Saturday, 13 July 2013

Is Gary Bettman responsible for the 'concussion epidemic'? Yes he is.

Apologists often defend Gary Bettman, saying he's "growing the game", and making everyone rich.  As far as the goonery, well, that's not his department, they say, that's because of the refs.

I disagree completely.  The concussions and dirty play are entirely Gary Bettman's fault.  He's the CEO, he's ultimately responsible.  He's more concerned with balance sheets and entering into incestuous TV deals with networks owned by one of this 30 owners (instead of the correct choice of ESPN) than he is about the actual quality of the game he's trying to sell.

I've said this often, and I'll repeat it now, but other sports have taken steps to make their game more fan-friendly and spectacular.

Rugby Union was a sport that was threatened by Rugby League's growth, and its own insistence on players retaining 'amateur' status.  Rugby Union eventually reacted, legalizing professional players, and the game has exploded.  European clubs, the Super Twelve in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the Tri-Nations and Six Nations tournaments, and the crown jewel, the Rugby World Cup, all are leaving Rugby League in the dust.

Also, the sport has tweaked its rules to ensure that boring, defensive teams like England, who used to kick the ball away without mercy, like dump-and-chase in hockey, and then hoped for a fortuitous penalty call or two to kick an easy penalty kick or two, and win a stultifying 6-3 game, at the expense of ticket buyers and television spectators, cannot prevail anymore.  Now, the value of the try has been increased from four to five points, so it's worth it to attack instead of just play for a kick, and it's near impossible to strictly play defense against a superior team.  If you try to collapse a maul or ruck, or wheel a scrum, the attacking team gets the ball , the defending team is penalized.  The refs don't even need to 'prove' that the infraction was intentional, it's not like the incidental trips that NHL refs turn a blind eye to.  The team that was going forward keeps the ball, the team that had everything to gain by playing anti-rugby, is held strictly responsible.

It makes sense.  If an NHL player is on a partial breakaway and is being backchecked by a defenceman, and both tangle and fall and the play is over, it makes sense that the defending player caused it and benefited from it.  Why not automatically call the penalty on the defenceman, it's not like the attacking player made himself fall.  Except that with referees not calling hooking and slashing and holding, defensive players do all of that, and prevent a clear chance on goal, so the player on breakaway now decides he may try to dive and draw a penalty, get a scoring chance that way, on the powerplay, cause he's not going to score with Mike Kostka hacking away at his hands.

NFL football liberalized its passing rules to allow for more open games, to transform the game from the Ohio State "three yards and a cloud of dust" approach to the Air Coryell philosophy.  Offensive linemen were allowed to extend their arms in pass blocking and put their hands on defensive players, as long as they don't hold (wink, wink).  Defensive backs were restricted to a five-yard bump zone, beyond which they cannot contact a receiver who doesn't have the ball without incurring a penalty.  This caused an explosion in scoring, and the NFL easily vaulted past MLB as the most successful sports property in North America.

Later, rules such as the Tom Brady rule, preventing a defensive player from tackling a quarterback at the knees or below were enacted.  Another rule prevents any defensive player from striking a QB on the helmet, no matter how slight the contact.  These were introduced in the realization that the quarterbacks are the ones responsible for the success of the league, they're the face of their respective teams, they're responsible for the quality of the show.  The NFL knows it's better off with Peyton Manning starting against Ben Roethlisberger, rather than if their backups were.  Defensive players who grumble that you can't touch Aaron Rodgers are missing the point that it's the same rule for both defences, so it evens out, and more importantly, it's Aaron Rodgers that makes everyone rich, including the defensive linemen trying to sack him.

Somehow the NHL doesn't get that.  Star players such as Sidney Crosby or Daniel Sedin or Jeremy Roenick are fair game, they're beaten to within an inch of their life during the season and playoffs, and some miss vast stretches of games.  It would make too much sense for the league to protect its stars, like the NFL does, but instead, it kow-tows to Mike Milbury and Don Cherry.

I've mentioned how the NBA went all in on Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and later Michael Jordan, and allowed them to play the game at the peak of their potential, instead of allowing Bill Laimbeer to knee and push and roughhouse them to a standstill.  Again an easy call.

Meanwhile the NHL lets Mike Hough hook Wayne Gretzky, and allows Matt Cooke to headhunt Marc Savard, and Duncan Keith to elbow and slash Daniel Sedin, in the name of defensive hockey.  Which is ridiculous.  Hockey should be tilted toward the skill players, towards scoring and offence, not the slashers and muckers who can't keep up.  Hockey should be about pleasing the fans, instead of parity, or about allowing desperate coaches to grimly hang on to their jobs through the trap.  Hockey should be up and down, back and forth, high scoring action, with tic-tac-toe passing, speed and breakaways and two-on-ones and three-on-twos, still with hitting and toughness, but the kind where Ryan Kesler squares off against Patrice Bergeron, Vincent Lecavalier against Jarome Iginla, not where Milan Lucic takes Dominic Moore's head off, because he might as well since he's going to get away with it.

The fact is, third liners and fourth liners should be guys like Mason Raymond and Aaron Palushaj, not Travis Moen and Ryan White, or George Parros.  Imagine if that's what we saw when the fourth lines were on the ice, 'undersized' flyers from the European leagues, or the LHJMQ, racing up and down the ice still, not quite as good as Ovechkin or Malkin, but still darn entertaining, instead of Ryan Malone and Greg Campbell.

So yes, the NHL is strangling its own game.  They should be serving non-stop action, but instead deal up shotblocking and 2-1 scores.

I've used a restaurant analogy before, where you have a barely surviving operation, and the chef wants to take some dishes like macaroni and cheese or the fried baloney sandwich off the menu, but the manager won't let him, because there's a small but vocal bunch of regulars who'll squawk when that happens.  And instead of realizing that those regulars, with their loudmouth antics and cigar smoke and intolerant attitudes to other patrons who'd appreciate a different atmosphere, are the ones driving the business into the ditch, the manager tries to placate them, for fear of losing their $8 bi-weekly check.

Instead, take the baloney off the menu, tell the cranky regulars to go somewhere else for their baloney if they're not happy, and by the way they can't occupy the best tables all afternoon lording it over everyone and acting like they own the joint.  Let's reserve those tables for the college girls looking for a nice salad after yoga.

In my analogy, Gary Bettman is the GM of the restaurant, who worries more about the books and trite marketing with coupons and cross-promotions with the tire store down the street, instead of securing the central pillar of his business, a quality product at a fair price.  Sure, he can't go in the kitchen and cook himself, but he can ensure that everyone responsible for putting out quality meals are supported with training and equipment, and then held accountable for that high standard to be maintained.

Instead, Gary Bettman is incapable of seeing that the game is much less than it could be, since he has no feel for it, no experience, he didn't grown up with it, watching it or playing it.  He thinks because the ratings are rising that things must be okay.  He can't remember the Oilers of the eighties, Guy Lafleur flying up the wing, has no sense of what Hakan Loob meant to the people of Calgary, and how such a player might not even make the NHL nowadays.

He has abysmal, fatally-flawed Colin Campbell as his Director of Hockey Operations, even after the conflict of interest exhibited in his leaked emails mortally wounded any credibility he might have had.  Mr. Campbell is the dim bulb that brainiac Bob Probert easily outwitted to continue using drugs and drinking alcohol while 'on rehab' as a Wing, as told in the latter's biography.  That such an underqualified goon is allowed to lay waste to hockey, while there are so many other talented people who could fill the role, is a fireable offence.  Why doesn't he have a Paul Kariya or Igor Larionov being groomed to take that role?

So yes, Gary Bettman is responsible for the concussions and defensive-play and triumph of coaching and systems over talent, skill and creativity that brings us out of our seats.  Think about it, when was the last time Anton Volchenkov brought you out of your seat by blocking a shot?  Gary Bettman favours the practitioners of anti-hockey, maybe without really being aware of it, since he don't know hockey, but as the CEO, he's ultimately responsible for the dead-puck era and the concussion era.


  1. This article should be read by a wider audience. I think it a resoundingly acute summary of the situation. I can live with Don Cherry, as he's obviously from a different century, but the party line in NHL hockey, via some of the dullest minds of the game-Gary's entourage-seems so far behind the other major sports in North America which seem to move with the times while the NHL creeps slowly backward.

    For one, like, right off the top, how Mickey Mouse is it that Colin Campbell has a position of power in the league ....even before he wrote emails to the director of officiating about a bad call on his son, a Boston Bruin? ( I can't imagine this conflict of interest ever happening in any other professional league, and it seems to have given way to so many conspiracy theories it has quite tarnished the league. If that, anything is then possible. Fans in Canada seem to have become very cynical, regularly asking questions like: in a 30 team league with 6 Canadian teams, always at least a few above average, how is it possible that they have only made it to the Stanley Cup finals like 5 times in 20 years and haven't won a cup since '93? So out of 40 Stanley Cup final appearances in 20 years only 5 or so were by Canadian teams? I usually tell people when the playoffs are on that the winner of a given series will be the one that is "good for hockey," for Bettman's NHL. All things being almost equal I would bet on the small market US team that needs to build an audience or one of the big US cities that will pump up the TV ratings. Like so much else about the league's upper echelon and its old boys' club these sorts of things, like suspensions on Bruins players, have regularly started to beg credulity.

    Thanks for your astute blog.

  2. Sal from the Hammer16 July 2013 at 06:38

    WOW, I'm going to read every post you write from here on! So well said. I have been saying the same thing for years. The NHL run mostly by Americans, who wouldn't know a good hockey game from a bowl of macaroni, is a disgrace! Gary Bettman, Campbell, and the entire crony list of hangers on and yes men are what makes the NHL the greatest BUSH league in the history of Sport. If I was Sidney Crosby, after, the Refs let that nobody, Paille, try to concuss the best palyer in hockey, I would go and play in Europe, where they know what good hockey looks like. Is it worth the money to spend the rest of your life dealing with the after efeects of concussions? It is open season on the leagues' best players, by GOONS like Lucic and that team of Gooiuns. The worsst case of nepotism and cronyism in the history of all of sport happenned the year the Gooiuns won the cup, and, not one so-called jounalist lifted a finger in the face of that travesty of justice! There should be an Asterix forever, beside the Gooiuns name on the Stanley Cup winners list! Toews, Bergeron were both beaten up by the end of the playoffs because, they were beat on, over and over again, with impunity, while NHL refs, look the other way. Make a call on a stupid hook, and completely ignore, Toews getting his head taken off by a Gooiun defenseman. Unfreaken believable!! Anyway, thanks for saying it, and, for saying it in a way that anyone that knows what good hockey really looks like can understand.

    Thanks again. Hockey's survival as a game of speed and skill relies on guys like you telling it like it is.

  3. I agree with most of your criticisms of Bettman and the direction he has led the league in, but you start off with a statement that is just asinine. I'm talking about your 2nd paragraph, when you lament that league should have entered a TV deal with ESPN instead of NBC. I understand the criticism, and initially I was right there with you on that, but a closer look at the details reveals it to be flat out wrong.

    First, let's consider the amount of hockey that would be broadcast nationally via each TV deal. In the current deal with NBC, during the regular season there are generally 3 or more games broadcast nationally every week including a "game of the week" on Sundays broadcast on NBC (i.e. network, not cable) once the NFL season is done. As for the postseason, every single game is broadcast in its entirety on NBC or one of its cable affiliates. The deal ESPN offered (which by the way was also for less money) would have the network showing 1 game per week on ESPN2 (not ESPN and certainly not parent network ABC); in the playoffs games would still only be broadcast on ESPN2 leading to many (particularly in the first 2 rounds) only being available on local broadcasts. Live in New York and want to see one of the games from the Chicago-Detroit series? Chances are you're screwed.

    Second, let's consider the airtime (beyond broadcasting the actual games) the networks dedicate to the sport. On NBC, the NHL is the marquee attraction. If you watch any of the sports talk shows on NBC, hockey is far and away the number 1 subject. What about ESPN? When's the last time an hour of SportsCenter contained more than 2 minutes of hockey talk? And if you're going to counter with the idea that they'd talk more about hockey if they had a financial stake in it (i.e. the broadcast rights) I direct your attention back to a decade ago, when they did have the broadcast rights. If you honestly think that ESPN dedicated substantially more time, resources, and energy to covering hockey back when they had the broadcast rights than they do now then you're either mis-remembering or simply delusional.

    Finally, let's look at the direction the 2 networks are trending. ESPN's ratings have been PLUMMETING for the last few years, just go read the stories about all of the staffers that have been laid off in the last 6-12 months. By contrast NBC, and NBC Sports in particular, has been growing by leaps and bounds. Right now ESPN still has more viewers, not surprising considering the scope of their portfolio as compared to NBC, but if present trends continue then that won't be the case in a few years from now.

    Basically it comes down to this - on NBC the NHL is the crown jewel of a growing sports media empire; on ESPN the NHL would have received considerably less money to be little more than an afterthought on an aging sports media empire that strongly appears to be on the decline. Weighing all of the evidence, the idea that the NHL would have been better off on ESPN than on NBC is simply not founded in reality.

  4. Pete, thanks for your comment, but I'll stop you right at your first sentence, and state that I don't think the NHL should be solely on ESPN, rather than NBC and NBC Sports, I think it should be on both. It shouldn't restrict itself to only one network, no matter how much it was offered for exclusivity.

    No other major team sport is only on one network, they have partnerships to ensure maximum coverage. Only the NHL has ghettoized itself.

    I've covered this in previous posts, ( but ESPN is the biggest sports platform in North America. Gary Bettman's job is to get his game on that platform. Not to hand it to Ed Snider's network.

    I know ESPN didn't bid as fervently as NBC, which was trying to get a major sports property to get off the ground, but what Mr. Bettman should have done is sell ESPN on a "Game of the Week", maybe on Monday nights when NFL regular season was over, and maybe an East Coast matinee on ESPN2, after NCAA football is over if it must be that way. Having the NHL on ESPN would mean that a wider audience, exposure in households that currently shun the game, and an incentive for that network to cover the NHL on SportsCentre and talk shows like "Around the Horn" and "PTI" more comprehensively, and on other subject matters than just suspensions and violence, or oddities. Pavel Datsyuk's magic is something more American sports fans should be exposed to.

    Sure, NBC desperately wanted the NHL, and they do a good job of broadcasting it, as opposed to Fox in the nineties. Give them kudos, and their pick of games. Have ESPN pick what game they want second, but make sure they get a piece.

    1. Normand - a couple of counterarguments. First, when the TV contract was negotiated the NHL was not exactly in a position of strength. In their bids, ESPN and NBC were both fervent that their contract be exclusive. It was not the NHL's choice to "ghettoize itself" as you put it, it was all that was offered. The choice was either ESPN or NBC, not both.

      Second, while I don't dispute that ESPN is (currently) the biggest sports platform in North America (though I repeat that any objective analysis shows them steeply in the decline), that does not mean that the NHL would have benefited much from that platform. The fact of the matter is that ESPN did not exactly shower the NHL with attention and coverage on SportsCenter and other talk shows when they had the broadcast rights a decade ago, so why do you believe that things would be different now? ESPN has the broadcast rights to Major League Lacrosse, how often do you see that brought up on PTI or Around the Horn? I know it's not a great parallel because hockey is obviously far more popular than lacrosse, but the point is that just because ESPN has a league's broadcast rights does not mean that said league will be featured prominently in the network's programming.

      You're making 2 false assumptions here. You're assuming that if ESPN had NHL broadcast rights then the sport would see a considerable increase in airtime on programs like SportsCenter, which is simply not backed by historic precedent. You're also assuming that the league ever had the option of signing broadcast rights contracts with more than one station, which by all accounts it did not. If either of those assumptions were valid then you'd have a point, but since they're not your criticism of the TV contract is rather baseless.

      I'm right there with you on the rest of your criticisms of Bettman. The bad he's done, such as insisting on keeping the Coyotes in Glendale despite virtually no chance of profitability even under ideal circumstances, has far outweighed any good. However that does not necessarily mean that every single thing he's done has been bad, and regardless of who owns what TV network the facts simply do not support your assertion that Bettman erred on the US broadcast contract.

    2. Pete, I'm enjoying this discussion. I appreciate the points that you make, but let me counter as well.

      I know that both ESPN and NBC and whatever other network would love to have exclusivity and would insist on it, and that the NHL isn't in a position of strength, but that's what negotiations are for. Mr. Bettman should have worked with NBC to ensure that they are the primary broadcaster, but give a piece to ESPN. He's a famously persistent negotiator, he should have explained to both networks that while they're in competition, that there is a synergy to both selling the game, that there will be benefits to both. If it comes down to making less money by selling the rights to both rather than to selling them to NBC outright, so be it. Call it an investment that will pay off in a short decade.

      I agree that ESPN is no longer the undisputed titan of sports, but they're still the kingpin. It's like if a country decided that the USA or Russia are fading powers, and China is ascendent, so let's ignore the former and throw in our lot with China right now. The problem is, even if the former powers are fading from their peak, they're still mondo powerful, and you should kind of respect them still. ESPN may be losing steam, but they're still the network that every sports bar in the US is tuned in to by default.

      The NHL has made these shortsighted decisions before, going with Fox and Versus and what have you, and sure enough, the game has been stagnant for decades. The NHL should have forged partnerships with ESPN and other networks way back when Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux ruled, and grown the game organically, instead of trying tricks and squeezing out the last dollar. It's now wasted two decades, and may have wasted the next ten by giving its product to one network.

    3. Great back and forth by the two of ya. Enjoyed. Also enjoyed your blog Norm and wholly agree on the ineptitude of Bettman and the Campbell fiasco. By the way I love your input on HIO, although I've been on a "forced" sabbatical from the site by an over-zealous and probably extremely sensitive Gazette intern...I mean monitor, I still read and will resurface when I'm good and ready, probably when one of TIMO'S tantrum posts hit me the wrong way, but,I digress... both you and Pete have great points regarding the networks broadcasting the NHL. But I have to give my personal edge to NBC, why? Simple They have a greater cache and history, plus, they don't act like a bunch of scorned girlfriends when things don't go their way. What strikes me (and always has) is the reaction of ESPN after they lost the NHL broadcast rights and how they sulked and ignored the league after the fact. They barely mention anything regarding the league, game scores are scrolled at the bottom like an afterthought. Are they entitled to low-ball and strong arm a league simply by their call letters? The bush-league derogatory comments from the commentators during their abbreviated NHL segments? Where does it come from? The top? No, NBC was and is the right choice. The FOX "laser puck" was a total embarrassment for me while I lived in Boston. My boss, (who's from Phillie and is NOT a hockey fan) always rubbed the VS channel in my face...still does since I'm quite positive he has no clue the channel no longer exists. But, whatever. He's a baseball fan and hockey is an afterthought. I'm buzzed at the moment so I'll leave it at that. Carry on Norm!

  5. Great article - All one has to do is watch olympic hockey to see how hockey should really be played - No goons etc. - I hope Bettman reads this article, but probably won't do any good - He's a terrible commissioner

  6. When did defense, shot-blocking, and goal tending stop being a skill? Some of the best games are 1 goal games (Game 6 of SCF this year anyone?) and while I agree flashy goals and high scoring games may attract larger audiences, is it still hockey? I believe NHL players are the best athletes of professional sports because of the multitude of skills required to play at such a high level. Players have to transition from offense to defense in seconds and control 6 inch rubber puck on ice all while dodging other player's sticks and bodies. While I agree with a lot of the points in your blog, this point about sacrificing defense for non-stop action detracts from the rest of your article.

    The biggest problem for the game I believe is Bettman and the pricing. There isn't anything like being in an arena and watching a game live. You can see firsthand the speed and skill of all the players that TV is unable to properly show. Even with the lockout this year, NHL ticket prices rose once again. Cheaper tickets will help the game reach new audiences but Bettman and his owners are making sure they can cash in first.

    1. I don't think any of these suggestions about improving the game dictate that defense, shot-blocking and goaltending are no longer skills. Since you bring up the SCF, what about the Blackhawks? They play the sort of skill-driven hockey that one presumes the NHL would like to encourage, and they also allowed the fewest goals this year.

      Start calling penalties consistently and get rid of the goonery and the grind-the-game-to-a-screeching-halt tactics. Scoring will go up, but it doesn't mean every game gets turned into a 14-10 contest straight out of the NHL equivalent of Tecmo Bowl.

    2. Great point, the Blackhawks are a pretty good model of how teams should look going forward. They don't need the trap or dump-and-chase, they just skate really fast, make long passes to guys breaking up the wing, and pass it back to their own D if they don't see an opening.

      They expose teams, like the Bruins, whose defensive style might be moderately successful, but to the detriment of the game and the league as a whole.

      I had never thought of it like this before, but with just a few rules changes as Harvey suggests all teams would be forced to play a similar exciting style of hockey. Bad teams wouldn't be able to put goons and grinders on the ice to try to stay competitive, they would be penalized so badly that it wouldn't be worth it.

      Brilliant article! I'm hopeful that the rise of advanced stats in hockey will also help push dangerous and boring players out of the league, players that through the eyes of the good ol' boys from hockey's stone age look like beauties, but on paper these guys look terrible.

  7. In general, I am not a huge fan of Bettman, however, I do think that he has been better for the game than many of the alternatives would have. At least he recognized that the game was spiraling into an offensive quagmire and has instituted some changes to the game to change that - adjusting the distance of the nets from the endboards, the depth of the nets, the size of the offensive zones, the trapezoid, offensive player in the crease rule, elimination of the 2 line pass rule, as well as others. You state that because he did not grow up with the game or playing, that he is not as effective as he could be, then you disparage Milbury and Cherry who both did grow up with the game. Imagine what the league would be like if Milbury had been commissioner over the same period as Bettman, none of the changes I listed above would have been made in the game in an effort to spark more offense. Unless you are going to bring in a European former player as commissioner (how about Pavel Bure), I suspect that anyone that grew up with the game will promote solid defensive hockey.

    1. I really don't understand your point. Offensive quagmire? Show me numbers that show that the game was too offensive, at any point, or opinion pieces that state this was a problem.

      I remember the Oilers of the mid-eighties, and they were an offensive juggernaut, and nobody was complaining that it was bad for hockey how they and the Flames and Dale Hawerchuk's Jets and Michel Goulet and Peter Stasny of the Nordiques ran up the scores.

      Your point about current players promoting defensive hockey and, for another example, not wanting fighting to be abolished, is well taken. This is one of these areas where the NHLPA and the NHL must show leadership, as Roger Goodell is trying to do in the NFL, no matter how halting the steps are. The Commissioner must have a strong vision and work to implement it. Just because Messrs. Milbury and Cherry would have been poor choices for the role doesn't automatically validate Mr. Bettman though.

      His lack of vision is apparent in the piecemeal approach to the rules that the league has taken under his watch. If anything, hockey doesn't need any more rules, or agonizing about the minutiae relative to the handpass. What it needs to do is state quite clearly that the talented players who try to score goals will be privileged as opposed to the muckers who try to slash them down to their level. Then it should apply the rules and call the penalties. Simple.

  8. Let me be very clear: Your vision of hockey is bland and boring. It's why I don't watch NFL football. It's high powered offense and who can buy the best talent instead of grinding away playing efficient, defensive hockey. You see a 2-1 game as a travesty, I see a game that stayed tight the entire time, where every play was contested. I watch a 7-4 game and turn it off halfway through when it becomes clear it's just people trying to score. The point is to win the game, not to score goals.

    Screw Tom Brady and Sidney Crosby, this league shouldn't be about catering to a few super-stars but instead putting together a strong balanced roster that can grind it out all season. If people want to watch teams trade breakaways and points go watch basketball.

    Finally, the entertainment value of the amazing player is higher in this league. Watching Crosby or Datsyuk or Ovechkin skate through 4 players bounce a shot off the blocker and backhand it in is fantastic because it's rare. If you make it commonplace it just becomes "ohh another goal".

    Go watch basketball or football, stop trying to shit on my sport.

    1. As Morgan Freeman says to Brad Pitt's character in '7even', "It's impressive to see a man feeding off his emotions." Glad you could work in a four-letter word in there to properly express yourself.

      My vision of hockey is to have Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin play hockey without being slashed, cross-checked, elbowed, concussed and interfered with. I want to 'let them play', but not the inane Don Cherry version that advocates for refs to put away their whistles and turn a blind eye to every infraction, rather the version where the guys who can actually play hockey can do so without being force-fed a hockey stick through their teeth while doing so.

      If you don't like it, maybe you can go watch a MMA closely fought match with lots of grappling and groundfighting.

  9. Sorry you lost me at your criticism of defensive play - part of what makes hockey great is that we don't see those 14 to 10 games. Skilled defensemen are as talented as the high priced offensive talent and thei ability to block shots, read plays, and break up a scoring chance or breakaway are as exciting as anything in the game.

    yes I agree that there is too much goonery in the game, but as someone who actually played the sport for almost 20 years, a lot happens in the heat of the moment, reactions aren't always planned and thought out. While yes there are a few players who actively may try to injure an opponent, most play the game cleanly to the best of their ability.

    While I can't speak for anyone else, I thought we saw some of the best hockey we've seen in a while in the past season. Certainly I felt more glued to my seat, and more like hockey was must watch. That wasn't because of superstars, but because parity is making the game a lot more interesting - when teams like the Islanders come to town it's no longer a laugh, parity has helped make them much better despite one of the lower budgets in the game.

    Things are trending better. Do I think we could do better than Bettman? Absolutely, but I think the game is finally heading in the right direction.

    1. Look, there are some very skilled defensive players, I grew up on Bob Gainey, Doug Jarvis and Guy Carbonneau. What I want though is that this defensive play not be a code word for holding, interference, 'finishing your check', which means hitting a guy who doesn't have the puck anymore and is a code word for interference. I'm not against shot blocking, it would still happen if I were Commissioner, it's just that Pavel Datsyuk could then stickhandle around the shotblocker without having a 'defensive' forward hooking and slashing him as he did so.

      The 'Heat of the Moment' defence is a copout. Rules are rules, fairplay is important. If football and rugby can be played at a high level without fighting, then so can hockey. I've played hockey all my life too, and I've had occasions when I lost my cool, that shouldn't be an excuse for goonery.

      The idea that if we called all the penalties the score would be 14-10 in games or other such ridiculousness is a red herring, usually brought up with All-Star Games as supporting evidence. Teams would still play defence, they'd do so with skating and positional play and quick sticks, instead of thuggery.

      Think about it this way. When you show up for drop-in hockey, there's no stakes in the game, players try to finesse some moves and work on some dangles, guys don't backcheck as hard, and sure enough, a dozen goals get scored each way. Now take the same players and put them in their regular rec league teams, and now they're playing for a playoff slot and the league championship and bragging rights, and the intensity ratchets up tenfold. You'll get a hard-fought game, with back and forth action, but a 5-3 or 3-2 final score. The action will be much better for spectators, because everyone will be trying much harder.

      If NHL hockey featured all the skating and passing and spectacular play of an All-Star Game, but none of the goonery and Greg Campbellery, and the intensity of competitive hockey as opposed to being an exhibition, it would be heaps better than the sludge fests we see now, and Sidney Crosby wouldn't be on the IR half the time.

  10. What a load of trash.

  11. Watch a good College D1 hockey game on Olympic size ice and see how the sport should be played.

  12. Was the NHL Playoffs good hockey? Not really it could be much better. The big stat was hits per game. Hits per game? What does that tell you about what they are selling. Get the biggest, fastest guys you can, put them is a confined space to small to actually play the game the right way, dump the puck in because there is no room, time and space for skilled players to actually make multiple skilled pass combinations or skate. Then pound the b-jesus out of the other team after its dumped in until they reliquish the puck. Good hockey huh? Its pretty frustrating to watch. I'm a 40 year hockey guy who is feeling like I'd rather watch a D1 college game played on the big ice the right way with skill rather than the NHL product now. But i suppose the general public likes the violence and doesnt appreciate the skill of the sport so this is what they are selling. Its a shame.

  13. Normand, I salute you for openly saying what many are scared to say. I agree with you for the most part, and would love to see some of the things you mentioned implemented. I'd also like to give a big thumbs down to Bettman and crew.

    I think bigger ice is the most important thing we could change in this sport. If that alone was the only change made I think many other ideas you mentioned would naturally happen. However, does anyone think that bigger ice will ever be? Sadly I think not.

    With the enforcer rule in play fighting in the NHL is nothing but a WWF staged clown show. I like a good fight when you can tell players are playing with passion, but how often does it occur anymore? Anyway, thank you. I will subscribe to your blog from now on. Thank Puckdaddy for the link! :-)