Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Commish For A Day: Taking the NHL to the Next Level

Welcome to the first installment of my new feature, Commish For A Day. In these posts I will be assuming control of various sports leagues and making the changes that I think will help evolve the sport/league. My first task (not surprisingly) will be to take over for Gary "I Still Secretly Work For The NBA" Bettman and try to restore the NHL to major sport status (for those who think it is not currently a major American sport.) So, here's what I would do with my unlimited power:

  • Impose new regulations on player equipment: The NHL has to do away with the body armor players are wearing these days. Modern elbow pads have essentially become weapons. Just look at the Chris Pronger hit on Dean McAmmond in the Finals. New upper body pads need to be developed that still provide suitable protection while being lighter and softer to prevent injuries to other players. I would enforce the rule by having the referees inspect the player's equipment prior to each game (if it's good enough for youth soccer it's good enough for the NHL.)

  • Adjust the Instigator Rule: NHL players need to get back to policing themselves. Too many marginal players are taking liberties with star players with little or no consequence. Players need to be held accountable for their actions on the ice. In my NHL an instigator gets two minutes and nothing else. No misconduct. No suspensions. Two minutes in the box and then get one with it.

  • Contract four teams: The NHL has gotten too big for its own good and it is in too many markets that seem unwilling to support it. So I'm getting rid of four teams and making all their players free agents. The first three teams to go are easy choices; Phoenix, Columbus and Florida are all gone. The fourth team is a little trickier... if the Predators stay in Nashville than they are gone. If they move to Ontario like most people expect them to in the near future than I am getting rid of Edmonton. I know that wouldn't be a popular decision, but a team needs more than tradition to survive in the new NHL. Plus all the upset fans would eventually come back to the NHL if they ever left to begin with. What else is there to do in Edmonton?

  • Minor penalties last the full 2 minutes: I can't find a single thing wrong with this adjustment. It will most likely increase scoring, increase ice time for skill players, and hopefully cut down on penalties in the long run improving the pace of the game. Teams with good power plays should be rewarded.

  • Find a way to get back together with ESPN: It's sad to say, but ESPN decides much of what is relevant in the sporting world. This move cannot be dictated by finances, give ESPN whatever they want to get back on their air. This is the only way to increase exposure on the self-proclaimed "World Wide Leader in Sports" any time soon.

  • Make teams make at least 5% of tickets available to all games on the day of the game: The NHL is awesome in person. The league just needs to find a way to get new people in the stands to see it. Hopefully this measure would lead to some "impulse attendance" and start to build a new crop of fans to carry the sport into the future. Get people into the arenas and they will be hooked.

  • Raise the minimum age for unrestricted free agency: Reward teams that draft well by allowing them to keep their star players for a little longer. Players would not be eligible for free agency until reaching the age of 30 by July 1. That's it, no other conditions. Fans should be able to count on their top players staying with their team for a reasonable amount of time. But in order to appease the players...

  • Lower the compensation for signing restricted free agents: Teams will be forced to give up no more than two first round picks for signing a restricted free agent. The penalties for signing restricted free agents are so steep right now that it should not even be considered free agency. Let teams make offers to RFAs and then give their current team 1 week to match or take the compensation.

  • Fix the schedule: It's really quite simple, every team needs to play in every arena every season. Trimming the league down to 26 teams makes this easier right off the bat. Then just tweak the number of intraconference and intradivisional games to make it work. Western Conference fans shouldn't have to wait 3 years to see Sidney Crosby in person.

  • Allow more contact with goalies: This is an easy, cut-and-dry rule change. If a goalie is in their crease or the trapezoid behind the goal they are off limits, if they wander anywhere else on the ice they are fair game. At the very least this should cut down on goalies flopping around trying to draw penalties (see Ray Emery).

  • Play-in game for final playoff spot: After the last game of the regular season the 8th and 9th seeded teams in each conference will play a single game at the 8th seeded team's home arena to determine who gets the final playoff spot in each conference. The game will be played using playoff rules (5 on 5 overtime with no shootout, etc.) and will be fit in between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. If the home team's arena is unavailable for some reason, a neutral arena will be determined (possibly a double-header at the other 8 seed's arena).
So there you have it, my new and improved NHL! I really think these changes would help to breathe some much needed life into the league and help it work its way back to making the "Big 3" sports the "Big 4" again.

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