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If I was in charge of the NHL

Like a huge chunk of this country (and just about everyone in Canada), I enjoyed a heavy dose of Olympic hockey over the past two weeks. And during one of the games, NBC’s cameras caught Gary Bettman, the NHL Commissioner, sitting with the IOC Commissioner. The play-by-play guy, “Doc” Emrick, remarked that there was a lot of power there in that meeting…

….and I immediately reached for something to throw at the TV.

Seriously? The IOC Commissioner? Maybe. Bettman? Hell no.

Gary Bettman has destroyed the NHL. He took a sport that had a good following and a good TV contract with ESPN and allowed an ill-advised lockout to kill all of it.

Ugh… so I began to think about what I’d change if I was in charge of the NHL, so here goes:

The TV Contract

First thing’s first. Get a better TV contract. I would take the lowest priced offer from ESPN2 for a two-year contract to show the league’s contests. Two years to show it works, then re-negotiate.

Think about it. The X-Games went from an afterthought to a very popular sporting event because of ESPN2. Hockey used to be popular, but disappeared. This is not a time for pride, and Versus is horrible anyway. Take the production over to ESPN and give ABC a Saturday afternoon contest that advertises the hell of their NBA line-up on Sundays.

Organizational Changes

I would kill off the financially struggling teams that are in warm-weather markets. That means Phoenix and Tampa. Let’s face it, neither team is needed, and the NHL doesn’t need to carry Phoenix’s debt any longer.

I would also eliminate the multiple divisions and take the league back to the days of the Wales and Campbell Conferences with their respective divisions (Adams and Patrick; Norris and Smythe). Top teams in each division get into the playoffs, then the top 6 of each conference get in as well. Playoff system stays the same.

Lastly, I would require that all teams play every other team in the league a total of four times–twice at home and twice away. The popularity of the sport depends on the fans. Give the fans two chances to see every team every year.

Rule Changes

  • Kill the trapezoid rule for goalies. Part of the excitement in the Olympics was seeing the goalies who tried to make a difference outside of the net. Let’s get that excitement back.
  • Adopt the 3-second crease violation rule from international hockey. Much like QBs in football, goalies are needed in hockey. Let’s protect them a bit.
  • Enforce the entire two or four minutes for every penalty, regardless of whether a goal is scored or not. Reason: Power plays are exciting. Make them more exciting and important by making sure the penalized team has to fight the whole penalty time off every time. You could see a 4-goal power play, or a good penalty kill, but it’s two minutes of gripping tension that make for good TV.
  • I know I’m going to get killed by the purists (and I’m one of them) for this, but get rid of fighting. And by get rid of it, I mean punish it the way international hockey rules do: immediate ejection from the game plus a one-game suspension thereafter. Why? Because the casual parental fans view fighting as a negative. And you need them to have a successful product.

That’s about all I have. If you were running the NHL, what would you change?

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