The regular season has drawn to a close and we’re in the midst of the absolute best and most entertaining hockey of the season—the first round of the NHL playoffs.
For me there’s nothing else in sports like it—the first round is simply tremendous. All 16 teams are so keen, so pumped up. They’ve played and waited for this opportunity for months. They all honestly believe that with a break here or there, good goaltending and getting on a roll at the right time, they can go to the finals and maybe win a Stanley Cup.
To me, no hockey beats this—not even international or Olympic hockey. I don’t like the fact that, in those competitions, one game eliminates a good team or makes someone a “champion”. In this format you have to go through four good teams, and beat each one four times. That means you have to beat a team fighting against end-of-season elimination four times, and you may have to play 28 games to achieve your ultimate goal. It’s a grind most of us can’t fathom. Being a fan is tiring (Leaf fans remember ‘93). Imagine playing.
We can discuss this more as the playoffs progress, but today I’ve been thinking about some of the things I’d like to see changed in the game heading into next season:
The biggest change I would like to see has to do with getting rid of overtime. I posted on this subject a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in that earlier column, this is an idea that has served its original purpose: re-igniting interest in the game in the U.S. after the ill-advised lockout of 2004-’05. But it is ruining the game. For me, it’s not even entertaining anymore. Four-on-four hockey used to be one of theinfrequent—therefore neat—things about regular season hockey. Who cares now—you get 5 minutes of it guaranteed almost every night.
Penalty shots were another rare but exciting moment. Again, you can see about 10 almost every night—just wait for the inevitable shoot-out. For me, a tie is a tie. If you play 60 minutes, and you’re tied—that’s it. Take your point and go home. Right now, if you “lose” a game in overtime or the shootout everyone feels despondent. That’s nuts. You didn’t lose the game—you lost hockey’s version of home-run derby.
Overtime points totally mess up the standings. You have teams that have no business making the playoffs in there because they were better playing four-on-four shinny hockey or in a shootout. Dumb, dumb, dumb idea to keep this going.
I’m simply jumping on Don Cherry’s bandwagon on this one, but I’m ready for no-touch icing. The game has enough physicality. We all like that. But if you ice the puck, you ice the puck. Go back and accept the consequence with a face off in your own zone. Why continue to put players at risk of senseless—and serious—injuries?
Get rid of the “lottery” for the top draft pick. The lousiest team should get first pick, full stop. Why should some team that almost made the playoffs even have a chance to get the top pick? Do we really believe players will tank games just to get the first overall pick? Heck, when a team is that awful, half the guys won’t be there the next season anyway, so why would they “throw” games to try and get the first choice in the draft—it’s probably a guy who will take their job.
Those tedious congratulatory (at the bench) “high-fives” after every goal have to go. Someone has, just has, to come up with a better idea than what we have seen for years in hockey. After every—and I mean every—goal, even when it’s 6-1, every single guy on the ice (except the goalie, thank goodness) for the team who scored has to skate over to their bench and hit their gloves, or whatever. It’s ridiculous. Watch old games from the early ‘60s. Unless it was a milestone goal or a game-winner in the dying seconds, a couple of guys would come over to the goal-scorer, pat him on the butt and go back to center ice. I miss that. But at the very least, let’s replace this method of celebrating with something new. And I don’t mean the concocted silly stuff they do in the NFL.
Finally, let’s start the season on October 1, and end the regular season March 31. They managed this year to get the season in by April 11- with two weeks off for the Olympics. Playing the Cup finals when almost no one cares in June is absurd. It’s a winter sport. The end of May should mark the end of the playoffs.