Friday, October 11, 2013

Let's Fix the NHL

With the NHL, the smallest of the big four professional sports (sorry, soccer) starting tonight, Observational Studies co-founder Brendan Porto and I will be launching a regular discussion of changes that have been suggested to improve the popularity of hockey in the US. Brendan and I will provide two very different viewpoints: he's a die-hard Devils fan and I just don't care all that much about hockey. Hopefully, starting on opposite sides of the fence will produce recommendations to improve the NHL that appeal to both existing hockey fans and the NHL's potential growth market.

vote for my blog in the mobbies early and often Following Grantland's lead, we'll be following these rules:
  • (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman can’t be fired
  • Existing teams can’t be contracted
  • A new US television deal can’t be signed
  • The latest CBA can’t be rewritten
  • Revenue can’t be shrunk (i.e. shortening the season, etc)
Many of the suggestions we debate come from this article, but are commonly cited as potential changes to the NHL to increase viewership.

Patrick: I'll be adding my own personal rule to my responses, one which Brendan is not obligated to follow:
  • When possible, err on the side of keeping the game the same at all levels of play
I feel that it's important for the professional game to reflect what the average fan (or future fan) did as a kid, for both relatability and understandability. This reflects my disinterest in professional and even collegiate lacrosse. I think that the pro league should act as a captain for amateur leagues and a flagship for the sport in general, and that rule changes at the professional level should be easily instituted at lower levels for the sake of relatability, understandability, and the often-overlooked fact that today's amateurs are the future professionals, and they shouldn't be forced to learn a new game every few years. This also discounts things that would cause undue fiscal hardship for established leagues; things like rink size should be set in stone because who the hell is going to fix all of the rinks that are currently the standard size? Are we just going to suddenly throw pros onto a different rink than they were on in college? Drafting players would end up being an exercise not only in measuring accomplishments and potential, but guessing at measurements for potential.

Brendan: Coming in near the top of the “most obvious statements of all time” list, I have a problem with the first rule. Gary Bettman has time and again proven himself incompetent, arrogant, short-sighted, and countless other adjectives that equally apply to the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert. I only have a small problem with it because I understand why it’s being enforced. Ultimately, the point of the piece is not to pile on the “Bettman sucks” train and beat that dead horse yet again. He sucks, we all know he sucks, and we’ve all accepted that he’s going to be setting new standards for being bad at your very influential job for the foreseeable future. I’m glad [Grantland author Sean] McIndoe included suggestions for how Bettman can improve instead of simply saying, “he should be on the streets begging for change” because while correct, it’s an easy/safe claim to make.

The other rules are acceptable and probably necessary. Contracting teams doesn’t seem like a good idea to begin with but I won’t pretend to be an expert on the optimal dispersion of talent for sports leagues (though that would be an interesting topic to look into at some point). The US television deal seems more like an opportunity to me than a real problem. Initially I wasn’t really in favor of it from an NHL perspective, but after the past year and given the current televised sports landscape, I’m fairly optimistic. As for the last two rules, I have no particular interest in delving into either of those because I don’t see any glaring issues with either at this point in time.

The suggestions: Kill the Loser Point | Longer OT | Weird Penalties | Presentations & Awards | Enforcers & Fighting | More Goals | Loose Ends

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