Monday, May 18, 2015

NHL should stop trying to slow down game

By Mark Madden
May 18, 2015

Canada’s Sidney Crosby, right, takes a shot at goal, next to Russia’s Dmitri Kulikov, left, during the Hockey World Championships gold medal match in Prague, Czech Republic, Sunday.

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, hockey’s biggest A-list stars, played for a B-list hockey championship yesterday in Prague.
In North America, the winner of the sport’s most coveted trophy is boiling down to who can block the most shots and be systematically superior.
Don’t hate the players. Hate the game.
These Stanley Cup playoffs might seem exciting because of the preponderance of one-goal games. Heck, that’s literally all the New York Rangers play.
But it’s not exciting hockey. Games are seldom decided by offensive flurries, though good goaltenders (read: huge goalie equipment) have something to do with that. Intangibles like “intensity” and “grit” are glamorized, but where’s the real glamour?
On Sunday, it was in Prague. If, Sunday afternoon, you flipped back and forth between the final at the World Championships and the Anaheim-Chicago game, the prevailing quality of the former was readily evident.
If you’re tired of reading this column over and over, I’m no less tired of writing it. This is not my vision of hockey. Skill should not be minimized.
Pittsburgh owes NHL commissioner Gary Bettman much gratitude because he fought to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. But when Bettman says the league is better off with a bunch of 60-point scorers instead of a few 100-point scorers, it shows utter disregard for the marketability of star power.
Coaches are to blame. Any coach has more influence than a standout player.
The NHL is reportedly considering outlawing the two-line pass again. The NHL began to allow passing from the defensive zone to the far blue line in 2005. In theory, that opens up the rink. Visions of breakaways danced in our heads.
But the coaches ruined it.
When that rule change was implemented, coaches quickly found a way to be conservative on both sides of the puck. On defense, they moved the trap back. On offense, they started utilizing that stretch-pass tip-dump that makes too much of a game fly by with teams on the forecheck trying to force a mistake.
Change that rule back, and the trap moves up. Just a different kind of dull.
Few coaches coach to win. Most coach to not get fired. None coach to entertain.
Even the statisticians fouled the waters. In 2005, blocked shots became an official stat. It gave jabronis a number to compile, to show GMs at contract time. Then coaches made it a religion. Using shot-blocking as “strategy” has replaced things fans want to see -- goals and saves -- with something people don’t care about.
Some of the things that slow hockey can’t be legislated out.
Some of the things that slow hockey won’t be legislated out.
The referees are never going to call the rulebook exactly as written on a consistent basis. Every time there’s a mandate for more penalties, it quickly recedes.
The NFL understands that it’s in the entertainment business. The owners determine the method of play. They’re tied directly to the bottom line. In the NHL, the GMs determine the method of play. Tight and close equates to more job security for them.
Hockey’s direction puts the Penguins in an odd position. What wins more in a boring, low-scoring league: Two superstars, or systematic excellence better strengthened through depth? Do you ditch your legacy to pursue bland success?
I never want to see the Penguins park the bus. I can’t see owner Mario Lemieux leaning in that direction, either. If that’s the price of winning, don’t pay it.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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