problems is depth. Many believe that the National Hockey League has too many teams and too few good players to go around, leaving most clubs with only one or two star players and maybe another ten decent ones, and, judging by the quality of play, that seems to be correct. The most popular solution to the problem is contracting the NHL by four, five or even six teams, with the targets pretty much unanimous, allowing the remaining teams to adequately fill the gaps in their lineup with the contracted clubs’ players. However, since the NHL may not be going to contraction, there may be another solution in the mix, and that would be to simply lower the limit of players NHL teams can carry on their roster, from the current 25 (23 skaters plus goalies) to as low as 14.Of course, this too is probably a pipe dream. The players won’t agree to contraction because they don’t want to lose their jobs, and this idea would also face dissent from the players for the same reason. However, in today’s financially-starved NHL, the owners may welcome the idea of not having to pay as many players, and, with so many players to go around, there would be plenty of options to fill depth charts. Though it’s a small chance of happening, it is still an option for consideration, as another solution to the NHL’s problems.

Under current NHL conditions, there are 750 players currently on NHL rosters, with 23 players to a side. Of those 750, 600- or 18 skaters plus two goaltenders to a side- get to dress for a NHL game, not necessarily meaning they’ll play but they’ll at least have the opportunity to do so. Now, factoring in financial considerations- real or perceived- only a few clubs have the ability to use all 18 players because their rosters are that deep, forcing other clubs to use 12-15 players because their full roster cannot adequately match up against the opposition. If the hoped-for contraction does occur, with four teams biting the dust, only 650 players are on rosters and, of those, 520 get to play. Lowering it further, to say, 24 clubs, only 600 are on rosters with 480 playing. Now, if the number of players were reduced to, say, 17 players- 15 skaters plus two goaltenders- on a side with 14 playing, 510 would be on rosters and 420 would play, a reduction of almost one-third. This would be more on par with the 21-team NHL of the 1980s, which some consider the equilibrium point of talent that the NHL could ideally support.

The plan would have many advantages. As mentioned earlier, there would be more than enough players to go around for every team, with probably a few on the brink players that could technically play. Also, since many teams use short benches anyway, only four or five teams would have to adjust, so the transition wouldn’t be as hard as it seems. As for the players themselves, with only two lines each team would be almost forced to use both lines almost equally since the coach cannot tire his players too much. Finally, there is the financial side- with so few players to pay, it’s conceivable to have a $30 million payroll like the Edmonton Oilers do and still be able to afford a $10 million-a-year player or two, as more money is available for less players. It may stretch the club to the limit, but, in doing so, it could at least be at least marginally more competitive than it is now. Finally, all NHL cities can keep their clubs, showing that, ostensibly, the NHL is commited to making hockey work everywhere, as opposed to saying “only certain cities are capable of being hockey towns because the others can never do so”, much like baseball is saying right now with contraction.

Obviously, there are flaws with the plan. First off, there would be the fear that the players may tire themselves out by the time the playoffs start because they have to play so much more, and the owners won’t reduce the amount of games or game time for revenue reasons. Second, it wouldn’t be out of the relam of possibility for a “rich” NHL team like the Detroit Red Wings to show off a $17-million contract at some point, meaning salary scales would continue to skyrocket. The National Basketball Association currently has this problem, since, with 12 players to a side, there are many players earning $17 million or more a year, nullifying any monetary advantage there would be by having so few players. Still, the NBA has revenue sharing, so it’s not as big a deal as it looks. Finally, there’s the players themselves- they don’t want to lose their jobs, and some may not take too kindly the fact that they were once dependable regulars and are now forced to be used only in practice or, even worse, the minor leagues.

Overall, though, this plan would be a worthy solution to the NHL’s problems and may be the best alternative to contraction. Obviously, the plan would probably never go through- like contraction- since the players won’t like the idea of losing their jobs. Still, with less players allowed to compete in the NHL there would be more than enough talent for everyone and, once again, the NHL fans can enjoy quality hockey for a change. In short, though, no matter what plan the NHL adopts, one thing remains clear: the NHL needs to find a better way than what it has now to improve the quality of play, and needs to do it now. It may be a tired message but it’s funny after all these times the NHL still refuses to listen.


9 Responses to The 14-Man NHL

  1. Coldwar says:

    I’m not sure how well something like this would work. It’s a fun idea to think about, but, because of the reasons you posted at the end, I don’t think it possible.

    1)Limiting the amount of players dressed by as much as 6 (I think is what you proposed) Would tire everyone out a bit much. The end result of 28 tired players is the same as 36 not-so-skilled players. Plus, you’d have the backlash from the media, players assoc., and fan base (who may not want to see their favorite fourth-liner cut from the roster because he can’t deke). Not to mention the playoffs.

    2)Admittedly, I am a Wings fan. I don’t think I would enjoy watching the wings if they weren’t forced into keeping role players in their line-up. If they only had to pay 18 men, what are the chances of any of those not being the cream of the free-agent crop.

    3)Younguns. What happens to the young guys when you only have to dress 14 guys? How do they crack the lineup? How do they get precious experience on the ice (in the NHL-the minors aren’t a telltale sign of talent) while GM’s and coaches are pressured to play the money guys?

    I guess that’s all I have to say.

    interesting post.


  2. Coldwar says:

    ON my second point, about detroit …

    I meant to imply that certain top-heavy teams (Detroit, Colo., etc) might become too much for any other team to handle. While I realize that, in this plan, every team would have a better than average chance of landing quite a few top players, a team like the Wings would, with fewer Payroll concerns be able to lure MORE/BIGGER names to the team with MORE/BIGGER moneys.

  3. vawingsfan says:

    1. First of all, let me say that I don’t believe that there is a shortage of good players to go around. Many teams that are struggling now are stuggling because most of their real tallent is young and inexperienced. If those teams have patience, some of them will be the teams to beat in just a few years. Also, expanding the league to 30 teams has forced teams to look outside the traditional markets for the talent to compete.

    2. Cutting back on the number of players carried on rosters would make it more difficult for teams to develop young players. Young players, especially defensemen, must be given time to develop before given a lot of ice time.

    3. Look at the leafs in the playoffs. Even with their depth, they struggled through the playoffs with injuries. How much worse would it have been had they not had the depth they have now?

    4. It’s best to leave rosters as is. If you really want to improve things, lets talk about wider rinks. There are many highly skilled youngsters available that aren’t picked because they are small by NHL standards and teams fear that they can’t make on the small ice surface of the NHL. Expand the ice and bring them on.

  4. Habfan1234 says:

    There are better players playing in todays game then there ever was. The average player today is much, much better then the average player of a couple of decades ago. You saw a lot of goals sometime because a teams fifth or sixth d-men could not even skate backwards. The lack of talent is a moot point because of the influx of European players. I personally would rather see a great 2-1 game then seeing a team get shelled 13-1 (Buffalo whenever they played against Edmonton).

    The reason that goal scoring is down is not the lack of talent but because of the unbelievable goalies of today . Big equipment aside, they are bigger, more agile, more flexible, and more athletic then ever before. The goaltending of the eighties was just atrocious (that is why people witnessed scores such as 12-9, 9-7). Practically every team nowadays have a goalie or two that is above average.

    Another reason why goals are down in todays NHL is that there is such a fine line between making the playoffs and missing the playoffs. To make the playoffs today teams must be a few games over .500. In the eigthies teams could make the playoffs even if they had a record of .350. IE, the Minnesota North Stars made the playoffs in 1984-85 with a record of 25-43-12. Back in the eighties teams could aford to play firewagon hockey because they were almost guaranteed a playoff spot (16 of 21 teams made the playoffs or 76%). Today only 16 of 30 teams make the playoffs or 53%.

    All the reasons above make todays game lower in goals but not on talent.

  5. Jonathane says:


    This whole article is summed up by the first sentence of the second paragraph. “Of course, this too is probably a pipe dream. The players won’t agree to contraction because they don’t want to lose their jobs”

    Just in case you forgot what you wrote, let me put it in simple terms. THE NHLPA WILL NOT SETTLE FOR ANY LOSS OF JOBS.

    The NHL is coming close to a long shut down in two years voer some sort of salary cap, if you are talking about eliminating jobs, the Players Association will never go for that. You could have filled the other four paragraphs with an Iserali-Palestinian peace plan which probably would have an easier chance of happening.

    The problem with the NHL is that as much as revenues are increasing, salaries are climbing even faster. There is depth, its just that depth costs money.

    You want to fix the NHL, here are some suggestions:

    1) Move the NHL draft age up to 21. The NBA is now finally learning that at 18 kids are not ready the handle the riggors of being a professional althlete. As it stands, how many people drafted this past June will be playing in the nHL next season. I keep hearing people rave about whatever Florida’s top pick whatever his name is. The truth is defense is the toughest postion to play. Yes even tougher than goal. It take about 3 or 4 years to really play the position.

    2) Bring about a hard salary cap. To be sucessful the NHL would have to combine the elements of the NBA and NFL cap. From the NFL, a hard cap, no player exceptions a hrad figure and that’s it. Also a reveune sharing program with the players assocation.

    From the NBA, guranteed contracts. You sign someone for 5 years, then its a five year contract, no going back and asking that it be reworked to fit in under the cap.

    Now before all these small market Canadian teams get to happy, the cap would probably be something in the $40 to $50 dollar range in US Currency. Their would be no Canadian discount plan.

    Additionally Rookies would probably be capped with four year contracts and then its free agency for them.

    This is probably more than some small markets would want to spend, on the flip side most of the big markets would lock in most of the good players causing some good players to have reduced salaries.

    Is it a perfect plan, no, however to fix the problems its going to cause all sides to lose something for the game to win.

  6. Stanajax says:

    I totally agree!!!

    There’s no lack of talent nowdays. European players increased the level, in fact. But it becomed a goalies game since Patrick Roy learnt the butterfly style to the world….

  7. Forsberg21 says:

    First of all the NBA doesn’t need to make line changes every 30 seconds. 14 players? That would leave you three lines 3 Defensman and two goalies. Or two lines 6 Defensman and 2 goalies. And you need two goalies. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the old days where they would have to ask permission from the other team to pull someone out of the stands to play goal. Besides it being a bad idea, try getting the players association to agree to that.

  8. aaron says:

    Ignoring the fact that this idea will never go into effect, its horrible in and of itself. How can two lines survive in the NHL? You’d see injuries skyrocket due to fatigue and increased wear and tear, you’d see a bunch of players too tired to lift their feet by the end of a game, and more trapping b/c players don’t have the energy to play end to end. That’s insane.

  9. jammer21 says:

    well, i have to agree with all above who suggested that the nhlpa will not stand for loss of jobs. no way no how. we may see contraction in the future (probably closer to the distant future than the near), and after 2004 there will definitely be a salary cap of some kind. but i do NOT want to see a hard cap. that will render this website and all like it defunct. it will have to be renamed, becasue much like the nfl, there will be almost NO trades. or it will be like the nba, where there is an average of 5 trades total per year and they involve 9-10 players, after which 6 players are cut. i think a maximum contract (not unlike the nba has, based on years in the league) and exceptions for players who resign with their teams (assuming they have a reasonable tenure with said team). this is obviously just the tip of the iceberg, and there are a million and a half other issues, but i fear what will happen after the 02-03 season……….

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