With the increase in TV revenues, the growing popularity of the game in new, nontraditional markets and competitive parity across the league, one could make the case that this is almost a golden age for the NHL.
But one of the keys to a successful league is making changes when needed.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and the league’s board of governors haven’t made any drastic changes to the NHL in recent years, but with the league’s 100th anniversary and an expansion team in Las Vegas on the horizon, now might not be a bad time to take stock of the current state of the on-ice product.
There are a few things that should be considered before they blow the whistle on opening night of the 2016-17 season.
The return of the red line
Some younger hockey fans might not remember something called the two-line pass but if a player passed the puck over at least one blue line and the center red line, the refs would blow the play dead.
The rule was abolished heading into the 2005-06 season in an effort to increase skill, scoring and excitement as part of the league’s “new NHL” makeover following the work stoppage that wiped out the 2004-05 season.
But a little more than a decade after its elimination there are calls to bring the red line back. Just last month, former great Bobby Orr told TSN that the league should bring back the red line, saying the move would temper the pace of the game and better protect the players on the ice.
Remove the “goalie trapezoid”
Like the red line, the goalie trapezoid was instituted as part of the NHL’s makeover following the infamous 2004-05 work stoppage.
The objective of the trapezoid is to prevent the goaltender from playing the puck outside of a certain area. But some argue that the move has possibly taken some of the entertainment value away from the game.
Allowing the goaltenders to roam the corners more freely at their own risk could possibly lead to more turnovers and maybe a few more goals.
It’s also possible that a goaltender who is a good puck handler could spark an odd-man rush and a scoring chance, and every loves when goalies get assists.
Streamline the video review process
There might’ve been nothing more painful over the course of the 2015-16 season then watching the NHL’s officials watch video replay on a screen that was comparable in size to most smartphones.
The league made the review process a lot more complicated then it needed to be and it’s time for the league to get back to basics. When a team is challenging a play, no matter what is being challenged, officials should be reviewing the play back in Toronto in a war room on large, high definition screens and they are the ones who should be making the final call.
The NHL’s on-ice officials have have a difficult enough job having to keep things in order on the ice and asking them to review calls on a tiny screen under the bright arena lights might be asking for a bit too much.
Don’t reward teams for losing
One of the more hotly debated issues in hockey in recent years has been the point system and how points are awarded for the standings.
Of course, under the current system, a team is awarded two points for a win, one point for an overtime or shootout loss and zero points for a regulation loss. Some have argued three points should be awarded for a regulation win, two for an overtime win, one for a shootout win and zero points for a loss in any form.
But this proposal would mean that NHL records would become four columns long, becoming cumbersome.
The better option might be for the league to award two points for a win, one point for a shootout loss and zero points for regulation and overtime losses. This would allow records to remain an easier-to-read three columns (wins, regulation/overtime losses, shootout losses) and it keeps teams in regulation from holding out for the extra point in overtime.
This proposal also keeps teams from being rewarded for a lot of losses past regulation. Take for example the Carolina Hurricanes. They posted a record of 35-31-16 last season (86 points) and 11 of those 16 “loser points” were picked up in overtime. Under this proposal, Carolina would’ve had a record of 35-42-5 (75 points), a record that might be more indicative of their true performance last season.
Push the start of the season up to September
If there’s been one complaint about the NHL in recent seasons, it’s that the boys of winter play for Lord Stanley’s Cup in June. Even though every arena has a high-quality air conditioning system, the temperatures outside can still mean compromised ice in the arena.
While this coming September does feature the World Cup of Hockey, and schedules are already set, it’s not too early to look to 2017-18. Pushing the NHL schedule up even by just a couple of weeks, could guarantee that Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final is played Memorial Day weekend.
While a September start might seem a little early, the start of the season would avoid the MLB playoffs and the late-May conclusion would mean the league’s signature series wouldn’t take a backseat to the NBA Finals.