Monday, March 23, 2015

NHL GMs have heads in sand

Saturday, March 21, 2015, 10:42 p.m.

The Devils' Peter Harrold punches the Penguins' Kris Letang earlier this week. Columnist Joe Starkey says the game was symptomatic of the problems facing the NHL. (Getty Images)

Scanning the Internet for news from the NHL general managers' meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., I came across a pathetic little story on I actually felt sorry for the headline. It looked so sad.

“GMs propose new faceoff rule to increase offense”

Really, guys? That's the best you can do for a sport that has devolved into a series of designed dump-ins, benign muggings and random rugby scrums? Where goal scoring is dormant, and power-play opportunities are at a 50-year low? Where a creative play on the rush is shooting at the goalie's pads and hoping for a rebound? Where your scoring champion might finish with fewer than 90 points in a full season for the first time since 1968?

Maybe you should have pulled your collective heads out of that Florida sand and looked around at other sports.

The NFL, which hardly lacks for offense, will at least consider a proposal for nine-point touchdowns. Major League Baseball, severely lacking for offense, has talked about tinkering with the ball, the mound, the fences and the strike zone. Its new commissioner, Rob Manfred, is open to banning defensive shifts and extending the designated hitter to the National League. The NBA has freed its game by cracking down on what hockey types would call rampant interference.

College basketball, experiencing NHL-level scoring difficulties, might reduce its shot clock by five seconds. Even college baseball is getting creative. After seeing run-scoring plummet, it has introduced a flat-seamed baseball to wondrous results. Runs and home runs per game are up significantly a month into the season.

The NHL is talking about faceoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis proposed the change. The story on starts like this: “A recommendation to change the rules governing faceoffs to create a better opportunity for increased puck-possession time, which could lead to more goals, was made by NHL general managers … ”

How will it work?

“The player who is on the defensive side of the red line must be the first to place his stick on the ice before the puck is dropped. In doing so, that player is at a slight disadvantage to the attacking player, who can put his stick down second.”

I mean, I can't wait. But I'm thinking the league might want to do something more to increase the entertainment value of its product. Not every game stinks. Just most of them.

Clearly, the GMs don't get it. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello was asked about the need for more offense and said, “That's what everybody keeps asking for. I think the game is great the way it is.”

This is a man who stood behind the bench and watched the slop that was Penguins-Devils the other night. If that game were used as a promotional video for kids, youth hockey would die within three hours, or about the time each team spent scrumming for pucks, desperately trying to get one to the point so somebody could club it toward the goal — ideally with “traffic in front.” That's offense in 2015.

An excellent idea — an old one — would be to enforce the rule book the way the league did coming out of the lockout in 2005-06. Interference is back in every conceivable form. The Penguins-Stars game was so rife with blatant interference that it became funny.

Kris Letang, at one point behind the Stars' net, was fended from the puck the way a pass-rushing linebacker would be fended off by an offensive tackle. He should have used a swim move.
Vicious stickwork and late hits are going unnoticed, too. Letang has practically chopped players in half in recent games without going to the box (maybe it's a reaction to the unpenalized baseball swing Alex Ovechkin took at his skate).

The good news, and there isn't much, is the possibility of 3 on 3 overtime next season. If you're like me, you watch games rooting for overtime so you can see skilled players actually use their skill in 4 on 4 or the shootout. It'd be even better 3 on 3.

So this is pretty much what the GMs told the world: If you people can make it through 60 minutes of our horsebleep product next season, we'll give you something you'll really like.


Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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