Friday, February 26, 2010
As I sit through these 2010 Olympics, it continues to shock me how badly the NHL has cannibalized the greatest team sport in the world. As I watch Mike Millbury and Eddie Olczyk embarrass themselves and the entire sport of hockey by uttering some of the most idiotic things any sports fan has ever heard following the Canada/Russia game, I suddenly understood....I had an Olympic revelation. The people running the NHL are so stupid that they will successfully achieve their goal of completely destroying the NHL.
As a talk-radio personality, I get a good feel of what people are watching, what they are into and what they dislike. In the last two weeks, we have taken more calls about hockey than we have in the 16 months I have been at the Big Jab. The reason is simple: the NHL plays a boring, clutch and grab style that simply does not appeal to the masses. There are too many teams in too many teams in cities that simply don't care about hockey and people are loving the Olympic version.
Olympic hockey is simply a different sport than the clutch and grab fest we have to endure in the NHL. Admittedly there are only 8 teams that are at this top level, but the game is better because it's played and officiated as it was meant to be. Hockey is an offensive sport. Played at the highest level, it should be high scoring. 5-4, 6-3, 4-2 are normal hockey scores. What's abnormal and has destroyed fan interest are scores of 1-0,0-0,2-1 on a nightly basis.
There are two main reasons for the deteriation of the game itself. One is clearly that although the NHL has improved the game, there is still way too much clutching and grabbing. The league simply won't fully commit to calling the game at the level that you see at the Olympics. For those who say that would ruin the game, please see above. People LOVE Olympic hockey. The NHL struggles to even get a real TV contract.
The second reason is the fact that coaches, scouting and systemic play can really hinder the ability of teams to generate and sustain offense. The only way to combat this is by changing the rules. The NFL changes rules on a yearly basis. Big changes to rules that fundamentally change the way the game is played, always with one goal in mind: making it easier for the offense to perform. The result has been, for better or worse, that the NFL is the most popular sport in the US by a mile. The NHL needs to look at the NFL as an example of how you can leave the past behind for a better future. It took the NHL 80 years to take out the 2 line pass rule, which was put in when hockey made the daring move of allowing the forward pass (gasp) somewhere around 1920.
I have a solution. As I write this, I know there is absolutely no possibility that the NHL would even consider the following.
Roller hockey enjoyed a brief moment of popularity in the mid to late 90's. There are many reasons as to why it failed, but one moment of genius came from it. In roller hockey you could carry the puck in offside, but you could not pass it in offside. Meaning that if one of your players was already in the offensive zone, you could carry the puck in without drawing a whistle. Allowing this would create chaos for defenses in the NHL. Defending this would be a nightmare. In any team sport, whether it's basketball, football or hockey, sudden change of possession leads to scoring. When the offensive team is all going one way and lose the ball, puck etc. the team transitioning to offense has a huge advantage. That's why 300 lb lineman can run back fumbles for TD's with guys that run 4.2 40's chasing them. This sudden change situation is nullified many times during a hockey game because of the current offside rule. Many offensive rushes die at the blue line because players are forced off by defensemen. With this rule change, defenses could not use the blue line as an extra defender, it would make them sag in creating more scoring chances and more goals.
Again, I know this is far too radical for the NHL. It will never happen, but it needs to.
I sincerely hope the NHL learns from this Olympics, but when Gary Bettman comes out after the USA/Canada game and says that's what you see every night in the NHL, my confidence is not high. Maybe the NHL will get a TV contract that is on both cable AND DirecTV, but again, I doubt it. Oh well, I guess I only have to hold until 2014 to see more good hockey. That's not so bad.
Javier Gorriti is the co-host of The PM Jab weekdays from 3-7p on 96.3 The Big Jab. He is also the owner of Mermaid Seafoods in South Portland. His nickname is "The Spanish Inquisition", and would love it if you called him that on the air from now on.