- John Buccigross, SportsCenter anchor
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When offering opinions on what changes the NHL should consider to enhance the regular-season game, it is best to watch a regular-season game at its
best as opposed to a 1-1 trapfest. Last Friday night, I watched Anaheim's overtime win against Colorado and two things tickled my senses: 1) No one, and
I mean NO ONE, in the NHL skates, passes, shoots, takes faceoffs and has a better big-game presence than Sergei Fedorov. Watching him play hockey fills me with joy. And 2) when an NHL regular-season game is played with passion, purpose, skill, hate and competitiveness, it works just fine.
A number of things prevent No. 2 from happening more often -- meaningless matchups with no emotional subplots, interconference irrelevance, matchups with lack of skill because of 30 teams and an atmosphere that rewards ties. You could have the players play naked, and if there is no emotion in the game, shrinkage of ratings still occurs. The playoffs are the thing because of the glut of emotion. And that occurs because there are seven games left in the season, then maybe seven more. That being said, five overtime playoff games that happened in 2003 will happen again in 2004 because of some factors that if addressed, could help the game play and televise better, and have a game decided more by skill and less by marathons of luck and chance. And let's face it, when a hockey game goes five OTs no one cares which team wins. The only thought that enters one's mind is "God, I have to change my underwear, RIGHT NOW!"
Playing 1,280 regular-season games with the emotion of that Anaheim-Colorado game last week is an awful lot to ask of players. So, what I propose are 10 alterations that game could make to enhance regular season and playoff hockey. One change won't make that huge a difference. Together, they can add up to give the game a much needed makeover.
1. Make the net six inches wider and four inches higher. This is the most controversial idea because of the so called "How do we compare records?" debate. First of all, who cares? Secondly, Jerry West didn't have the three-point rule and had bad arena lighting. Babe Ruth played with crappy baseballs compared to Barry Bonds, bats are better, the mound is lower, and parks are smaller. The rules Peyton Manning plays under now are EXTREMELY more forgiving than the passing game rules Terry Bradshaw played under. Goalie gear won't get significantly smaller and humans are not getting smaller. There is less net to shoot at and we are historically penalizing the player of today. I want to see Jarome Iginla come down the right wing and wire a slap shot past the goalie like Cam Neely did. That's hockey's home run. The game is less beautiful because there is less net to shoot at.
2. Move the nets back closer to the end boards. Yes, it increases the neutral zone, but I believe moving the nets has caused other harms. It promotes defenses to collapse in front of the goaltender because most shots on the wings are bad angle shots, easily stopped by the big equipment of goaltenders. Moving the nets back creates more offensive friendly angles for shooters. Also, I firmly believe wrap-around goals will be more of a threat because the player will have less space to travel behind the net and will be able to pick his defender better by using the net.
3. Removing the two-line pass. This is one of those changes that wouldn't necessarily open up the game, but it would add beauty and exhilaration to a game smothered by players who flat out skate too well. I want to see long passes. And I don't buy the European and U.S. college argument because those players aren't good enough to take advantage of longer passing lanes and more neutral zone space. If they were, they would be in the NHL. Skill plus space equals exhilaration. If the players are having fun, you are having fun.
4. Shootouts. Every game should end with an emotion -- happiness or sadness. Anything else and it ceases to be a competition and becomes a two-hour-and-twenty-seven minute leaf-raking television show. Ties are EVIL. They are the antithesis of competition. You have 65 minutes to win the game. I'd have no problem having shootouts in the playoffs after two overtimes either, but if that's too much for you, then we'll keep it in the regular season. Shootouts would add to a great game and save a putrid one. Plus, no more ties! We'd go from four columns in the standings to TWO! No points for an overtime. In fact, NO MORE POINTS. We'd have standings like the other sports, by winning percentage. I could write a book on the pros of shootouts.
5. 25 seconds between faceoffs. It's too quick right now. I need a couple more replays to show off the beauty of the game in slow motion, especially with high definition becoming mainstream.
6. Goalies are fair game behind the goal line. If a goalie goes behind the net, he can be hit. You cannot allow goalies to be hit in front of the line because goalies would get creamed just making a glove save.
7. Serving the full two minutes on penalties. It wouldn't cause that much more power-play time. Teams rarely score 30 seconds into a power play. Maybe players would be a little careful with their sticks and think twice about obstructing. By the way, minor penalties in overtime should only be one-minute long.
8. Mandatory visors. The NHLPA talks about protecting the free market and yet won't protect its players' eyesight. It's the humane thing to do. Secondly, it keeps players on the ice where they are more valuable to their owners and the fan, the person who runs this whole engine. If sticks get out of control make every high-sticking penalty a major, then you'll see guys be careful. And see No. 10 on how high stickings will go down.
9. Fewer games, shorter season. Let's compress this thing by 10 games and one month. Healthier, better rested and more energized players who have time to practice would result in a better product.
10. No legal hooking on players leaving a zone. Why is one player allowed to tug or pull at another skating away from him with his stick? A cornerback can't just stick his arm out to grab a wide receiver running a fly pattern. I can't grab the guy in front of me on the basketball court. How was this ever allowed? Why can you tug at a guy skating in front of you?! Where's the skill in that? I used the words LEAVING THE ZONE, to give latitude for the defense when a team is in the attacking zone. I like the battles. But, if there is a turnover and I am skating out of my defensive zone, you can't stick your stick out and slow me down. This might be the most important point of them all. Sticks belong on the ice, going for the puck. Players may skate better today, but they aren't better players. They skate better and tug at the opponent with their stick with abandon. NHL rules for defense should be much like the NFL for it's defensive backs. If a player has position, fine, they can both go for the puck. But you can't EVER touch a guy who is skating in front of you with your hand, arm or stick. That should be self-evident. IT'S INTERFERENCE!! And if we enforced this basic law of sport, MAYBE we wouldn't have to make the net bigger. But I could be wrong.
Every team needs to have someone do something that is unexpected in order to be successful. Trent Hunter is the guy who is helping keep the Islanders from being voted off the "Top 8 in the East Island." Despite injuries to Mark Parrish and Alexei Yashin, the Islanders are still scoring goals because of the unexpected output of Hunter.
No. 1: Why do you wear No. 7?
Hunter: Last year I wore No. 21. This year Marius Czerkawski returned to the Islanders and he had worn it before, so he obviously should have it back. I was just given the number 7, but it's working pretty well though.
Trent won the Brad Hornung Trophy for most sportsmanlike player of the Western Hockey League in 1999-2000.
No. 2: What do I have to know about you to understand what kind of a person you are?
Hunter: Pretty easy going and don't get too excited.
Trent is a physical player who doesn't take penalties. He'll also hit the ice to block a shot.
No. 3: What part of your game needs the most improvement?
Hunter: Probably my skating. I've been working on that by doing a lot of power skating in the summer. I also try to strengthen my core (abs and butt) and legs and try to get quicker
Trent is 23. He was born in Red Deer, Alberta, on July 5, 1980.
No. 4: What kind of music is being played in the Islander locker room these days?
Hunter: We've got a wide variety. Some days some country, other days rap. Dave Scatchard deejays the most. I don't like anything too hard, anything that sounds good and is easy to listen to.
Trent would love "Welcome Interstate Managers" by Fountains of Wayne. That would be in his wheelhouse. Trent played eight games for the Islanders last year and didn't score.
No. 5: Have you ever milked a cow?
Hunter: No. I think I'll pass on that one.
Trent skates on Bauer Vapor 20's and shoots with a Louisville.
No. 6: You are the fifth Hunter to play in the NHL. Name the other four.
Hunter: Oh, No. Ahhhhh, Dave Hunter, Dale Hunter, Mark Hunter. (All brothers.) Ahhh, let me think. Um. I'm drawing a blank. (Tim Hunter!) Oh, I knew that.
So far, a Hunter has played at least 628 NHL games. "Hunter," starring Fred Dryer and Stephanie Kramer, was also an NBC TV show from 1984-1991. There were 153 episodes of "Hunter."
No. 7: Who is your roommate on the road?
Hunter: Shawn Bates. He's also my roommate at home along with Eric Goddard. We all live together. It depends on what day you come in as far as how the house smells.
Trent really wants to go skydiving one day.
No. 8: What's the weirdest thing that happened to you growing up in Red Deer?
Hunter: When I was younger, like 4 or 5, I was on a sled, and my dad and uncle tied the sled to the dog to give me a little ride. All of the sudden, a COYOTE came out of the bushes on the other side of the pond and the dog took off WITH ME ON THE SLED and my dad and uncle had to go chase me down.
Beware Coyote fans. Trent plays against your Coyotes on Friday the 13th this month. And he has sled revenge on his mind.
Some quick Podes news to start off the week. Växjö won both games they played last week and are on top of the Allsvenskan Södra Vår league. Two 4-2 wins over Halmstad and Nybro, and Podes registered an assist. After six games, he has seven (2-5-7) points, 10 penalty minutes, 21 shots on goal and is plus-7 (7-0).
How good will the Thrashers be with Dany Heatley, Andrew Sutton, Marc Savard and Garnet Exelby back? I think we have a chance to catch Tampa Bay and win the Southeast - granted we can't have any more injuries!
Dany Healty will help the Thrashers no doubt, especially the power play that hasn't been good. But he doesn't make them a better defensive team and that is what has the Thrashers on the outside looking in right now.
Probably not the only one to point this out, but shouldn't Melrose's new minor league team change its name to the Adirondack Mullets?
Barry and a group of investors took over the Adirondack IceHawks of the United Hockey League last week. Barry's first move? He fired the coach!! Barry took over for one game last Friday night and his team lost in a shootout. Marc Potvin, who played in 121 NHL games with the Red Wings, Whalers, Bruins and Kings, will be the full time coach for the Glens Falls, N.Y.-based team. A mullet night is in the works. Free RATT CD's for everyone.
My fiancée's name is Shawna, but she doesn't like the way it is spelled and wants to get it changed when we get married. She was thinking of "Seanna", but I suggested that she make it "Shjonna" instead. I love her because she thought about it for a minute before saying no. When we have kids, what should we name them so they grow up to be NHL players?
Definity Shjona. One n, not two. You shall have two sons, Lyle LoBue and Sully LoBue. You will take them to Somerville Lumber, build them a backyard rink, and they shall one day man the Bruins' blue line.
You recently wrote in your column about Jodie Foster being a season ticket holder of the Tri City Storm of the USHL and a fan of John Dingle. I'm the trainer and equipment manager for the Storm and I'm not able to confirm your statement. We're actually hoping it's true … especially John. If you could shed some light it would be appreciated. If she's not then we'd like to send an open invitation to her to come to a game.
Michael Muir ATC, CAT(C), CSCS
Tri City Storm Hockey Club
Upon further review, it is not true. But don't worry about John, he'll meet his future wife at Ohio State. A lot of "strong swimmers" at OSU, if you know what I mean.
I'm about ready to leave for Air Force Basic training and need advice as to what CDs I should bring for the plane ride. Keep in mind this is the last music I will listen to for a while so make it good. Thanks again and look forward to checking in on you when I get out.
Bill from Connecticut
I love Blink 182's new self-titled CD, Bill. Also take U2's "Joshua Tree," The Cure's "Disintegration," Ben Fold's Live CD, Fountains of Wayne's "Welcome Interstate Managers" and whenever I fly, the first CD I put in is REM's "Reveal." "The Lifting" is my all-time favorite airplane taking off song.
You said Vancouver coach Marc Crawford has the best hair in the NHL. I disagree. Edmonton Oilers assistant coach Craig Simpson has the best hair. Look at it! You could set your watch to that haircut!
Good call, Ben. But I believe Craig Simpson is not human. I believe he is a genetic experiment conducted in a Medicine Hat lab to contrive a master hockey race of hair and teeth. He has a 9-volt battery under each foot to subsist, although at night he does have an adaptor.
Dear Mr. Buccigross,
Hi, my name is Sean Freeman; I am 16 years old, and a huge hockey fan. I just wanted to tell you that I'm pretty sure Rick Nash's other tattoo, on his other shoulder, is that of a shark. I am a huge Nash fan, and remember seeing the tattoo in a picture. I'm sure it doesn't really matter to you, it's just one of those FYI's.
I took your question about Nash's tattoo and put it up as a poll on my friend's forum … to which, my friend Jen responded: "Shark biting a hockey stick."
Fort Lee, N.J.
Multiple readers have confirmed the shark deal which poses some more questions: 1) Why was Rick hiding a fact that Mark Berec's friend Jen knew as common knowledge? 2) Was Rick a phony by implying he was candid with me? 3) Why is my head so large?
Today I discovered the greatest possible Swedish hockey player ever. The Islanders' Kenny Jonsson has a 2-year-old son. His name is Axel Jonsson. If by some miracle Axel Jonsson turned into a Swedish Rob Blake, he would be the greatest Swedish thing in NHL history (sorry Hakan Loob).
Axel Jonnson shall marry Haakan's other daughter and change his name to Loob. Axel Loob.
Hi there, John,
While at the Lightning game on Monday, I won a raffle of a Colorado home jersey signed by No. 4, Rob Blake (and it came with a mini stick signed by Martin St. Louis). I was offered money by fans around me, but a friend suggested that I sell it on eBay and get more. What would you do?
I would keep it and wear it. I'm not big on creating museums of acquired items. Wear stuff, use stuff. If Joe Thornton gives me his All-Star sweater in Minnesota on Sunday, I'd wear it on my backyard rink, not hang it on a wall.
This week's Power Rankings say Pittsburgh is still in the league "at least for the next eight months." I say you can't get rid of the Penguins, even if you do decide to go for contraction. They're the only team in the league dedicated to development. In fact, they're so dedicated, they have two developmental teams, themselves and the Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton Penguins.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.
Ten ideas to make NHL hockey a better game and a quick lap on the Zamboni with Trent Hunter.