Longtime readers know one thing about me as a writer: I like to complain. A lot. My litany of complaints extends to the team, general managers, coaching staffs, jersey choices, free agent rumors, draft picks ... you get the picture. If there’s something that I can be mad at, I will be. I love the Columbus Blue Jackets, but I also hate them and think I could do a better job running them.
One of the things I hate most in this world is the NHL. Not the league, not the sport of hockey, but the governing body headed by the king of the lockout, Gary Bettman. The NHL is laughably incompetent at its job during even the best of circumstances (and that’s before we talk about how the league is expanding the number of skaters allowed on the ice during practices even as the Tampa Bay Lightning shut down facilities among positive COVID-19 tests). If there’s a decision to be made, you can always trust the NHL brain trust to make the wrong decision. It’s the surest bet in sports next to the New York Knicks screwing up the draft and free agency.
Thankfully, this is where I come in. I’ve never once run a team into the ground and gotten another job anyway, penalized a player who tried to decapitate an opponent by fining him $5000, “the maximum allowed under the CBA,” or signed a goon to a 5 year contract in any year post 2010. These facts alone make me more qualified to fix the NHL rules than half the general managers in the league, so that’s what I’m here to do.
Y’all are welcome in advance, I’ll expect my check from the league in the mail shortly.
Fix the NHL Standings
The Loser Point is the single worst thing about the NHL right now, and it’s not even close. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a gander at the standings together and go on a magical journey.
The Montreal Canadiens were in the playoff race before the NHL suspended its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Canadiens finished 29 points behind the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins. As we inch toward the resumption of the season, there may be no team more feared than the Canadiens, largely on the back of Carey Price, who is deemed the most dangerous goaltender in the league. This flies in the face of advanced stats, which show that Price has been exceedingly average for the last four years, but also highlight a problem - a team that finished 31-31-9, with nine extra points from losses in overtime and was swept by the Detroit Red Wings, was in the playoff race with 11 games remaining in a season.
The NHL currently awards two points if a team wins the game, one point for an overtime or shootout loss for the losing team, and zero points for a regulation loss. The inherent flaw in this system, however, is a simple one - not every game is worth the same number of points. Teams, particularly those close to the playoff bubble, and incentivized to not win the game in regulation but instead to get the game to overtime. This creates artificial parity, inflating a team’s point total and making the playoff race look more interesting than it should be.
Consider, instead, the following proposal: teams are incentivized to win games in regulation, and each game is worth the same number of points. Radically simple, right? So let’s discuss the following proposal:
Three points awarded for a win in regulation
Two points awarded for an overtime or shootout win
One point awarded for an overtime or shootout loss
Zero points awarded for a regulation loss
Makes sense right? Well, it used to be this way! The NHL doesn’t do this anymore because, as mentioned, the playoff race is artificially inflated with extra points available. This system would provide each game worth equal points, level off the playoff race, and result in teams more accurately assessing their fortunes and futures. It would incentivize winning in regulation and increase scoring as teams take more chances with an extra point on the line at the end of games.
Eliminate the Shootout, Bring Back Ties
Hey, while we’re fixing the standings and end of game scenarios - we’re eliminating the silly skills competition that needlessly decides games. The NHL added the shootout post-lockout, in the 2005-06 season. Doing so allowed the league to eliminate ties, excite casual fans, and decide games in a skills competition.
It hasn’t really workout out that way. Casuals haven’t flocked to the league because of the shootout. Ties weren’t an inherently bad way to determine a winner. Plus, with the shift to three on three overtime, fewer games are ending in shootouts than ever.
Even John Tortorella hates the shootout:
Hear from Torts after this morning's practice. pic.twitter.com/NtWb44iYfI— x-Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) March 1, 2019
There’s nothing wrong with ending regular season games in ties. A game doesn’t have to have a winner, especially if we’ve fixed the point system as we have above. Replace “shootout” with “tie” and you’ve got a perfectly fine system. Sports leagues the world over end in ties all the time and the world doesn’t end.
The shootout doesn’t even replicate hockey. At least three on three, gimmicky as it is, approximates the sport. The shootout is a skills competition that does not reflect the play of the actual game and should be done away with.
Ban Fighting and Headshots
This one is easy. First, headshots cause injury, are easy to police, and the existing rules can be strengthened to protect players both on the ice and after their playing careers are finished. If the NFL can kinda sorta figure this out, there’s no reason that the NHL can’t. That’s easy. You hit someone in the head intentionally, you’re looking at a suspension.
Fighting should get eliminated as well. Fighting has been a part of the game for years - it was the entire identity of the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers - but has steadily decreased in recent years, down to 195 total fights in the NHL this season. The Columbus Blue Jackets only logged seven fights all season as the role of the enforcer has gone away entirely.
Between eliminating headshots and fighting, the NHL would be doing a much better job at protecting the health and safety of its player than it is doing now. Perhaps then the league wouldn’t need to deny the existence of CTE.
This is the most controversial of my picks, but hear me out: how many goals have we seen called back 45 seconds after an offside violation that had no material effect on the run of play. Yet, it doesn’t count. Let’s fix that.
Eliminating offsides means that a simple bounce of the puck over a stick doesn’t negate a good goal. There are added benefits, though. I’ll let Dom Luszczyszyn, now of ESPN and formerly of The Hockey News, explain:
Offside eliminates the attacking team from accessing an entire third of the ice and makes it harder to gain that zone because modern players are too good at clogging up the space in front of it. Allowing players without the puck into the zone before the puck forces defenses to let up and fall back into man coverage which gives puck carriers more time and space to enter the zone. They can do something with the puck other than throwing it in the corner and praying for a retrieval. And hey, even if dumping it in is still the plan, it’s much closer to a 50/50 battle without offsides now that teammates can enter the zone sooner. The defensive team no longer has a huge advantage there.
Doesn’t that make so much sense? It effectively eliminates the neutral zone trap, opens the ice, and forces teams to defend all 200 feet rather than just form a wall at the blue line. Opening the game means wider passing lanes, more scoring, and more offense. If you, dear reader, haven’t figured it out by now, that is my long term goal - increase scoring in this league and incentivize offense.
Widen the Net
As long as we are increasing scoring, let’s widen the net. It’s an easy solution that will be barely noticeable to fans in the stands, but will make all the difference to players on the ice. Players will be able to pick corners again, goalies will be forced to actually move to make saves rather butterfly and cover more than two-thirds of the net.
This sounds radical, but it’s really not - the net has changed many times over the years, from shape to anchors. Pad sizes and goalie techniques have gotten so much bigger and better that goal scoring has decreased to almost anemic levels. Widening the nets by just a few inches taller and wider would open more shooting lanes for players while being nearly unnoticed by fans. Easy fix to increase scoring - no one wants to see a 2-1 snoozer between the Devils and the Blue Jackets.
Replay is a blight on the NHL and on sports the world over. It slows games down, it does not clear up controversies, it leads to errors in officiating by referees who use replay as a crutch rather than making calls during the run of play, and it disrupts the flow of the game. Plus, referees still blow calls, even with replay! In short, it does not solve the concerns it purports to solve while adding a host of new problems.
There’s an easy solution - ban the use of replay, in all situation. The famous incident that led to replay in the NHL, the Matt Duchene offside, was not a miss by the ref - the thought the defender touched the puck, which meant Duchene would’ve been onside on the play. Replay has led to controversies, referees making incorrect calls via replay, analyzing if a skate was a millimeter off the ice on grainy footage straight out of the 1960s, and delaying games indefinitely as every NHL DJ discovers their creative side and playing the Jeopardy theme song during the stoppage of play.
No game is going to be called perfectly, just as no game will be played perfectly. These bad calls tend to even out over the course of a season, however - overreacting to one bad call is how you get disastrous rule changes. At least the NFL went back on theirs this offseason, doing away with pass interference review. It’s time hockey does the same.
Those are my changes I would make in the NHL. What rules do you want to see changed? Let us know in the comments!