Where is the NHL Going?

People in Buffalo remember the two-NHL seasons between 2005 and 2007 as some of the most exciting hockey in a long time. That is significant considering that the Sabres had been in the Stanley Cup Finals within 10 years before that. The team was relatively successful and entertaining, as was much of NHL in the couple of years, post-lockout (2004-2005). The “Dead Puck Era” exhausted the sport, as it concluded with a snoozer of a Cup Finals (Tampa Bay/Calgary) in 2004. Despite the battle between owners and players over billions of dollars, the game, itself needed a jolt, resulting in exciting hockey in the few years after.

Now we fast-forward to 2017: the NHL endured another painful money dispute between the rich and the richer 4 years prior to the current season. Unlike the previous lockout, though shorter, the sport became more boring. Each game could put most people to sleep as they have all felt like 2-1, defensively structured games. When the Eastern Conference Finals went to Game 7, my head shook as I could not bear the Ottawa trap-game any further. Is it possible for the NHL to make its game more dull or do they have something else in mind?

People on Twitter constantly complain that the NHL favors the Pittsburg Penguins, never calling penalties on them or penalizing the other team if their sticks tap Sidney Crosby. From what I am witnessing, I do not think that they favor anyone. If that were so, Ottawa forward, Tommy Wingels, would be suspended for elbowing Pittsburg forward, Scott Wilson, in the head. Or there would not be a window in the policy for concussion spotters to not pull Crosby off the ice immediately after crashing headfirst into the boards. It is not like he missed time for “concussion-type symptoms” or anything.

The league would want the public to believe that it is taking head injuries seriously yet their actions prove the contrary. Why else would there be reports that the NHL took Boston University to court to confiscate research done on this very topic? Do they want to further the cause or are they in fear of the many alumni that are suing them? Yes, fighting is down as every new player wears a visor (which no one wants to punch with a bare fist) and the game requires all players to be able to contribute as well as skate. Staged fighting and “goons,” do not add much to the game. But when your league’s star goes down, why would they not take the extra step to ensure safety?

One way the league has tried to prevent head injuries is by amending the rule book to define illegal hits. That way, the officials can just ignore it, especially during the playoffs. How many times are players grabbed, hooked, or slashed, especially stars, and no penalties are assessed? Everyone knows the answer to this one so maybe it was too easy. Will the NHL dictate review their officiating, including the personnel, in order to enforce their rules or will they continue to be held unaccountable? It seems like former official, Kerry Frasier has plenty of comments on Twitter.

More penalties called also results in more goals in your average hockey game. Remember that 8-7 game this playoff season? Oh wait, it never happened. Has anyone decided that they would rather watch random videos on Youtube than watch an NHL hockey game? Please do not tell me that I am the only one. It is easier to spend time elsewhere as the sport continues to be a dull, low-scoring affair. At times, The Bachelorette is more exciting than watching the 500th offside review after a goal. It does not sound like the challenge will be changing any times soon, so expect more and more stoppages for this meaningless attempt “to get it right.” Will the league look at other means to improve scoring, in addition to ensuring that officials call penalties? How much impact will the standard in goaltending equipment have on scoring? When can players kick the puck in and have it count? Most likely, never, but it is not any easier than using a stick.

With more time and research, a book could be written on this very topic. It is evident that there are plenty of issues of the NHL to address to improve the quality of its sport and protect the individuals that they continue to take money away from when a Collective Bargaining Agreement has expired. To what extent will the league try to solve the lack goals to give the fans what they want? Or will they continue to allow clutching and grabbing that is a growing issue? For Gary Bettman’s sake, it would be nice to say that the game has never been better and have it be true for a change.

Benjamin Burke