Volume 91, Issue 75

Wednesday, February 11, 1998




Hockey's frontier

Opposition to the NHL's proposed rule changes has certainly been well documented in the media of late. And while some suggestions have had some merit, all seem to alter the fabric of the game – which is more like ripping it.

To even suggest that defencemen can not set up plays from behind their own net or that goalies can not handle the puck, is ludicrous. There are ways, however, to open up the game that will not change any rules and will maintain the integrity of the world's fastest and greatest game. The first suggestion is for the league to return to a minimum of 21 teams. St. Louis Blues sniper Brett Hull has been extremely outspoken about the way the game is currently being played, with the dilution of talent that has slowed down the game. It was all the clutching and grabbing that forced Mario Lemieux, another player who was very vocal about the problems of playing in the NHL, into retirement. The number of players who would not be in the league as a result of this reduction would ensure that only skilled players like the Hulls and the Lemieuxs made NHL rosters. Those players, who rely on clutching and grabbing to remain competitive, would be weeded out and the skilled players would be able to prosper and open up the game by using their God-given talents. But in today's world of corporate advertising and television, the number of teams in the league will be dictated by market demand.

The plausible suggestion is to make the ice surface wider. The current playing area is 85 feet wide and was designed in a time when the average hockey player was five-foot-seven or five-foot-eight and about 170 pounds. Now teams boast players who average over six feet tall and 200 pounds. If the ice surface was to be made a little bit wider, say to 90 feet, or even the international size of 100 feet, it would open up new passing lanes and spread defences so wide it would make the neutral zone trap virtually impossible to implement.

The downside to this proposal would be that the first and possibly the second row of seats would have to be removed. The knock from the owners would be the cost of structural changes and the loss of revenue from ticket sales. Yet, in a league where private boxes and advertisements on the boards make up a large chunk of a team's profit, removing two rows of seats will not result in major losses or changes to the financial status quo. If the seats are removed, owners could re-adjust their pricing levels to recoup the loss of the rinkside seats by increasing ticket prices accordingly. In turn, what the fans will see is that the extra five to 10 feet will give a little more room for the skilled players to work their magic, so the NHL as a product will be more exciting to watch.

The final suggestion is to leave the game exactly the way it is. Sure, goal scoring may be down and clutching and grabbing may be up, but if the rules are enforced as they are written in the rule book, for a small period of time there will be a lot of power plays – opening up the game and creating more scoring chances. More importantly, a precedent would be set that such actions will not be tolerated and that those players who continue to clutch and grab will end up costing their team the game and will be riding the pine as the team's resident goon.

To the hockey purist, the game is great and changing it for the American fans that don't understand it would do injustice to the game. Eventually people in Florida and California will appreciate this game and they will be glad we didn't make any hasty changes.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998