10 Ways To Make Hockey Better in 2012

make hockey better
If the NHL wants to get rid of dirty hits, repeat offeders like Raffi Torres need to be hit with bans of 20-plus games.

January is always a great time to reflect on the previous 12 months. It is also the perfect time to look ahead at the future. Each year, I use the first few days of January to examine what would improve the game I love. It could be an idea that improves the NHL, or it could be something that begins at the grass-roots level and gets more people involved in the game. Here’s this year’s list, in no particular order:

Hand out real suspensions/Get players to respect one another: Concussions continue to plague the NHL, and a major reason for that is the number of devastating hits – both legal and illegal. The NHL really needs to crack down on the illegal hits, and the way to do that is to quit doling out suspensions from 4 to 8 games. Instead, drop the hammer with an initial suspension of 10 to 12 games, and then follow any subsequent issues with 20, 30 or more games. Once these repeat offenders start losing their livelihood, you can bet the illegal hits will stop. On top of that, the league should fine owners who keep repeat offenders on their teams. We are talking serious fines here, not a slap on the wrist, drop in the bucket fine.

Furthermore, players need to respect each other. Far too many times, players are running full speed, without reservation, into another player. The lack of obstruction allowed in the neutral and defensive zones allows for these full speed collisions. For whatever reason, be it the way the league is or television or the compete levels or the culture, players do not seem to respect the fact that these hits are not necessary and cause injury. Let’s not forget that the main purpose of a body check is to gain control of the puck, and more often than not, that is forgotten by today’s NHL players.

Put the Winter Classic on a lake in Minnesota: I know the Wild do not have the big name stars that previous Winter Classic teams have, but imagine a true outdoor game, played on a lake in the dead of winter. If the NHL can build a rink in the middle of a baseball field they can certainly do it on a lake. Bringing in stands and fans might be a challenge, but the TV rights alone might bring in enough money. Unrealistic I know, but it would be awesome.

More realistic would be a game between the Wild and the Dallas Stars somewhere in Minnesota, putting the past against the present. Either way, the next Winter Classic should include the Wild in Minnesota – one of the best hockey places in the U.S.

More for the kids: The NHL does a decent job with running youth clinics for young fans, but they could so much more. I remember the Bruins actually having camps through New England in the summer, with Bruins players running the show. I know players make more money these days and do not need the extra cash, but it would be a fantastic way to grow the game. They could o one-day street hockey or skating clinics, or one- or two-day skills clinics.

In addition, teams should offer more reduced tickets for kids under 10 (or 12). Doing so would bring in so many new fans. It would cost teams very little in terms of revenue, as we all know kids will make mom/dad buy concessions, souvenirs, etc, and it would create lifelong hockey fans.

Another youth-oriented program that could be brought back is NHL Street, which was a series of street hockey tournaments in NHL cities. Pittsburgh has always done a great job with this, and the New York Rangers have run many youth clinics in the inner city. Kudos to those teams, but there needs to be more to build a culture of hockey fans.

Move Phoenix elsewhere: The fans don’t care about the Coyotes, and though I appreciate the fact they are trying to grow hockey in a non-traditional place, there comes a time when you have to admit failure. That time is now. The team could be moved to a hockey hotbed like southern Ontario or Quebec City (heck, why not Milwaukee? They love hockey in Wisconsin and they need another Midwest team) or to a place where hockey might stand a chance like Kansas City, Seattle, or even try Hartford again. Wherever they move the team, it would be better than Phoenix!

NHL 24/7 Flyers/Rangers is must-see TV

Continue to produce hockey programming: Obviously more games would be beneficial, but the league needs more programs NHL 24/7, NHL 36, Oil Change, and Making of a Royal  to promote the sport, the NHL, and its players. In addition, the NHL should, using Canada’s Kraft Hockeyville as a model, have a similar hockey community competition in the United States. It would create pride in communities, develop a hockey culture, and bring attention to and grow the sport.

Extend overtime: I said this last year (and the year before), but make overtime eight minutes: go four minutes of 4v4 and four minutes of 3v3. Most games would likely find a conclusion during those eight minutes, and it would provide plenty of fast-paced action. If it ended in a tie, then go to the shootout (though I would love just to see the league just go back to ties).

Get rid of touch icing: The touch icing rule has been the cause of so many pointless injuries. It is time to get rid of it. Add a modified rule where if the defending player reaches the hash marks/dots (or bottom of the circle) before a forward, the whistle is blown. There is no need to allow these high-speed collisions that cause injuries to continue.

Make visors mandatory: Again, this should be a no-brainer. Too many careers have been cut short, curtailed, or put on hold

Bryan Berard is just one of many NHLers who have suffered significant eye injuries that a visor would have prevented,

because of a puck or stick hitting them in the eye area. Every player uses some form of facial protection until they reach the pros, so there is no reason for it not to continue. Grandfather it in if need be, but why watch player after player suffer these needless injuries?

Make the rinks bigger: Most importantly, this would create more space on the ice, which would make the game more skill-based, like the Olympics (which everyone loves) and cut down on a bit on the ridiculous hits that are thrown each night.

Make fighting an ejection: This would be the most controversial proposal. I love hockey fights, but the high cost to the players have made me rethink my views. Hockey fights, especially the staged ones, add nothing to the game. Again, the most watched hockey games of the past 30-plus years have been Olympic hockey games, and fights in playoff games are a rarity. The league is better off with more skilled players and less goons anyway. If the NHL does it jobs with suspending repeat cheap-shot artists, the fights will be sliced down anyway. The league should eject players who fight, and consider suspensions for anyone who gets in five fights in a season.

(Steve Kendall has covered hockey at all levels for nearly 20 years. He has worked for such publications as the Boston Herald, New England Hockey Journal, Worcester Telegram & Gazette and The Hockey Writers. You can find Steve on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @skendallhockey or email him at stevekendall17@comcast.net).

4 thoughts on “10 Ways To Make Hockey Better in 2012”

  1. sight lines along the boards would be ruined if you move the boards out  7.5 feet on each side,sadly.The players would be under the feet of the third row seats, basically.everyone up above would see …nothing.
    Otherwise I’ll gowith the proposals.

  2. Yes on suspensions, but my first wish for player safety is changes with the equipment. Go back to no plastic on the chest and arms and only on the shoulder caps.. like the Sherwood classics. Make it hurt to give a big hit and not just receive one.

    Yes to more NHL promotion in the lake regions.. and yes to moving Phoenix to Milwaukee.. or Seattle, or Quebec City.

    Yes to touch no-touch icing. or just make a rule that when icing is signaled, the pursuing forward can’t make physical contact.

    No to visors. yes they protect the eyes, put they don’t protect against concussions. Players should have the right to choose and you can hurt your eyes in any sport.

    Maybe to making rinks bigger.. but not olympic size.. just a touch wider.. if you want player safety put the red line in play again.

    No to the fighting proposal. Get rid of the instigator rule or someone cut down on goon vs. goon staged boxing matches. .those suck.. but spur of the moment scraps between two skilled players is great.

  3. I can respect the opinion on fighting, but just because something has been part of the game for a long time doesn’t mean it cannot be changed. The best hockey games ever played had no fighting in them, so explain to me why it makes the game better.

    As far as mandating visors, the league had to mandate helmets in the 80s because players were not smart enough to do it themselves. Lots of things are mandated in sports, and making the game safer for everyone makes sense. Not to mention there are no players coming into the pros who haven’t been wearing facial protection their entire life.

    Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

  4. Sorry Steve but I can’t agree with you about fighting. It’s part of the game, draws in crowds, and forces players to think twice about the cheap shot they might take on an opponent. Removing fighting would be removing a huge part of the sport, and suspensions because you choose to fight would be ridiculous.

    With the visors, I understand that it’s all about player safety right now, but I don’t think the NHL should be making them mandatory. It should be up to the players whether or not they want to wear a visor. They’re full grown men who are capable of making their own decisions. If they want to risk getting a serious facial injury, it’s their choice.

    That’s my take.

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