Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bigger Nets No Solution to NHL Problems

As the Flames -Avs game has been postponed, I have now been given the opportunity to write about the continuing idiocy of NHL brass.

Two issues have been gnawing at me over the past week; the NHL's Paternalism over the Penguins, and Colin Campbell's plan to increase net sizes.

The years have not been kind to the Penguins franchise. After almost folding in the 70s, (saved by new owners), the 80s (saved by the (alleged) throwing of a season and the emergence of Mario Lemieux,), and the 90s (when Lemieux brought the team out of Chapter 11), the Penguins are now up for sale once again.

It is clear there are not many buyers interested in this franchise, and I am no Harvard Business grad, but here are partial reasons:

  • The Penguins play in the oldest (and from what I hear, the most dilapidated) arena in the NHL. Steve Staios referred to it as a prison. The Penguins were depending on Isle of Capri Casinos to build a new $290 million rink if they won the slot license for the city, but that bid was quashed on Wednesday

  • If history does in fact repeat itself, then getting fan support for the Penguins is going to be next to impossible. This franchise routinely ends up in the bottom end of NHL home attendance figures. Possibly explains why the franchise almost folds every 10 years

Jim Balsillie, owner of Research in Motion, made what I understand to be a very generous offer to buy the Penguins, even without the Isle of Capri deal guaranteed. However, if the rumours are true, the NHL faxed him several demands before the Isle of Capri deal went down, including a stipulation that he keep the team in Pittsburgh for a given amount of time, regardless of the new arena deal (or apparently profitability). Balsillie promptly withdrew his bid, the Isle of Capri deal fell through, and Lemieux has stated that any future deals with Balsillie are off the table.

From a Canadian fan's perspective, these last minute demands from the NHL are a slap in the face, especially for Winnipegers and Quebecers. Where were these demands when those franchises were shipped south, in some cases to cities where the idea of hockey looks as if it'll never take hold. Is the idea of a Canadian billionaire taking a failed American franchise north to Hamilton or Winnepeg (where there is a new arena built even without a franchise) so disturbing to the market mad NHL that they'll stop the deal at any cost?

Well good luck to Mario and Gary, but right now it looks like for some reason Basillie is still somewhat interested, otherwise they're going to have to go to Frank D'angelo, hockey fan/bad beer ad extraordinaire (to be fair, the ads are supposed to be bad, and they're somewhat hilariously so). Right now nothing would make me happier than see both the current Penguins ownership and NHL brass get screwed for not heeding the age old advice of beggars not being choosers.

My second rant concerns the proposed increase of net sizes (by the same guy who hands out disciplinary decisions no less. Lets get a handle on that first, sound good Collie?) I don't understand the NHL's obsession with increasing scoring. Why do they believe that increased scoring will result in increased viewship or fandom?

Soccer is the world's most popular sport, and its almost always a low scoring affair. I doubt the average soccer game gets half the goals scored of the average hockey game. Contrarily, Lacrosse games probably average twice the number of goals of a hockey game, but its not half as popular, at least in terms of viewership.

This is only speculation on my part, but I think there are multiple attractions to hockey. Firstly, the athleticism involved in skating and puck handling is astounding. Few athletes in terrestrial sports could understand the complexity of puck handling, checking, positioning in skates. Many hockey players can run and catch a ball with a high degree of competence. Few pro football players could even skate.

Secondly, there is a great amount of strategy and planning in hockey. Few people who even watch the game understand how an individual player should position himself, let alone how a group of 5 people consistently position themselves in accordance with one another and the other team to maximize their chances of success.

Third: Shifting on the fly. This brings an element of explosiveness and strategy to the game itself. In other sports coaches can send everyone out and tell them exactly who to cover. In hockey its a constant battle to get the right matchups between one player and another. In addition, it allows player to stay fresh and play at a very high rate of speed, keeping the total game speed up. NBA starters play up to 45 minutes a game. Baseball players sometimes play double headers (two game in one day). A great hockey player might play 25-30 minutes a game, but usually only if there isn't another game the next night. If there is a game the next night, usually players don't play much past 20 minutes.

Finally, individual efforts and awesome plays. Sometimes you just have to watch and wait for the unexpected. Most nights (for me at least) a player will make a play that simply inspires awe due to its precision or creativity or effectiveness. Whether its a coast to coast or a great 1-1 battle, its what makes hockey worth watching.

So lets put an end to these bigger net ideas. Goals aren't all hockey fans look forward to, and if people simply want to see them they can watch the highlights at the end of the night and miss the real game.

1 comment:

the weaz said...

Amen brother.