Old guard's argument is just that: old

Updated: November 3, 2005, 3:12 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly recently fined Toronto coach Pat Quinn for knocking the New NHL (too little 5-on-5 time, gimmicks breaking ties and deciding games, stale popcorn, etc.).

Boston Bruins team president Harry Sinden was sympathetic to Quinn, pointing out he had voiced similar sentiments during the exhibition season. In essence, Sinden inadvertently reminded us of his relative irrelevancy since dropping the GM title and not having as many opportunities to blame the Bruins' shortcomings on a coach and dodge an architect's accountability.

Pat Quinn
Brian Babineau/WireImage.comAccording to our Terry Frei, Leafs coach Pat Quinn needs to be more open to the new NHL.
Daly let Sinden off the hook.

Sinden should have been whistled for obstructing the New NHL, too.

Saying that really was hard.

It goes against everything held dear, including rock 'n roll, apple pie a la mode, and the quest for good quotes that go beyond the need to give it 108.3 percent, finish checks and take it one game at a time.

It contradicts the perfect world of allowing diverse speech and candor in the spirit of the marketplace of ideas, even within a workplace. (In other words, everyone should be able to say in meetings what they say at the water cooler or at happy hour.)

But Daly, and by extension, commissioner Gary Bettman, had the right idea -- in part because virtually all with a brain listening to Quinn's rant and hearing of Sinden's similar comments were shaking their heads in derision.

Ray Bolger, on the other hand, would have nodded.

Beyond the NHL's self-congratulation -- "Scoring is up!" "Never mind those empty seats, attendance is up!" "Call your local cable operator, not us, with your complaints!" -- there are at least two realities.

One, it's premature because we still don't know whether the necessary revolution in the NHL mind-set is going to take root, or whether the referees will begin backing down in the face of imaginative resistance or what might be a cacophony of old-world dissent.

Two, and most important, the NHL had the right idea. And it is trying.

The NHL is trying to do what it absolutely had to do to give itself any shot at all at putting the brakes on the league's slide to over-there-in-the-corner irrelevancy in all but the handful of automatic hotbeds.

The NHL even is getting the cynics among us to start wondering whether it really does mean it this time, and that it might even work.

The dinosaurs (and the scarecrows) need to put a sock in it.

And if it takes Bettman and Daly's forcefully planting that sock with fines for NHL executives and coaches, so be it. In fact, they should go even further.

Revoke the miscreants' mini-bar key privileges at league meetings.

Ban them from eating at Hy's, Harvey's and Tim Horton's for a year.

Make them watch tapes of 2003-04 games as they wear sensors, and subject them to electric shocks if their heads drop or eyelids droop.

It isn't just Quinn and Sinden, of course. Many more NHL folks stood by and watched, or were more directly responsible for, the league's recent tedium.

The funny thing is that it was an evolution and even a disavowal of many of the game's traditions.

Look at the old tapes, whether a decade ago or in the dying days of the Original Six. Does that look anything like the recent NHL that Sinden and Quinn and others of their ilk seem to think had the right idea?

Absolutely not.

For the most part, the NHL's new anti-obstruction standards, if enforced, represent throwbacks more than they represent tacky modernization in the tradition of colorizing "Casablanca."

In many ways, the NHL and its feeder structure -- major junior, minor-league pro -- got away from the traditions. The purists don't want to hear this, of course, but NCAA hockey and the European game -- even while keeping fighting off-limits and otherwise scoffing at some of the old-world tenets -- more closely stuck to the ideal entertainment model than did the NHL.

Obstruction crept in.

The trap took hold.

Tedium drifted in, like fog.

Yes, the league must keep an open mind about monitoring, tweaking and adjusting as the New NHL unfolds.

The shootout isn't the abomination Quinn believes it is. There's nothing wrong with using a bit of a contrivance to award a second point and provide the paying customers with a winner and a loser. That said, I'd be in favor of going to a five-man minimum rotation, instead of three, and revisiting the granting of a point to the loser if it seems that teams are playing conservatively down the stretch of tie games to get the guaranteed point. Let's hope that it becomes clear that doing that too much can backfire and lead to last-minute losses in regulation. But let the experiment play out.

We're already seeing adjustments in the thought process of both referees and players, and more physical play in front of the net that doesn't get back into the repeated cross check.

We're starting to see everyone realize that goaltender interference calls need to be emphasized, and that the smart skaters will stop thinking they can get away with speed skating into the crease.

And this is sinking in: The smart coaches and players are adjusting. Instead of grousing about the new standards, hoping and assuming they will deteriorate, and even trying to come up with strategies that encourage that slippage, the smart folks in the NHL will continue to adjust.

They'll adjust because they know the new standards and rules are good for the game.

And they'll know that they'll have an advantage against the dinosaurs.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."

Terry Frei

ESPN.com contributor
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."