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A mildly radical 10-point plan to re-energize and overhaul the NHL upon its return, including an end-of-season Super Cup challenge

Last time there was an NHL lockout, fans at least had something to look forward to when NHL hockey returned:  a more open, less cluttered neutral-zone; referees on alert to call any and all infractions and as a result, more power plays and thus, high-scoring, much more entertaining games.

We also had the inclusion of the newly-instituted shootout (which I loathe, but we can debate that another time) which most fans seemed to love.  All in all, it was supposed to be the “new” NHL, and for a while, it sort of was.  However, I feel we have kind of seen the game morph back into what it was pre-2005—by the end of last season, we had more clutching and grabbing and defensive hockey was the watchword everywhere.  Referees were back to calling the games differently and letting things go.

But whatever, they gave it a good shot.  Unfortunately, we still have too much dull, low-scoring hockey, in part because the goalies are a) very good  b) those goalies are allowed to dress like the Michelin Man and c) coaches like Ken Hitchcock make sure to keep the game as dull as possible. (Hey, if you're a mediocre, low-talent team, what better way to compete than just checking the other team to death...)

This time, after yet another lockout, what do we have to get excited about if and when NHL hockey comes back?  It will be, as some wise posters have said here recently, the same old, same old.  It’s not like, after another year’s absence, the league will be unveiling some exciting new changes to make the game better for fans—who will no doubt be paying even more over time for the privilege of watching NHL hockey.

I do believe, however, there are some things that can (could?) be done to make the product even better and make the sport even more global in reach. (My apologies if some of these ideas may have been triggered by posters here over the past few week!)

  1. Shorten the regular season.  82 games is too much, given the size and speed of players nowadays.  I’m no expert on rest and recovery, but my intuition tells me a 70-72 game regular-season would be just fine. 
  2. The regular-season should start in the last week of September.  The regular season should end at the end of March (when it still feels like winter where people care a lot  about hockey), which should be entirely do-able with a 70-game regular-season. The playoffs need to be finished by the end of May.
  3. Yes, revenues and therefore salaries will drop somewhat with a shorter schedule, but isn’t the health of the players—and the quality of play—more important?  The smart teams in legitimate hockey markets will still make money .  The owners who are “losing” money will lose less.  Players will still make their millions.
  4. The above point about player health is important.  Rest and recovery supposed to be a part of the regimen for elite athletes.  These guys are pushed to the max too often.  (It's silly, by the way, that the AHL plays three games in three nights—same with junior hockey. It cannot be good for the players in an age where the speed of the game, the size of the equipment, etc. make hockey a dangerous sport.  Our awareness of head injuries, for example, is higher than ever before. Players would be less vulnerable to injury if they had more rest time between games.)  Bottom line: NHL players need rest and recovery time—for their health, and to make the game better.  Less is more.
  5. We need to introduce, finally, no-touch icing.  I love tough hockey as much as the next guy, but Don Cherry has been right for years:  guys lose their careers over this and it’s just plain silly.  We don’t need the old-style icing any more.
  6. Make penalties really hurt.  Go back to the way it was in the early 1950s.  If you get a penalty, you stay in the box until the two minutes is up, regardless of if the other team scores.  In addition to opening up the game offensively, it will kill off goons who hurt their teams with stupid penalties.  Real toughness will come out through playing like John Tonnelli, Bob Gainey, Terry O'Reilly, Gary Roberts or Kris Draper.
  7. Get rid of shootouts.  My own distaste for them aside, the standings nowadays are meaningless.  What’s wrong with a tie?  In fact, I would argue that, many nights, a tie is what two teams deserve.  Why do we give an extra point for something (a shootout) that is a skill competition and not part of a real game?  (By the way, I’m not one of those who hates the so-called “loser” point.  I think if you get a tie in the 60-minute game, you deserve a point, full stop.  If we have to keep the five-minute overtime then yes, the winner should get the “extra” point.  But if it was up to me, I’d get rid of OT in the regular season altogether.  A tie is what it is—one point for both teams.  Suddenly, the NHL standings would make sense again, and getting 90 points in a season, or 100, would actually mean something.
  8. I’d like to cut out one round of the playoffs (as much as I love the round of 16, because the first round of the playoffs every spring is tremendous hockey), but I realize that playoff revenue is important for teams.  It's just the games in June, when teams are exhausted and interest in hockey as dwindled, is not ideal.  But if the NHL followed a version of the new baseball playoff format, maybe we cut back a bit on the number of games in the preliminary round series. I hate losing the tradition on the one hand, but how about this:  Go back to Conference standings only—East and West.  First six teams make the playoffs in each Conference, instead of 8.  But the next four teams in the overall standings teams get a wild card spot and play a mini two-out-of- three series to see who advances.
  9. Under this new playoff format, the top 12 teams get a few days off at the end of the regular season to rest.  As in baseball, the “wildcard” teams have to fight through a preliminary round just to advance.
  10. At the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs, we launch a “Super Cup” challenge every year in late May—Stanley Cup winner takes on the winner of the KHL championship in Russia.  This would give the KHL winner a chance at something bigger.  The Stanley Cup champions would never lose the Cup.  They’d simply be playing for a different championship.
If it was up to me, I'd cut the NHL back to 24 teams in hockey-mad markets, but we know that won't happen for a host of reasons.  But the above suggestions, to me, would help invigorate our sport.

I don’t expect readers will agree with all of the above.  But maybe there are some points you’d like to discuss the pros and cons of a bit further.

Let me know.


  1. Michael
    On points 1 to 9 I am with you 100% although even the end of May can be a bit tiring to still be enthused about hockey.
    I disagree with #10 only on the timing. At the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Cup champion is usually beat-up and in no condition to play more hockey. However, something along the lines of the European Football Champions League would be of interest. The winner of the previous year's title in each world major league - say NHL, KHL, Swedish Elite, Finland, etc. - could meet the next year in a round robin tourney over the period of a week (Christmas Holiday week? All-Star break week?). Some scheduling issues but I'm sure these could be overcome if the Champions league playoff was kept to a short period of time and perhaps played on a knockout basis.

  2. I think you're right, Ed. I don't like my own timing (point 10) for a "Super Cup" with the KHL. June is a lousy month for hockey. I prefer your approach. Thanks for posting.

  3. Michael
    I welcome your challenge.

    24 team league, no touch icing, rid of shootout, Reduce to 70 game schedule, More dull hockey, reduce goalie equipment size and danger of shoulder and elbow pads

    The best hockey of year is at playoff time - Intensity increases significantly over go thru motions hockey of regular season. Why would you want to reduce this?

    Wild card approach like baseball. In 2011, Braves blow Wild card. In 2012, they earn wildcard, but have to go thru one game playoff which they lost to Cardinals - a team that had significantly poorer season. Didn't seem fair to a Braves fan.

    Why would NHL do anything to further the legitimacy of the KHL? Why would you help the competition?

    I like overtime - just not shootouts. On trip to Canada two years ago, a friend took me to see RIM park (very impressive) in KW. I saw three man hockey played by good players and it was terrific. Suggest go 4 man for 5 minutes, and then 3 man until done, which would not be long.

    I have never understood how a 2 point hockey game could become a three point game just because it was a tie. I would suggest that a winner in regulation be given three points, with two for overtime winner and one for loss.
    Another would be use computers to assign half points in overtime games.

    The old two minute penalty could destroy the rest of the game. In ancient times, the Montreal Canadiens could score three goals in 2 minutes, making the rest of the game unnecessary.

    I am sure this is heresy, but my off the wall comment - If you want to see scoring increase, how about assigning points by period, and for win. (e.g. one point for winning period, .5 point for tie in period).

  4. All great point, RLMcC. I'm up for all kinds of discussion that would improve the game.

    I could accept OT but without shootouts, too.

    I can't really argue with your playoff point- I don't really like cutting out the round of 16 (my favourite hockey of the year). I was mostly trying to figure out a way to shorten the season a bit.

    I don't like the baseball 1-game knockout, but I wondered if a 2 out of 3 would soften the blow...

    You're probably right as well about the 2-minute penalty suggestion. My Dad told me many times (the devoted Hab fan that he was for decades!) how the NHL changed the rule so Montreal couldn't keep scoring two or three times on the power play and, as you say, basically end the game.

    It's nice to have a hockey conversation and not talk about the lockout!

    Thanks Ralph.

  5. Michael,

    Interesting read. I think you, like myself, are somewhat of a hockey traditionalist as many of your views mirror mine. I would like to discuss your points and then put forward a couple of mine for consideration.

    Points 1-4: I totally agree that the season is too long. 70 games (the old standard) seems about right. I can't help but think that fatigue has contributed to the spate of injuries (especially head injuries) that we have seen lately. Didn't Detroit used to send Terry Sawchuck to Florida during the season, believing that he was fatigued and would come back refreshed and on top of his game? Maybe taking a mid-winter break like the English Premier League would be a worthwhile idea.

    Point 5:
    The above is a link to the Kostopoulus hit from behind tat effectively ended the career of the Leafs Mike Von Ryn. This is one example of many which point out the need for no touch icing.

    Point 6: I still have awful memories of that Montreal power play (Richard, Beliveau, Olmstead, Geoffrion and Harvey) that caused the one goal rule to be put in in the first place. It was not uncommon for them to score two and even three goals on one power play. I believe that one goal is enough punishment for a minor penalty so I would have to differ with you on this one.

    Point 7: I depise shootouts. I do not like the 5 minute overtime with its 5 on 5 hockey. Both are artificial means advocated by Bettman to assure that each game has a winner. It may be a difference in cultures but I think Canadians anr more willing to accept a tie as a result than Americans. In my opinion it is ridiculous to play a game under one set of rules for 60 minutes and then manipulate the rules when you don't like the outcome to gain your desired end.

    Points 8-9: I agree that the playoffs are too long after an exhausting season. I haven't any better ideas save contraction and fewer teams in the post season.

    Point 10: I agree with Ed that a series along the lines of the Champions League would be desireable. It would not be played at the end of a long season (maybe during a mid winter break) and it would not detract from the Stanley Cup. It would be played in non Olympic years and rosters could be expanded to allow some prospects to play against weaker teams.

    I would like the NHL to do something about equipment. Goalie pads and body padding need to be reduced in width and bulk. Equipment that protects the wearer and maims the opponent (hard shell elbow pads) should be eliminated.

    Last season the NHL announced a sensible realignment and schedule. The NHLPA quashed it. It is badly needed in some form.

    I would eliminate that ridiculous trapezoid. Goalies should be free to play the puck anywhere. This would also eliminate many hits from behind as the goalie would be able to play pucks that a defenseman now has to chase.

  6. I'm with you on the modern-day equipment, PeteCam. I firmly believe a lot of injuries would be prevented with smaller, less punishing equipment. It protects but it also hurts. Guys may also be a little more careful and not run around recklessly quite as much if they didn't feel as protected.

    I've never supported the trapezoid thing. Why take away a skill that some goalies have to create a level playing field for those who don't bother to work on their puck-handling skills? Also it will make teams be more innovative and skill-oriented on the attack.

    Totally agree on no-touch icing.

    I could certainly support what you and Ed are advocating in terms of a Champions League-style format for champions from the two leagues, or even more, if feasible..

    And yes, a re-aligned schedule is long overdue.

    Really good post as always. Thanks PeteCam.

  7. It seems like 82 games is too long to maintain intensity and health during a season. I would love to see a reasonable pre-season (say 5 games) followed by an earlier start in the 3rd week of September.

    A 70-72 game schedule would allow the league to spread out the games a bit more (perhaps finding niches for every team in their local market for increased attendance/tv viewership) and allow a longer all-star break (so the guys who participate get a bit more of a break, too).

    I think about how wise it was to rest Jake Gardiner for a few games last season. He finished a very long season/playoff run in better form than he would have without the rest. Can't imagine a little in season rest would be a problem for the players and fans could enjoy a better/healthier product.

    This would also allow an earlier playoff run (end of March - May). Perhaps a salary roll-back could be accomplished based on 72 games this season (and continuing next year). The pre-season games could be promoted to bring in revenue and the full 4 x 7 game series for 16 teams could continue, though I might like to see a preliminary Best of 3 wildcard for teams 7 - 10 (with conference cross over possiblities). This would generate more revenue and keep more teams viable for the playoffs for longer.

    I mean, in the big picture (respecting 'legitimacy') who really cares if #10 knocks off #7 to play #1? Except the fans of #10 who gain more playoff revenue and keep everyone interested for a bit longer (like team #11 who just misses the playoffs OR actually crosses over to the other conference - though that would cause travel issues for a top-seeded team and might cut off rivalries). Probably would allow for expansion (that I don't want) and even more revenues, if those new teams had a better shot at the playoffs.

    I think there is much to consider in the rest of your point, plus the tweeks from others! And, yes, get rid of the trapezoid!

  8. It's a big mistake if they don't shorten the schedule, InTimeFor62. Your reference to Gardiner is spot on. And he's just one example. As PeteCam said above, teams would sometimes (in the old days) give players a mid-season break. PeteCam mentioned Sawchuk. I'm not sure about Sawchuk but I know the Red Wings did it with Roger Crozier in the mid/later 1960s.

    All fair points, InTimeFor62. We both realize the league doesn't want to lose revenues and the players don't want salary cutbacks. But something has to give.

    And since I have a hard time spelling trapezoid, that feels a a good enough reason to get rid of it...Thanks!

  9. Everything you say here is just plain sensible. I'd only add one idea to the points calculation, in the case a regular season overtime would keep; 3 points for regulation win, 2 points for getting the overtime win, and a final draw gets a point each. And no, we really don't need shootouts.

    If we can get past the regular season overtime, it's just 2 points for the win, 1 for drawing.

    Winning should always be desirable, but it should only be an absolute requirement in the playoffs.

  10. I wonder if there will ever be a serious push for a 3-point regular season win, similar to soccer? Personally, I would rather just end games in a tie, except of course, the playoffs. I think we all agree we don't change a thing come playoff time. I would be upset if we went the soccer route and started introducing shoot-outs/penalty shots to decide crucial playoff games.

    Thanks CGLN.

  11. In Finland, we have the 3-point regulation win. 2 points for OT or shootout win, but nobody really likes the shootouts. 1 for losing at the latter two.

    Honestly, shootout should not be part of the game. It's a skills competition and that's it. Have it on the All-Star weekend, but it should have no relevance on standings.

  12. Oh, and about the Super Cup thing. It's a nice and workable idea, but it should be after the summer off, not right after the finals. The players won't be too motivated to play right after winning either of the Stanley Cup or the Gagarin Cup.

    Use it to start the new season, and it'll work fine.

  13. Michael
    I was surprised at the lack of traction re three man overtime during regular season received. Perhaps traditionalist just do not want to go there. However, if you are looking for excitement and real MEMORIES, think what we could have seen and imagine a coach having to counter them.
    Look what we missed:
    Gordie Howe, Norm Ullman, Red Kelly - Red Wings
    Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Doug Harvey - Habs
    Guy Lafleur, Henri Richard, Larry Robinson Habs
    Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, Carl Brewer - Leafs
    Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Bobby Orr - Bruins
    Mike Bossy, Trottier, Denis Potvin - Islanders
    Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey - Oilers
    Joe Sakic, Forsberg, Rob Blake - Rockies

    Malkin, Crosby, Letang
    Stamkos, St. Louis, Defenseman?
    Ovechkin, Forward?, Green
    Toews, Kane, Keith

    Note: Interesting - Look at puck moving defencemen? Perhaps someone else can put together better threesomes of current players.
    Conclusion. What memories these threesomes on a wide open ice would/could have produced. I suspect most overtime winners would be pretty, as opposed to many garbage goals that end games now.It would also identify the top goalies.

  14. It goes without saying that those trios you pulled together off the top of your head were/are magnificent- some of the very best of their respective generations, RLMcC

    The only twist I would add to your three-on-three suggestion above is this: eliminate the shootout and keep the possibility of a tie.

    This is what I mean: since, as you mentioned, there would likely be a goal fairly soon in overtime, make it a complete 5-minute overtime. If we're talking pure entertainment factor, fans would surely love that. You could get 4 or 5 goals in the extra session.

    Each team still gets a point for the regulation tie. If the overtime also ends in a tie (say, 2-2), it's still only one point each.

    Thanks Ralph.

  15. Michael:
    My previous post was eliminating shootout. Please review.

    Your twist to full 5 minutes would be fun. I would be rooting for overtime to see that.

  16. I see that now- we're on the same page! Thanks RLMcC.