By wanting to improve on something, you run the risk to negatively affect what’s already working, despite your good intentions. That’s what happened to the NHL since the arrival of Gary Bettman, a man with no prior hockey knowledge, as commissioner and decision-maker of a 100-year-old league.
PENTICTON, BC. — Wanting to expand and grow the US market in search of notoriety and of a new TV contract, Gary Bettman allowed teams like Quebec City, Winnipeg and Minnesota to move into non-traditional hockey markets. Instead of solidifying what was already in place, Bettman rushed and over-expanded into other American cities, bringing the total of teams to 30 and at the same time, diluting the talent pool to what we have now. And guess what? Still not a viable US television contract to speak of, but plenty of owners and teams needing financial support from the NHL, none more obvious than the Phoenix fiasco.
But it’s when looking at the rules and the on-ice decisions that fans are truly puzzled. The arrival of the two referee system was supposed to ensure that no calls would be missed, no infractions would go unnoticed. It’s hard to argue with the theory but what the league didn’t consider is the fact that you then bring in two different personalities, and the possibility of two separate judgments on the ice. How many times have we witnessed the closer referee purposely letting the play go on by choosing not to call a penalty, only to see the other referee calling it from 100 feet away? That’s not counting that by doubling the number of referees, it brings guys up from the AHL who are not ready or for whom the play is way above their head. You’re also adding an additional body on an ice surface already over-crowded, creating havoc for everyone.
Taking advantage of the lockout, the NHL wanted to improve on the speed of the game by taking away the red line at center ice, by creating a “no-play zone” for the goaltenders, and by calling the interference penalties, in hope to say goodbye to the “dead puck era.” Again, we can’t deny that the game is faster than ever. The side effects that they didn’t think about is the fact that the defensemen now have a bulls-eye on their back when chasing the puck into the corners, and making forwards more vulnerable to open ice hits in the neutral zone. While Bettman and his pundits try to deny that there is an issue with concussions and head injuries in the NHL, stats clearly show otherwise. They simply didn’t think about that.
When in the early 90’s, they decided that star players needed additional protection against the potential of so-called goons going after them, the NHL decided to be more severe and add to the instigator rule. While they won’t admit to it, they were also hoping to reduce fighting in hockey but since many markets, especially in the US, loved that aspect, they couldn’t ban it all together. With the changes to the instigator rule, they’ve created a bigger and much, much more dangerous monster: the rat, as Brian Burke describes the cheap shot artist feeling totally secure today, hiding behind that rule. While there have always been cheap shots in hockey, I have never seen the issue being as bad as we’re seeing it now. Rats and goons rarely went after Lafleur as Bouchard, Tremblay, Nilan, Kordic or other players would be right in their face. Rats and goons didn’t dare touch Gretzky as Semenko or McSorley would be teaching them a lesson or two. By wanting to protect the stars, the NHL exposed them instead and it’s been right in front of us for the last couple of season, even more prominent in this year’s playoffs.
I was reading recently a French reporter describing Sidney Crosby as a bad captain, based on his antics during the series against Philadelphia, and I was shaking my head. The referees aren’t calling penalties and the league’s disciplinarian has obviously received orders from up above to ease up on the great work he started at the beginning of the season, to the point where players and fans don’t know what to expect. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shanahan resigning at the end of the season as he’s now become a puppet. With the severe instigator penalty taking much of the players ability to police themselves and keep each other accountable, the NHL has exposed its’ biggest stars instead of protecting them. Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Miller, Nicklas Backstrom, Daniel Sedin, just to name a few, all have a huge bulls-eye on their heads… and that won’t get any better until the league decides to amend the instigator rule. Anti-fighting extremists will use the concussion excuse to their benefit, although a recent stat shows that less than 3 per cent of concussions are the result of fights and ignoring that the other 97 per cent is mostly from hits. Should the NHL ban hitting in hockey?
By trying to improve on a game that was already good, the NHL has created a monster and perhaps they could use this time negotiating with the NHLPA for a new collective bargaining agreement to address those issues at the same time.
En français: LNH: Les Dommages Collatéraux