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Old 04-29-2004, 12:27 PM   #1 (permalink)
Location: Ottawa, ON, Canada
Gary Bettman Asleep at the Switch?

I know that by now, we've all read at least a couple dozen articles on why the NHL is failing as a representation of the sport of hockey. However, I picked up an article last night that struck me as really interesting.

Asleep at the switch

Sports editor Jon Massie thinks $6.5 million is a lot to pay Alexander Mogilny for one playoff goal.

If you really want to figure out what is killing the National hockey League, look no further than the man at the helm, Mr. Gary Bettman.

Bettman has taken a financially healthy, entertaining league and turned it into the most boring game on ice, one that is drowning in red ink and yet currently prices its tickets out of the range of most of its loyal fans.

Let's begin with Bettman's disastrous expansion vision. He decided that a 21-team league could suddenly support an explosion to 30 teams, even though the other major professional leagues have limited expansion to one or two teams over the past 15 years. Expansion worked in the 1960s because salaries and expenses were relatively low, but today's financial picture could not be more different.

Now part of the blame rests with the owners, of course, because they didn't hesitate to take their cut of the pie from the expansion fees, but they had been sweet-talked by Bettman into believing that the league would sign a fat television contract and that proper marketing would help take the game's popularity to new heights.

Bettman blindly awarded franchises to anyone willing to cough up the exuberant sum of dough. Carolina? Yeah, why not. Atlanta? Sounds great. Mexico City? Absolutely, just give us a couple of years.

And sure enough, Bettman was quick to pat himself on the back when these new teams sold out most of the seats during their first few seasons. Was he actually stupid enough to think that it would continue once the novelty wore off? He boasted about how overall league attendance was up, but isn't it obvious that this was only due to the fact that there were nine more teams in the league?

The rinks in Carolina, Atlanta and Anaheim have thousands of empty seats every night, and Nashville was and would still be in the same boat if it hadn't been for the team's surprising playoff run. No matter how hard Bettman tries to force-feed hockey to these markets, these cities continue to give it the thumbs down.

Are there attendance problems in other cities? Yes, but that has more to do with the quality of the product, which brings us to the other major problem. Goal scoring in the NHL has disappeared, and Bettman has done nothing to bring it back. The final scores in most NHL games could double as scores in the soccer section of the newspaper. The difference is that in soccer, there are far fewer games in the season. A 1-0 victory actually means something in the standings, and fans can go home happy if their team is on the winning end. Goals are expected to be few and far between in soccer, making the celebration that much more pronounced and enjoyable when a player strikes it home. People assume that a high-scoring hockey game is a blowout, but there used to be plenty of 4-3 and 6-5 games, and they were incredible to behold.

There has been much discussion that baseball records that are broken these days shouldn't count because of performance-enhancing drugs, but what about hockey? Granted, the goalies have improved because of better training and positioning, but they are wearing goalie equipment that looks like it was purchased at Big and Tall. Shouldn't they have an asterisk placed beside their names as well?

Today's goaltenders stride 50 feet out of their crease to challenge the shooter, blocking out the entire net and giving the player nothing to shoot at. If players try the dump-and-chase routine, the goaltender calmly stops the puck and plays it out again. If a player gets in the way, it's goaltender interference and a penalty is called. In the 1980s, a goalie with a goals against average (GAA) of 3.50 was an all-star. Now anyone over 2.00 is in danger of a trip down to the minors. Goalies are racking up 10 to 13 shutouts a year. When will that number be deemed excessive? 20 shutouts a year? 30?

Bettman could have enforced restrictions on goalie equipment years ago, but he let the problem snowball to the point where it will now be virtually impossible to reduce the size of the equipment enough to have any meaningful effect. Today's star players are practically all goalies. In the old days, scorers had nicknames because their skills were visible on a nightly basis. Other than a couple of players close to retirement ("Moose" Messier, the "Golden Brett," the "Magnificent One"), the goalies (the "Eagle," the "Dominator", the "Bulin Wall") are the ones who sport nicknames and get all the attention. With all due respect to their profession, this isn't the way it should be.

Nevertheless, the scoring drought would not be nearly as extreme if expansion hadn't diluted the talent pool. Bettman is quick to point out that Europeans now make up a large portion of the draft selections, but is every European draft pick suddenly good enough to make it in the NHL? There are still only nine rounds in the draft each year, and now those picks have to be spread out amongst 30 teams.

Teams that are talent deprived are forced to play the trap and rely on garbage goals to win. Wayne Gretzky says the game is just in a "cycle" and that it will eventually enter another high-scoring phase, but this will not happen without drastic changes. The league's bottom-feeders love to slow the game down to a crawl, because it ensures a low-scoring affair that could go their way with a lucky bounce.

I am amazed that no one seems to care that players don't even flirt with 50-goal or 100-point seasons anymore. At one point there were 15 to 20 50-goal scorers a year. Now players like Nik Antropov score 13 goals in a season and that merits a spot on the second line of a Stanley Cup contender. 10 years ago, this guy would have worn out his welcome and been relegated to the IHL.

And today's young talented players really get the short end of the stick. Most of them are forced to play out the prime of their careers in relative obscurity on expansion teams. Also, Teemu Selanne scored 76 goals in his rookie season on a bad team, but today's rookies can expect to tally 20-30 and be rewarded with the Calder trophy.

The NHL is reportedly considering shortening the season by 10 games. This may give the players more stamina over the course of the season, but it's not going to make a huge difference. Besides, the 82 game format was working before; why is it suddenly a significant problem?

Thankfully, the upcoming lockout will provide the owners and players with a chance to fix the game. It is astonishing that Bettman is still around to get this extra chance to correct his mistakes, but let's hope he takes advantage of it. There will be a lockout, and it is the best thing for the game right now. The NHL needs to fold six franchises, bringing the total down to 24. Of those 24 teams, 16 make the playoffs, and the remaining 8 sit on the sidelines. A salary cap is also critical, as the NHL is the only league without a tax or cap on large payrolls. Finally, take the time to make the proper rule changes, which include smaller goalie equipment and the reinstating of casual contact on goalies outside of the crease and the tag-up offside rule.

Gary Bettman has no business running this league, just like Antropov has no business being labelled a "prospect" after years of disappointment. Bring back the days where it was possible to see an end-to-end rush, a great deke and even a 'spinerama' move. Because these days I'd almost rather watch a soccer game, even one that ends in a 0-0 draw.
Now, I'm sure that many of us can agree that Gary Bettman has either got to clean up his act, or has got to go. He might have been good for the NBA at one time, but lately he's proving to be disasterous for the NHL. It's understandable that he's running the league like a business, which is part of what the commissioner is supposed to do. However, it's how he's running the business that pisses me off. Corporations that expand faster than their revenue streams seldomly succeed, and if they do, it takes years of recovery before they can start to cut a profit. It's a big risk trying to introduce a sport to a city that has no connection or understanding of it, and you can't just rely on the case of 'build it, and they will come'. Think about how many kids living in places like Pheonix, Carolina, or Anaheim have fond memories of going out to the frozen pond in the back, and playing a game of shinny into the wee hours of the night. I doubt you'll find very many. It's why I always say there should be a guideline; If your city can't naturally create ice, then it shouldn't have a hockey team. Mind you, it should just be a guideline, and not a hard rule.

So, we inevitably come down to the fact that, sooner or later, Bettman's going to have to admit that his 'Southern Expansion' project has been, and will always be a complete failure. There just isn't the fan support in these cities to justify having a team. Sure, right now there are teams like Tampa Bay that are selling out seats, but what about tomorrow? Look at what happened with the Florida Panthers, the Carolina Hurricanes, or the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. They had no problems selling seats when these teams made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, but aftwards, with the exception of the following year, neither team could consistently fill their venues on a regular basis. (On a side note, there was a story where the Panther execs found out that Bettman was going to be visiting during a game not too long ago, so they called up all their season ticket holders, and gave each of them four free tickets in an attempt to make it look like they were having sell outs. Fortunately, even though Bettman is incompetent, he's not stupid, and he didn't buy into the trick). So, rather than focus on what they don't have, the league should be focussing on what they do have, and make it better. Sort of like a 'bird in the hand' analogy.

And yes, there are other traditional cities, even Canadian cities that have a hard time selling out each game, but can you blame them? To get a decent seat in the Corel Centre up here in Ottawa, it can cost you upwards of $110-250. Even the nose bleed section in the third bowl costs somewhere between $35-80, depending on who's playing, and what part of the season we're at. I mean, fuck! I can remember watching the Winnipeg Jets, and only having to pay $8 for third tier seats. People don't show up to the games nowadays simply because nobody can afford it. Yes, a lot of that extra revenue is going towards exhorbitant player salaries, and that's something the CBA will have to deal with, but hopefully Bettman will make this a number one issue.

As for the goaltender situation, the author of the article brings up an excellent point, and one that I can say I never really thought of before. I always knew that there was a problem with overachieving goaltenders in the league, but I never realized just how much focus everybody was puting on good goaltending. Playing as a forward on a hockey team, I can relate to the frustration of having the perfect shot lined up, only to be stopped not by the goaltender, but by the goaltender's enormous padding. It therefore sickens me when I see a crappy team on the ice who are clearly getting their asses kicked, only to be rescued by their outstanding goaltender. Suddenly everybody stops paying attention to the guys who score goals, and starts paying attention to the guys who prevent goals. Some people might like this, especially if it's their team that's winning (or it's the only way their team can win), but it's simply not how the game was meant to be played. A team is not made of one man. It used to be 'You win as a team, and you lose as a team'. Now, you can lose as a team, but still win the game.

Now, don't get me wrong. I never advocate that a high scoring game means a good game. I've seen some pretty damn good games that ended up in either a 0-0 draw, or even 1-0. However, if you look at how things are today, play on the ice is so stifled, that chances rarely come, and when they do, teams might as well have a brick wall in their net. I sincerely doubt we will ever see another superstar emerge in this league. Even Gretzky himself admitted had he been playing today, he wouldn't have been able to have all those record breaking seasons.

There have been several suggestions on what to do with goaltenders, but the two I agree with the most are 1) decrease the size of the equipment (without risking injury to the goaltender), and 2) let them be hit outside of the net. I'm tired of seeing these goaltenders walk out of their nets, casually grab the puck, and act like they're golden cows. The rule should be, if he has the puck, hit him! End of story. Hell, goaltenders have more padding than anyone else on the ice (except for the other goaltender, of course), and they're just as athletically fit as the rest of the team. If that goaltender decides to leave his net, then he should fear for his life.

And yes, goaltending is important, but it shouldn't be the only reason people come to watch a game.

There are other issues, and I could go on forever. I realize that we will probably never reach the point where we have the perfect game of hockey, but like Confucius once said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step".
"A witty saying proves nothing"
- Voltaire

Last edited by Quadraton; 04-29-2004 at 06:46 PM..
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Old 04-29-2004, 12:45 PM   #2 (permalink)
It's all downhill from here
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Location: Denver
I agree that if the goaltender leaves the crease, he should be fair game. That would change so much all by itself. And even though I hate to think about it, the lockout "could be" just what we need. Let's hope it doesn't take them forever to figure things out.
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Old 04-29-2004, 01:33 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Location: in the backwoods
The Stars operate in a city where you wouldn't naturally find much ice, but seem to be doing alright. I agree though about the need to reduce the goaltender padding and the schedule.
interesting and topical link:

2000-01 2001-02 2002-03
National Hockey League 16549 16486 16591
Montreal Canadiens 20105 18990 20672
Detroit Red Wings 19995 20058 20058
Philadelphia Flyers 19576 19569 19325
St. Louis Blues 19518 18485 18570
Toronto Maple Leafs 19255 18338 19240
Minnesota Wild 18328 18015 18500
New York Rangers 18200 18039 18148
Colorado Avalanche 18007 18007 18007
Buffalo Sabres 17840 16765 13776
Ottawa Senators 17793 16919 17198
San Jose Sharks 17468 16994 17350
Columbus Blue Jackets 17457 18136 17744
Vancouver Canucks 17017 17713 18396
Dallas Stars 17001 17628 18532
Calgary Flames 16623 15719 16239
Pittsburgh Penguins 16336 14895 14749
Nashville Predators 15824 14789 13228
Los Angeles Kings 15813 16314 17569
New Jersey Devils 15642 15926 14858
Edmonton Oilers 15612 16539 16657
Washington Capitals 15534 16493 15787
Boston Bruins 15433 15404 15029
Atlanta Thrashers 15263 13368 13476
Chicago Black Hawks 14997 15569 14749
Tampa Bay Lightning 14907 15366 16545
Florida Panthers 14679 16084 15428
Phoenix Coyotes 14224 13161 13229
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 13512 11646 13988
Carolina Hurricanes 13346 15052 15682
New York Islanders 11332 14549 14930

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Old 04-29-2004, 01:52 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Location: Where the music's loudest
I don't have a problem with 'soccer' scores as there seems to always be something else happening on the ice that's interesting to watch, other than the puck hitting hte netting.

I do agree that if the netminder is out of the crease, he's fair game.
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Old 04-29-2004, 02:02 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Location: Beeeeeautiful Bel Air, MD
Quick thoughts...

...Carolina wasn't an expansion team; not a major error, but he did use it as part of his evidence...

...You can't just make some arbitrary guideline like "if your city can't naturally create ice". Places like Atlanta, Carolina, and Nashville get ice every year...

...Some teams need to be cut. Florida, Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, Phoenex, and Carolina would be a start. Three teams from each conference. You go back to 4 divisions of six...

...You change the playoffs. Top three teams from each division, or six from each conference, so 12 teams. Better teams are in the playoffs, making the games better...

...Make serious changes to goalie pads to eliminate the huge advantage they get...

...Finally, salary cap, salary cap, salary cap.
"Final thought: I just rented Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. Frankly, it was the worst sports movie I've ever seen."
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Old 04-29-2004, 02:20 PM   #6 (permalink)
Location: Ottawa, ON, Canada
Originally posted by djtestudo
...You can't just make some arbitrary guideline like "if your city can't naturally create ice". Places like Atlanta, Carolina, and Nashville get ice every year...
I was being facetious.
"A witty saying proves nothing"
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Old 04-29-2004, 02:46 PM   #7 (permalink)
Location: Sarasota
Interesting discussion.

I heard the other day that there are no rules re: the size of goalies equipment. Stupid. It's surprising that it hasn't got worse. Supposedly the blocker and leg pads are fully 4 inches wider than just four years ago. Crazy. And I agree, this is what a commissioner is for. Just make a freakin' rule. How hard is that?

I think Bettman is out for his own glory and somehow he equates expansion with that. Hard for me to argue against expansion though 'cause the Lightning are my team.

I compare it to expanding baseball into Canada. Baseball when it's snowing? WTF? I guess like anything, it's what you are used to.

BTW, have you seen that Vegas now has the Lightning as the favorites to win the Cup? 5-2 odds. I'm certainly not counting my chickens but Detroit and the Leafs are old, we own Philly, the Av's don't seem to be in sync this year. San Jose is a lot like us I think. Good young guys with a few veterans mixed in.

People aren't giving us much credit but we have the (soon to be) MVP of the league (St.Louis), excellent depth (Lecavalier, Stillman, Richards, Modin, Kubina), veterans (Andreychuk, Sydor) and a couple of enforcers (Roy, Dingman). Not to mention the 'Bulin Wall and an excellent coach who seems to be making all the right moves. Exciting times around here.
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Old 04-29-2004, 06:06 PM   #8 (permalink)
Location: Ottawa, ON, Canada
It's not good to count your chickens before they hatch. Look at the Senators last year. They were the President Trophy winners, had one of the League's most potent offence, best defence, yet all it took was one bad goal in the final game of the third round to knock them out. Not saying the Lightning are a bad team, but what makes the Playoffs so great is that anything can happen.
"A witty saying proves nothing"
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Old 04-29-2004, 07:08 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Location: Mostly standing in a blue semi-circle
I'm not a big fan of Bettman either. He has turned the game I love into a friggin atrocity. Almost everything in that article is dead on to the current situation in hockey. He tried to make it more marketable to the masses but just alienated it. Ticket prices are insanely overpriced, even though I still pay em . It's a hell of a lot more fun and affordable to go see a minor league game these days.

The trap...I've been a Devils fan most my life but goddamn does it make for some boring hockey. As much as I don't like the sharks(get rid of the teal please!) you have to admit they play exciting fast paced hockey, and they've done it with no superstars and a pretty slim payroll in comparison.

I also agree with the goalie statements, and I play net 3 nights a week. Nothing big, just your local beer leagues. The size of gear is crazy these days and the construction of it has made it lighter so it is a hell of a lot easier to move in it. Im not sure of the size kickers Giguere wore last season but I know they were over 40 inches long with thighboards and probably 12 inches across! That right there takes up what...around 60% of the net just standing there. Alter the goalie interference rule so that if you are out of the crease it will not apply to you, A lot of goalies will think twice about going behind the net to play the puck with someone like Hossa coming down the boards.
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Old 04-30-2004, 08:32 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Location: Black Mesa
Taking out the goalie interference rule could have some serious backlash. As soon as "a guy like Hossa" starts clobbering a wee goalie like Kippersoff for example we're going to see tons of injuries.

I'm not saying these guys need to be treated like ballerinas, but once the gloves come off the goalie is going to be the first guy carted of the ice on a backboard. And as the Canucks learned this year...back up goalies are backups for a reason.

The one change I would like to see in the NHL is the removal of the curve limit on the sticks. Sometime in the 60's they decided that a heavily curved stick (bananna blade) made wrist shot's too dangerous. Well guess what, the goalies are wearing ballistic armour these days, fire away boys. A harder, faster, more accurate wrist shot would result in alot more 'pretty' goals from the slot and the top of the circle (or the blue line for that matter, when's the last time you saw a blue line goal?).
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Old 04-30-2004, 09:23 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Location: Mostly standing in a blue semi-circle
I said alter the rule, not remove it. But I do understand your point. I'm just against the free pass you get if you have a good goalie who can play the puck. As for the gloves coming off, you remember when Cloutier beat the hell out of Tommy Salo and then challenged the whole Islander bench...man that was great

Another huge thing in the league now is that chumps are not punished for their actions on the ice. Barry Melrose bought up a good point last night when Ville Nieminen ran Cujo at the end of the game. There was no reason for that...but guys like him go around and do stuff like that all the time now.
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Old 04-30-2004, 09:42 AM   #12 (permalink)
I pretty much agree with what everyone has to say here. Part of me hopes that when hockey returns, it will take me a few games to get used to what I am seeing. I personally don't think we will see a lot of injuries to goaltenders if the rule is changed, mainly because goalies will not venture very far from the crease. I love the way Marty Turco plays, but I would love to see him have to make a decision to play the puck instead of just flying out of his crease for every dump in. It adds a really exciting element to the game that is sorely lacking right now.

Having said all of that, I am not a big fan of the reactionary rule change. It happens all the time. Scoring goes down, so we get rid of the red line, decresase the size of the pads, etc. and scoring goes up. Three years later, scoring to too much so they bring back the red line and decrease the size of the goal. Three years later, goalies are too good so they make them play with blindfolds on. You get the idea. I think the health of the league all depends on how interested people are in the games. Scoring and offense don't always equal attendance. The Texas Rangers are a good example of that. They built their teams in the early 00s around home runs, and no one came to the games, even though they were losing 12-10.

A study of the NFL would be interesting. They have fewer games (baseball and hockey should look into this), and they are the absolute best at marketing their players. This is the area that the NHL fails miserably. Unless you are a hardcore hockey fan, you would never know Joe Sakic or Martin St. Louis if they passed you on the street. And even then, you might have trouble. Betteman has to make the league something that people want to go see, to enjoy, and no one likes to see a game where the superstars (Sakic, etc.) are being prevented from doing what they do best by a guy who just follows him around and slashes, clutches, and grabs him every time he gets some open ice.

The NHL is frustrating to me right now, because some of the answers seem so obvious to me. I know it is easy to play armchair commissioner, but how hard is it to say "Hey, the goalie pads shouldn't be able to block every shot. Let's fix that problem right now."
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