Personally, there isn’t a time that I can look back to in my life and say that I wasn’t a hockey fan. I started playing the game myself around age five and watching the NHL came hand-in-hand. For most fans that watch this beloved sport on a nightly basis, there’s simply no question that it’s the most beautifully entertaining sport in the world. When played as it’s meant to be played, hockey is as aesthetically pleasing as you can possibly get in the form of a game. It’s nerve-shattering, hard-hitting, fast-paced and provides edge-of-your-seat entertainment. But, does the NHL still offer this experience to its fans?
The common phrase heard quite frequently these days is “best game, worst league”. The NHL has become a league that is stuck trying to waiver on tradition while still appealing to a newer audience. And while the two parties have very different interests in a lot of aspects, there is one very common ground that you’ll find with any hockey fan. They want to see more scoring.
It doesn’t matter what fan you talk to, they’ll all tell you that they’d like to see players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Vladimir Tarasenko dangle with the puck. They want to see guys like James Neal, Phil Kessel and Steven Stamkos sniping
What is it That the NHL Values Most?
If asked this exact question, do you think NHL officials would claim that they value high-scoring, entertaining hockey or a tight-checking, systematic league? There’s only one right answer and it’s neither of the above. The correct answer is revenue. Revenue that is generated by ticket sales, merchandise, TV contracts and any other endorsement or venture that eventually turns into profit. That isn’t a knock on them by any means considering that’s why they’re in business to begin with, right? To make money.
The issue I have with how the NHL operates is that profits are worn as blinders and the league fails to address the concerns of its customers. In this case, it’s customers are the fans. What action has been taken over the last decade to combat the decrease in offense? What steps have they taken to truly showcase the star talent that this amazing sport has to offer? As a hybrid between a hockey traditionalist and someone who understands the game is at it’s best when it involves speed and scoring, I can sometimes find joy in watching a well-played, low-scoring game. But, not every single night.
The NHL, not unlike the NFL, has become an over-coached, systematic league in which winning trumps entertainment. For some, winning means entertainment but I’m not sure that should come at the expense of thrilling hockey. More teams are dumping and chasing, trapping in the neutral zone and finding any possible means of limiting scoring opportunities. Today’s NHL is more about coaching schemes than it is about letting players do what they do best. And while the NHL and NFL are very similar in that regard, there’s one huge difference. The NFL has adapted with new rules and guidelines that allow their skill players to shine while the NHL stands by, blind to the fact that people aren’t happy with the direction of the league.
At Consol Energy Center, the arena that I frequent the most out of any in the league, the atmosphere is widely viewed as dull. Most refer to the fan base inside the arena as suits and not true hockey fans. While I think that may be exaggerated just a bit, it isn’t necessarily untrue. Ticket prices are steadily on the rise around the league and in general, the atmosphere at any hockey game has changed dramatically. So, I have to ask the tough question. Is attending an NHL hockey game still worth the price of admission?
Return on Investment
According to statista.com, the average price for an NHL ticket in 2014-15 was $62.18, which actually strikes me as a bit low. Of course, you have to consider that small-market teams are driving that average down tremendously as they try to fill arenas. With most tickets that are available to the average fan costing far north of that number, is the in-arena experience worth the investment?
We aren’t exactly in the dead puck era that occurred in the 90’s. But, scoring has trended down significantly since the league came out of the lockout with a focus on more goals in 2005. The biggest factor to the drop in goals is likely the drop in power play opportunities, which is also a piece of the game that fans love to watch. According to HockeyReference.Com, the average for power play opportunities per game in 2005-06 was 5.85. The goals-per-game average was 3.08. Compare that to the current averages of 3.28 and 2.71 respectively, and it’s easy to see how a more tightly officiated game impacts scoring. The difference from then to now is .37 goals-per-game, which would equate to roughly 30 additional goals for each team across an 82-game season.
It’s time for the NHL and it’s representatives to take a long, hard look at making the game fun again. Tighter officiating would be a great place to start. Bigger nets, too. A personal recommendation of mine would be to shorten the neutral zone, which in turn increases the size of each offensive zone and allows for more creativity and extra space with the puck. It would also make it much more difficult to play the neutral zone trap. Whatever the end result is, it would be wise to figure it out sooner rather than later.
Pittsburgh Penguins writer for TheHockeyWriters.Com and PittsburghHockeyNow.Com. Youth hockey coach, and student of the game.