Written January 17, 2013, for publication Jan. 18 884
NHL: The Eyes of Hockey are Upon You
My first reaction was to grin and calculate how most minor hockey parents will spend more following their 12-year-old’s season at the local shinny emporium. It’s not even close to what they’ll put out over a Christmas week tournament.
Turns out it was a “Sun-Belt” team making the offer. Figures.
So, what exactly is this supposed to imply? Is it offered as an olive branch, or simply the byproduct of embarrassment, penitence, or stark reality coming home to roost. Like that kid you shipped off to college, who dutifully returns home every three months with bags of terminal laundry?
The one thing clear after the latest “dirty tricks” lockout was the difficulty in getting hockey fans of all stripes back in the fold. The question being, what can the member teams do to make nice with their skittish fan base?
Aside from the few who are offering open door practices with $1 hot drinks, others are holding the line and indulging the fan like a family accomodates the breakaway uncle with a drinking hobby. Keeping their distance.
On balance what else can the “gang of 30 do?” They were a locked-in on the fan base returning. Hey, it’s not exactly algebra, after all they will return. Yep, they’ll pay the freight, they’ll buy the sweaters, the hats, the TV channels, they’ll buy the works, and pass on those loyalties and values to their offspring. And, should the team do well, or even if it doesn’t, they’ll remain steadfast homers forever.
What might have been justice served was if the fans, en masse, locked out the NHL. Can you just picture a Mom in an apron, wooden spoon in hand, dressing down li’l Gary Bettman.
“How many times have I told you, no more lockouts? Stop that blubbering, and wipe your nose or the next one is really gonna hurt. I told you not to play with that big Fehr brat, didn’t I? Ever since that family moved in I told you they were gonna be trouble. But did you listen? Nooooo. So now you’re grounded. Until next September. You’ve gone way past saying you’re sorry Mr. Smarty-pants. I can’t trust you when you say you won’t ever do it again. Just wait ‘til your father comes home.”
Obviously that isn’t going to happen either, so what can we expect in the way of positives.
For openers I’d like to see owners put on notice. Start playing by your own rules, instead listening to agents and looking for ways around them The one-upmanship game in the battle over top-end players has to be patrolled. Case in point, up to the last day all long-term contracts were approved by the league. You have to wonder where’s the Commissioner’s veto on what’s best for the game? If not him, exactly who is policing the League?
While it’s understood the NHL hires officials, let’s make sure the officials call the game. Nobody will admit to interference, and it’s difficult to define and prove pressure from above, but it’s there. Arguably, if the NHL referees and linesmen are the best in the world, then make sure they can do their job and let the players and teams adjust to them. Not the other way around.
Implement obvious improvements and safety factors to a game that has drastically changed and become more dangerous in many areas. Case in point, no-touch icing. Nobody we know pays good money to see the drama of an “icing” call. Aside from avoiding an injury factor, you might see creative “ragging the puck” as a way to eat up seconds on the power-play clock time. Believe me, it’s more interesting.
While you’re at it protect goalies, and get serious about life and career terminating head injuries. Put some sting into the first head-shot major penalty of the season. Ten games is a nice attention-getter. Plus, two strikes, not three, and you’re out. Nothing scares a two-time offender more than being on the sidelines.
The eyes of hockey are focused on how you govern this half baked, half-a—d, half-season you’ve foisted on the everyday paying fan. So, why not change the approach. Do something.
Hell, you might get some of those seriously disgruntled fans to return.