- John Buccigross, SportsCenter anchor
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Finally, a week of sunshine.
Literally, here in the Northeast quadrant of the United States, as the winter that would never end finally did. The sun is warm, the snow is gone and the trees are budding. It smells like ... the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Figuratively, it was also a week of sunshine. The last column on 10 ways to spruce up the NHL game was met with an explosion of support, disagreement and, most important, PASSION. It was exhilarating and cathartic to read all the e-mails from all over the world -- e-mails that showed your love, loyalty and passion for the NHL game.
This week, we'll revisit those 10 thoughts using excerpts from some of your responses to further the discussion.
1. Bigger nets
Jose Theodore calls the idea "bull----." He didn't e-mail me; he said that to a Stockholm newspaper. Many of you used similar verbiage. I'm impressed Colin Campbell is at least considering bigger nets. That it is not being dismissed as, well, bull----, is a good sign. Courage is a bit strong to describe Campbell's public position, but most hockey leaders would not even consider things or investigate ideas if they thought their hockey brethren (managers, players, media) would laugh at them or view them or their ideas as silly or without merit. I've met Campbell a couple of times, and I've always liked him -- now I like him even more.
And how about this from Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough: "We need to make the nets bigger and the goalies even smaller."
The idea for bigger nets was seared into my brain two winters ago. I took my son to the University of Vermont for the day. Vermont assistant coach Damian DiGiulian invited my son and me to take part in the morning skate. During that skate, as I shot on the UVM goalies that were actually undersized, I realized there isn't enough net to shoot at. Give those goalies six more inches, 30 more pounds and NHL skill, and I don't understand how any goals are scored in the NHL anymore. Anyway, to some of your comments:
"Making the nets bigger will essentially freeze all past goalie accomplishments, and a new category of records would need to start. I'd like to see them shelve this until they see what the pad limitation does for scoring in the NHL."
"As long as they stay rectangular, then fine. The curved nets, however, are ridiculous."
"Changing the size of the nets in any way will render any future records incomparable to those of men like [Wayne] Gretzky and [Mario] Lemieux. A better idea -- and what I perceive to be the consensus among hockey experts in this country -- would be to reduce the size of goalie pads to their previous levels."
It is my belief that, by maintaining the status quo, all goaltending records will be shattered, rendering future records incomparable to the great names of the past. Also, the present-day offensive player will be penalized for the imbalance, and the record books will paint Mike Gartner as a significantly better player than Jarome Iginla or even Gary Roberts. They can make some of the padding smaller, but it won't be enough to cure the imbalance. That ship has sailed. I understand more goals don't make for better hockey, necessarily, or mean that more fans will come to the game. My argument for bigger nets actually comes from a purist's point of view: There is an imbalance in the game between offense and defense that needs to be fixed. It's not based on increasing popularity or some circus act goal-athon.
2. No skater interference
No arguments here. Everyone seems to agree this is the most important necessity of all for better flow and more excitement.
3. Penalty deterrents
The idea was to couple the crackdown on obstruction with penalty deterrents, in an attempt to prevent too many power plays, by having players serve the entire two minutes or maybe even disqualifying a player for a certain number of minor penalties.
"Serving the full two minutes is plenty of deterrent. I think it is worth a try. The problem is one two-minute portion of the game could decide the outcome. A team could score three goals on a two-minute power play."
"I say they give obstruction calls a minor-major penalty for three minutes and, just like a five-minute major, the entire time has to be served."
"The ejection point is good. Maybe they can explore 'fouling out' as you point out."
"There is one rule that I feel should be made, or in this case, taken out. I have always disliked the fact that when a team is on the penalty kill [it is] allowed to ice the puck. I feel that if a team commits an infraction, [it] shouldn't be given the reward of being able to ice the puck."
I see a team scoring three goals during a two-minute power play as a good thing. That would be a penalty deterrent in its own right. That won't happen anyway until the net is bigger. The "fouling out" factor might be a reach on my part. If a referee knows Adam Foote has three minors and one more would mean an ejection, would he let more go and thus perpetuate the problem? Of course, if the rule book is always enforced, we won't have to worry.
4. Adopt all AHL rules changes from this season
(Tag up offside, shootout, thicker blue lines, goalie crease behind the net, move nets closer to boards.)
"After much resistance, I'm sold on the shootout. They're exciting, they don't happen that often, and even though they are a stupid way to determine a game ... whatever, there are too many games anyway."
"We have already started down this road with the four-on-four; why not keep going to three-on-three? This would create some interesting hockey, and interesting coaching strategies."
We are going to have a shootout, so there is no need to talk about it much anymore. Like I've said all along, if it becomes a black mark on the game, take it out. But by making the four-on-four 10 minutes instead of five, shootouts will be fewer and even more special. My shootout belief comes from a TV standpoint. We need more people watching the game, and nothing in sports, aside from fighting, televises better than a breakaway.
Attendance is not a problem for any NHL team that plays well. The New York Yankees were a bad team in the early 1990s and were 11th out of 14 American League teams in attendance. They drew less than half of what they draw now. The Rangers stink and they at least still sell out most games. The NHL does need more people to watch on TV, so the more TV-friendly elements, the better. Shootouts are great TV. The rest of the AHL rules changes will be a little more beneficial in the NHL because the players are better.
5. Paint the helmets
The cherry on top of the NHL player is too bland. Let's spruce it up.
"Paint the helmets! At least use the space for branding for crying out loud! It has been sitting there doing nothing for decades. When I was a little boy (and this has been a while) I remember spending all my loose change collecting little plastic NFL football helmets which I purchased from gum ball machines."
"Paint the helmets -- individual painting would be very cool!!!"
"What a great idea. It would also lower costs by not requiring home and away versions."
"I must say I disagree with your idea to paint the helmets. I cannot stand the look of the Michigan helmets."
Individual paint jobs? Like the goalies? Imagine players being able to show their personality? I'd give the players a small space (4 inches x 4 inches or so) on the back of the helmet to do that. Cameras could zoom in and help tell the story of the player. But for the rest of the helmet, I'd have uniformity for the sake of merchandising. One reader above mentioned the mini-NFL helmets as a kid. I worshiped those as a kid! I played with those things all the time. Kids, hockey moms and even some hockey writer/broadcasters would collect those things.
6. Mandatory player and referee microphones
Maybe mandatory is too strong, but the more, the better. Besides gambling and fantasy leagues, what has been the NFL's strongest vehicle to growth and popularity? I would argue NFL Films. How they tell the story of the men who play the game should convince all those in the NHL that the players and the logo are the show. We have to make the NHL a better TV show.
7. No music before faceoffs
A little quiet to talk and to enjoy the game.
"I do agree that the number of decibels could probably be halved."
"The hockey music must STAY."
"I am also so sick of the loud music at these games. Geez, sometimes I wonder if I'm in a nightclub instead of a hockey arena."
"As a Rangers fan my whole life, I found the crowd would get increasingly rowdy after a faceoff -- especially when they felt one of their own got the wrong end of the call. Often times a chant focused at the referee or an opposing player would begin."
We love music. We love hockey. But let's compartmentalize the two. Plus, if I ran the Boston Bruins or Minnesota Wild, I'd invite a local college or high school band to as many games as possible. Some arenas are better than others.
8. Take out the red line
In other words, allow two-line passes. The red line would stay for icing. I believe it would make trapping difficult by creating space in the neutral zone. Forwards could build up more speed, and if there was no illegal hooking or tugging from behind, it would create a faster game.
"Everyone talks about it, but this alone will change the face of pro hockey. It should have been the first change. It will open up the game more than we know."
"The D-men, and even the forwards, just have more room to execute worse traps than you could ever imagine. It doesn't work. Ask Mike Ribeiro. He's repeated that he hates the no red line -- and he's a fast little bugger who should benefit from such a thing. Apparently not."
I think the smaller NHL ice surface needs more space in the neutral zone. The long pass has been eliminated. Plus, the NHL player will take advantage of all these rule tweaks because they are the fastest, smartest and most driven hockey players in the world. I wouldn't compare college kids and average Europeans to NHL players.
9. Play-in games
After the last day of the regular season, which I would make a Saturday, I would have the eighth- and ninth-place teams in each conference play a game that decides who gets the last spot in the playoffs.
"What if a team not only finishes with, say, five more points than the ninth seed and won the season series between the two, but still misses the playoffs based on one loss? Stakes that high should be settled by regular-season results and multiple game series."
"The AHL proved the last few seasons that such a thing is hokey, and does not add enough atmosphere or life to the playoffs to be worthwhile."
"How awesome would that play-in game be? You just painted a picture with your keyboard that I can't get out of my head."
I don't care about an eight-seed feeling shafted. Tough, you're the eighth seed. Good point on the AHL experiment, but again the NHL, the Cup, opening day of the playoffs -- all better. Again, let's try it for a year. We can shelve it. And again, it would be a great TV show.
10. Congressional hearings on NHL and NHLPA leadership
This was obviously a tongue-in-cheek suggestion on what should happen when NHL hockey does resume. For the good of the game, someone has to go. Maybe Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow can perform the ultimate kiss and make up of all time, but do you trust them to do that?
I was disappointed that you didn't suggest a larger ice surface. You said the players are bigger and faster, they need a bigger surface for the game. They should reduce the number of games.
I got a number of bigger ice surface e-mails; however, I'm of the belief that smaller ice surfaces are better. More collisions and a faster game. Take out the red line and call interference and the ice surfaces are sufficient. They should reduce the number of games. Hockey is a physically demanding game. Imagine the NFL playing two games a week throughout the season? Four teams do during Thanksgiving week, but that is it. I think 60 is actually the best number physically, but the players and owners won't sacrifice that much income. They will probably settle around 72.
You forgot one that will be easy to implement, and improve the game -- eliminate any restrictions on stick blade curvature. Increase the max stick length by 3 inches. I would expect increased scoring if these changes were made.
My fear is that having no stick blade restrictions would jeopardize the health of those in front of the net, like power forwards and defensemen. If all players wore facial protection, then it would be moot. But until then, I think it would be too dangerous for skaters with no facial protection.
Here's another idea for the 10-point tune-up to hockey: Keep the game moving by letting play continue after most icings. But here's the catch: After every third icing by a team, it gets a two-minute penalty for delay of game.
I would have no problem with a rule like that, Lou. Icings are akin to intentional grounding in football.
You never publish my e-mails, and I must say, in the past I've offered some humor, anecdotal stories and even a bit of insight from time to time. Well, I'm relying on you now, brutha, because I have a baby on the way and need names! We won't be finding out the sex, so I'll need boy and girl names and I like Irish names. Of course, I'd be willing to give up the ethnic sounding name for one that will predispose my child to becoming a fluid skating forward (my spawn will not have the size for defense or goaltending I'm afraid. Think mini-Pang and you'll get the idea.)
Bel Air, Md.
Korey Patrick Donnelly will be a smart, relentless, winger who will score 20-25 goals and play great defense. Fiona Elizabeth Donnelly will be a swift-skating, offensive-minded defenseman who will get a full ride to Boston College and make her daddy's retirement a lot more enjoyable.
The main reason I am writing is because I always love when you are on SportsCenter and use band references. "What Sly is to the Family Stone, Kobe is to the Lakers." I don't think you've used that one, but you did turn me on to the Shins. Thanks a lot. They are now one of my favorite bands. I was so surprised to hear them in "Garden State." Anyway, what are you listening to these days?
Virginia Beach, Va.
I can not stop listening to the Kaiser Chiefs song, "I Predict a Riot." I would add that to my pregame must-hear list.
Please tell me you have a new Bloc Party album. Finally, a disc that lives up to its enormous hype. (An anti-Daigle album, if you will.)
I do Ken. Bloc Party and Kaiser Chiefs are on a burnt CD in my car right now. I'll support my hungry artists and go buy the CDs soon.
Let's say the Los Angeles Kings signed a player just for the 2004-05 season. Does his contract roll over to the 2006 season now? Any feedback would be awesome because I'm lacking hockey. I miss the Kings.
Contracts do not roll over. If a player signed a one-year deal for this year, he forfeits that money, and since the season was canceled, he becomes a free agent again. A player who signed a two-year contract before this year, now has one more year remaining on his deal.
No offense, but you have never played the game, so don't tell us Canadians who made the game in your little article how the game and rules should be changed. When you have played it, like me since 7 years old, and understand it, then maybe you can talk. But until then shut your mouth. [We] Canadians who support our teams, care about the game, and actually made the game will decide what is best. You're not even covering the lockout like we are down here. So cover [it] and understand [it] first, then worry about the rules.
My grandmother on my dad's side was born and raised in Newfoundland and I have a pet otter, Ken. I'm claiming part Canadian status, and Shawn, my fellow countryman, your words sadden and injure me.
John Buccigross' e-mail address for questions, comments or cross-checks is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fans fire back with their opinions on rules changes meant to improve the NHL game.