Okay, okay, I know — the title is very hot take-y. But seriously, the NHL is a really, really frustrating league largely because we know it can be better.
Between false parity, the frequent impending doom of lockouts, dry personalities, repetitive old narratives, a seemingly massive lack of understanding of the fans, and a return to a slowed down, tight-checking game that rivals the dead puck era we had to ask: Why is the NHL so terrible? And, more importantly, how can it be improved?
The NHL is terrible for a number of reasons, but the biggest obstacle seems to be that it goes out of its way to slow down a game that is most entertaining when it’s moving fast. The NHL operates under the idea that goals equal excitement, and they aren’t wrong, but they feel the best or easiest way to achieve that is by having more power plays. Power plays meaning a stoppage, and then a slow ass cycle around the offensive zone rather than an end to end speed game.
So if we’re fixing the lack of speed in the game, the thing that needs to go first will be face-offs. No face-offs. Ever. Goalie covers the puck, the opposition gives them the blueline to move it out. Ice the puck, the opposition gives you the red line, goals icing, penalties, you get the red line. No need for an opening draw either, just let the home team have the red line in the first and third and the visitors get to carry the puck out in the second. Look at that home ice advantage!
Now if we’re speeding the game up, we’re also going to need to do away with offsides, delay of game penalties, and trapezoids. Just three periods of beautiful twenty minute runtime, only interrupted by penalties. I’d have to imagine you’ll get teams motivated in rolling four skill lines to keep up with the pace.
This is a great idea and when I start the XHL, it’s gonna happen.
Why is the NHL terrible? Well, we could go with any number of reasons. For instance, we STILL don’t know what constitutes goalie interference. Offside calls are more objective but offside calls should be eliminated altogether. Speaking of which, the league and those who run it bemoan the lack of goals, but seem to be doing their utmost to take away goals that ARE scored. Gary Bettman is like, doubling down on the lack of a link between concussions and CTE. The regular season is just too freaking long. For some reason, rules stop being a thing in the postseason. And dude, the 2018 Olympics are the perfect time to market big-time young Canadian and American stars a la McDavid, Matthews, Eichel, etc. and really gain new fans, but instead we deadlocked with the IOC and aren’t going. Oh, and we’re looking forward to another lockout in a few years.
It might be more accurate to ask what isn’t terrible about the NHL.
But look, I’ll stay in my lane and focus on maybe the one thing that I’m probably actually qualified to speak on, and that’s the way the NHL fails to market its big time stars as human beings with fun and engaging personalities. Are we maybe fighting a losing battle here, what with hockey players being pretty bland in general? Possibly, but WE MAKE THEM THAT WAY! We give them media training that results in the inoffensive, standard-quote-giving, vaguely pleasant but ultimately uninteresting hockey robot figures a la Sidney Crosby. And when a guy DOES step out of that carefully contructed media-safe box, he gets run out of town or criticized to no end. Look. Some of these guys can be fun if you let them. You ever doubt for a second that Taylor Hall doesn’t have a wry, honest, sometimes self-deprecating quip in his back pocket? That, yes, PK Subban wouldn’t be a great ambassador for the league if we just marketed him correctly?
The NHL chooses to market its teams (and by “its teams” I mean “the Chicago Blackhawks”) rather than individual players, and that’s all good and fine, but I’m just saying that everyone loves a bit of trashtalk between players. A guy that’s brash and a bit cocky can be divisive to fans, but they’ll sure be talking about him. Give me more of iconic Instagram caption-writing Auston Matthews (knees were breathin’ heavy) and less of carefully-scripted television interview Auston Matthews, you know?
Ryan “You Fancey Huh?” Fancey:
The NHL is mostly terrible because the league and key media outlets do everything they can to stifle players’ personalities and make them as boring as plain bread and water. Sure, there are some “lifestyle” pages out there that share Instagram posts and whatnot, but we’re still mostly left with old bags of garbage like Jeremy Roenick, Mike Milbury and Don Cherry getting major air time and that has to stop. Put these morons out to pasture.
As for the on-ice product, the game has become “deflections” instead of hockey, and there’s hardly any room to make plays these days as the teams have gotten so fast and defence-oriented. Playing with some adjustments like eliminating offsides, floating offsides, bigger nets, and so on would be nice, but I guess we wouldn’t want the league to be too entertaining would we? There’s also the enormous problem of parity. The NHL thinks the fact that any team can win on any night is a good thing but now we’re left with this huge cluster of mediocrity and this is only made worse by the ridiculous 3-point game that keeps everything even tighter in the standings. For all the criticism the NBA gets for having “super teams”, their league as a whole and the media hype around it is far, far beyond the NHL’s, and their structure facilitates some staggering off-season player movement, making things even more fun for fans. The NHL needs to take off some of the restraints, both on and off the ice, and let the league breathe a little.
The worst thing about the NHL is that seemingly everyone involved is in a constant battle with someone else, whether willingly or not. Discourse and diversity of opinions is always good as long as the opinions are respectful. But the NHL discourse amongst fans, players and has the tendency to be off-the-rails in how unnecessarily ignorant it is of the facts.
The topics that should be easy, such as recognizing the fact there is legitimate casual racism towards certain players and that there are serious issues with the acceptance of female and LGBTQ fans, employees, media members and other “hockey people” are often quickly shut down by an old-school mindset.
Least importantly, in 2017 people are still arguing if statistical analysis of a quick-moving sport like hockey is still possible. Meanwhile, the amount of people who sit on a high horse about understanding the usefulness to shot differential and other very simple stats about hockey and look down to those who choose not to use them in their analysis. It’s a mess of opinions where discussions tend to be gushing over the same ten third-line players who their coach hasn’t noticed their p/60 as much as an online user who clicked sort on an online spreadsheet. There’s legitimately good groundbreaking statistical work done by some fabulous individuals which gets lumped in with constant repetitive talk over the same thing day in and day out.
This isn’t necessarily unique to hockey as these issues exist within every sport and within everyday society, but the NHL’s administration and various governing bodies could do a far better job at putting action to their mostly blank rhetoric that #HockeyIsForEveryone.
Hockey is good. Arguably the best thing in the world. The NHL and the people around it manage to make it a lot worse than it should be.
The worst thing about the NHL is how bland the game’s top players are. Connor McDavid has no personality. Sidney Crosby has no personality. PK Subban has a personality but he gets constantly dumped on by the old-school talking heads that infest television screens across the country. Think about any other major North American pro sports league and how marketable their best players are. Sports are similar to reality TV and a lot of the time fans are more interested in the players themselves than the teams they play for.
The second thing about the NHL that really sucks is how they always seem to do *precisely* the opposite of what the fans want. Olympics? Nope. Disclose salary information? Nah, fans don’t care. Have one meaningful outdoor game a year? Screw that, fans want upwards of 10 and they want the Blackhawks to play in every single one. The only thing they’ve done where I thought ‘wow, they’re really listening to the fans here’ is announcing the Golden Knights’ roster on live TV instead of sending out a press release.
Hockey is a fantastic sport that I’ll never stop watching. Unfortunately, the league does so much wrong that I wonder how much longer it’ll be able to sustain the way it currently operates.
What do you think? Is the NHL Actually Good? Are we off our rockers? Complaining too much? What needs to be fixed and what are we overreacting about? Let us know it the comments!