Volume 92, Issue 21

Thursday, October 8, 1998

far out


The NHL needs help

The National Hockey League's regular season gets under way tomorrow with a whole host of changes, particularly the shift to open up the ice for the stars and put some more pucks in the net.

The area behind the net has been made larger to give players more room to manoeuvre. This is to allow teams to sustain the offensive attack in an attempt to drive scoring up, making the sport more television friendly (in the United States).

In essence, this is probably one of the better ideas from the NHL's Board of Governors, giving more room for the slick players to move and create scoring chances. This, along with reducing the size of the goaltenders' equipment should get the increase in scoring which the infamous NHL commisioner, Gary Bettman, has been looking for.

You would think that with these apparent positive changes, more changes along the same lines would be considered. Instead, they went in the complete opposite direction – clogging the neutral zone by making it smaller and further congesting the whole ice surface with a second referee.

This just doesn't make sense. The powers that be in the NHL cannot be thinking clearly. They become obsessed with making more room for players, only to reduce the neutral zone by four feet. And to make matters worse, they put another body on the ice. Quickening the pace? Don't think so.

If the NHL was serious about creating more space for its skilled players, you would think they would try other measures in opening up the ice. The moving of the goal lines out two feet was a step in the right direction, but problems occurs when this space is taken out of the much needed neutral zone.

To add a second official is absurd. There are already three competent officials out there. Why not give the existing linemen more power and get them making some calls. This would stop the unnecessary cheap shots which occur since the players would know that there are now three sets of eyes watching them.

While this idea may need some refining, it is certainly better than sticking another body out there, especially when the objective is to open up the ice and increase scoring.

When it comes right down to it, there are really only a few feasible options. Making the ice surface larger will cost teams now, but will make them more viable in the future. Coming down extremely hard on all incidents involving stick swinging and head-hunting, is something the NHL have already said they'll do this year. Finally, dispose of the instigator rule, probably the most feasible action which will immediately open up the ice surface for the skilled players.

The removal of the instigator rule would make players much more wary of going after the stars, for fear of getting beaten up. It would keep stars like Paul Kariya on the ice and therefore people in the stands – something Bettman has been trying to do for what seems like his whole life.

The instigator rule prevents guys like Tie Domi from protecting stars like Mats Sundin or Paul Kariya, because they can't go after anyone who attempts to take liberties with them. Removing the rule will give the stars the confidence on the ice to do what they do best – score and keep the cheap shot artists from further ruining the game.

To see a guy like Kariya have his career cut short would be a crying shame, but would anyone complain if Domi spent more time in the penalty box because he's fighting more guys like Bryan Marchment? Don't think so.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998