Monday, October 21, 2013

Fix the NHL: Loose Ends

Change the Way Draft Position is Determined

NHL draft picks
...Are these high school fans or highly paid draft picks?
Brendan: All for it, except for the method that McIndoe proposes implementing. I’m not entirely sure what’s wrong with the system in the NFL, where the team with the worst record is afforded the 1st pick and on down the line. I’m fairly certain that the NBA and NHL systems are broken, but this goes back to discussing league parity and means a bigger discussion for another day. This probably also touches on the optimal dispersion of talent that we mentioned before. I’ll rule this out of my hands for the time being.

Patrick: In drafts, the most simple solution is the best. And the most simple is the one you'd come up with playing pickup anything: everyone gets one pick and then you start over. No need to overcomplicate things.

Is this easily instituted at lower levels? I don't know how lower-league hockey works, but if it's anything like soccer in Maryland, players choose which teams to try out for. I don't think this is would affect the lower levels at all.


Crossover Finals

Map of NHL teams />
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The Eastern Conference is clearly much larger than the Western Conference.
Brendan: Allow me to walk you through the complex range of emotions I felt when I read this suggestion, which was actually the first time I had ever heard something like this proposed. First, I was vehemently opposed to it. I’m going to assume this was caused by the natural human reaction to reject change and prefer the comfortable, familiar option. The Stanley Cup Finals are currently organized as the winner of the Eastern Conference against the winner of the Western Conference as you well know. It makes sense, matches the format of every other sports league in North America, and is the way its been done for decades. I like the way we’re currently doing it. Not that outcome should be the only way to validate the process, but last year’s Bruins-Blackhawks Final was an incredible way to finish the season and one of the best series of any sport that I’ve ever seen, and a result of the East vs. West format.

BUT: “that’s what everyone else is doing,” and “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” are dreadful reasons to continue a way of operating and that type of thinking is exactly why sports leagues are so woefully behind the curve in pretty much every way imaginable. Second, I came to not mind what McIndoe proposed (a re-seeding once we get to the final four where #1 plays #4, #2 plays #3 so we could see East vs. East or West vs. West in the final) but his reasoning is flimsy. He cites a) it will shake things up and b) there’s potential for Boston vs. Montreal, Pittsburgh vs. Philly, etc. The likelihood of massive rivals meeting in the finals is relatively small, but the outcome of watching them fight for the cup means weighing the intensity, atmosphere, and general positives surrounding the matchup on and off the ice with the probability that the teams will get chippy, sloppy, and the series will generally be painful to watch (see: every AFC East matchup not involving the New England Patriots, every AFC North matchup that isn’t Ravens-Steelers [Ed. note: 2013-2014 notwithstanding]). I feel like the desire to see this is greatly influenced by the first round series between the Penguins-Flyers from two years ago, which involved approximately 978 goals through 6 games of truly abysmal defensive hockey and goaltending and a lot of fighting, even between coaches. It was fine for the first round of the playoffs, but if that was played during the Finals it would have been dreadfully disappointing. That series isn’t necessarily indicative of every time rivals played each other in the playoffs ever (see: Bruins-Canadiens in the first round in 2011, Devils-Rangers in the 2012 EasternConference Finals, and Blackhawks-Red Wings in 2013 Western Conference Semi-Finals for positive recent examples) but its definitely an outstanding risk that has to be weighed against the other undoubtedly epic features that a Crossover Final would bring.

Patrick: This reeks of a good idea that would be immediately panned if the first final was an awful 4-game sweep. Here's my problem with the process, rather than the outcome: if you're going to reseed the final 4 and ignore the East v. West format of every other game you've played, why even have an East v. West at all? Why not just take every record in the league, seed the best teams for the playoffs according to this bracket, and forget the geographic location of teams played? No conferences, no divisions, just play a round robin schedule and seed the top teams. A crossover final smacks of an arbitrary rule change to create a better television matchup in the final. Baseball did not consider this (as far as I know) to get a BOS v. NYY World Series in the middle 00's despite everyone in the world knowing that MLB loves commercializing that rivalry. I'm fine with a revamped playoff formula that mimics the NCAA bracket with it set up so that the best teams theoretically make it to the finals against one another, but not with reseeding the final 4 and definitely not changing the rules midway through the playoffs.

It's okay for a final four game to be the best series of the year: BOS's 4-game comeback against the Yankees was a defining moment in baseball history despite being an ALCS series, and the US's win over Russia was iconic despite not being the gold medal game.

Is this easily instituted at lower levels? No, because it just doesn't make sense. E v. W makes sense at the lowest level and NCAA bracket makes sense at the lowest level, but seeding halfway through an E v. W postseason just doesn't. If it's hard for the kids (or me) to understand, don't do it!

We NOTHING because I don't know where you stand on this one.

No More Redesigned Logos/Jerseys

Washington Capitals redesigned jersey
The Washington Capitals show off their redesigned jersey.
Brendan: For redeisgned logos/jerseys: I’m in favor of allowing teams to do this as often as they want for many reasons. First, it’s a free country and teams should be allowed to spend as much as they wish on anything other than their players. That includes jerseys, other forms of marketing/merchandising, practice facilities, game day facilities, related entertainment, etc. Second, some jerseys and logos are so laughably awful that it provides the league a much needed break from taking itself way too seriously (see: Islanders “old man in the sea” jerseys from 1995-1997.)

Patrick: Jersey redesigns can be awesome, and I love throwbacks. So keep em! Plus, we need to keep Paul Lukas employed.

Is this easily instituted at lower levels? Yes.


Require Home Whites

Capitals home whites
I'm going to have to take Google Image Search's word for this being played at the Verizon Center.
Brendan: Go Hounds!For the going back to home whites: I much prefer the method of allowing the home team to choose which color they want to wear, like they do with the NFL. I think that’s way more interesting than forcing teams into wearing only a certain jersey in specific situations. Of course, this would probably end up driving me crazy because if I were a Saints fan (shudders) I would hate when they choose to wear white at home because I think their white jerseys, and white jerseys in general, are hideous and boring. There are, however, a few exceptions in my opinion and I like when teams keep fans guessing as to what they’re going to show up wearing on game day. Nothing major here obviously, but a fun little wrinkle on occasion. Perfect for a league (like all the others) that takes itself too seriously and should think outside the box more often.

Patrick: Home team picks with a white default. Sometimes home teams think their players will get fired up wearing all black, and all-black is cool. So is all-white, by the way. Total lax move. Extra chill.

Is this easily instituted at lower levels? Yes.


No More "Upper Body/Lower Body" Injuries

Brendan: In case you’re unaware: when a player is hurt, the only detail that teams are required to provide is whether the injury is an upper or lower body injury. A severed head equates to a sprained wrist in that they are both characterized as, “upper body injuries.” That should give you some idea of what we’re dealing with here. When I see this topic frequently debated (which it is ad nauseum), most often I see people say that the fans and media are owed an answer as to why a certain player is hurt and thus not playing. I could not possibly disagree more strongly. The only people involved that I do believe are owed anything are the players, who I believe deserve the right to greater transparency about the specific dangers of their working environment.

Patrick: I may be in a different position to comment on this. If I'm the injured player, I want my coach, the trainers, my teammates, and everyone important to know exactly what's wrong. I don't care about the media or the fans. But I definitely don't want my opponent knowing whether my ACL is torn or I stubbed my toe really hard. Look, I hate to admit it, but when I play against guys in knee braces or ankle tape, I try to force them to pivot as much as possible on that leg. I run them around. And I'm a rec league player! And not a dirty one! I'd hate for a league that allows enforcers and fights to tell everyone exactly what hurts.

Is this easily instituted at lower levels? I don't think this affects lower levels.


Fewer Outdoor Games

Winter Classic
Outdoor hockey is so cool.
Brendan: Outdoor games, as you well know, rule. However, because the NHL is incapable of ruining a good thing when they see one, there are six (6!!!!!!) scheduled for the 2013-14 season. This is pure and simple over-saturation. It should be 1 outdoor game per year, called the Winter Classic, taking place on New Year’s Day. The only permissible exception is when New Year’s Day falls on Sunday to avoid conflict with the NFL. In this case, it should be played on New Year’s Eve (Saturday) in the afternoon before everyone is too blitzed on cheap champagne to follow the puck up and down the ice.

Patrick: To paraphrase an extra in Little Nicky, "Outdoor hockey games are the shiz-nit!" I wouldn't even hate it if the NHL had one day of rec tournament style 6-rinks in a grid playing all at the same time, with a bank of snow between them to stop most of the pucks. Outdoor games are awesome and it's a treat to watch them. That doesn't mean that everyone should play outside all the time. I like your specific date idea for the Winter Classic, but I'm not opposed to a designated few other games here and there. I don't know how scheduling works so I won't pretend to know which dates or games should be outside. Only a few teams can realistically and safely host outdoor games because of geography, so maybe a second Winter Classic game should be added for an East game and a West game? So for the sake of simplicity, let's keep it to the Winter Classic but maybe allow for the possibility of two games so that every team will play outside eventually.

Is this easily instituted at lower levels? Plenty of outdoor hockey for the munchkins. I think.


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