Monday, June 11, 2007

Requiem For a Hockey League

The NHL is dead... at least to me.

There I said it. I refuse to be another hockey apologist, who claims that everything is fine with the game, that the product has never been better. I have gone the other way completely. I'm afraid that I may have given up on professional hockey. I am deliberately hard on the NHL, I openly admit that and make no apologies for it. But my stance on the NHL is not arbitrary and without reason. And my reason is this - I used to love this game. Hockey defined my life as a young boy. But now I look at this game that I used to love and it makes me sick to my stomach at how the NHL continually embarrasses itself and drags the game of hockey through the mud. There, now at least my bias and agenda are out in the open and I can carry on with the NHL season wrap-up.

Did you ever hear the one about the U.S president who started a war that was so unpopular and who was so universally reviled, that he tried to distract his people anyway he could, even going as far as suggesting going to Mars? In a magic act this is what they call misdirection. The magician distracts the crowd's eye so they don't see him stuffing a rabbit down his pants. And I admit that sometimes it easy to fall for. But don't. You will never find any truth or substance with the misdirection. Always be wary of grand plans and out of this world goals, they are probably meant to distract you from the ugly truth.

Keeping that in mind, did you happen to catch NHL deputy-commissioner Bill Daly's comments last week and the following puff-piece from the CanWest News Service? The long and the short of it is that the NHL now apparently has strong interest in getting teams in Las Vegas and Kansas City, with Hollywood 'big deal' Jerry Bruckheimer apparently interested in owning a team. The article also mentioned the NHL's proposed expansion into Europe (thankfully, they are not seriously considering this, just theorizing about it).

Now haven't we all been taken on this ride before? As far as I can tell there was once strong interest in hockey in Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida, Atlanta and Nashville. Anyone know how those franchises are currently doing? I'll tell you - they can barely give tickets away. And now the NHL is considering expansion into another two non-traditional hockey markets. Even if I weren't a hockey fan, I don't think I'd be able to see how this makes any sense, especially from a business perspective. Apparently the NHL owners have no problem with bailing out another failed franchise 5 years down the road, as long as they get their money right now.

And the whole Europe thing... well you can just insert your own punch line here _________.

Don't ever let anyone tell you that the game is fine, the game is not fine. Let's go through it, shall we:

- The on-ice product has regressed greatly over the last 2 post-lockout years. The obstruction is being taken out of the game but this means an endless parade to the penalty box, which kills any flow a game might have. The solution to this? I don't know, I think an increase in the size of the ice surface needs to be looked at. The players are simply too big, too strong, too fast and wear too much equipment today for the size of the ice. Have you ever watched old NHL games on TV? I have and the one thing I notice more than anything is how small the players look compared to today. I think the key to the game is in the size of the ice. I know owners will complain about losing revenue from having to take out seats to accommodate the bigger surface, but come on, it's not like there selling all their tickets anyway.

- Scoring is way down from a year ago as well, which is hard to explain given all the penalties that are being called. Obviously more powerplays does not equal more scoring, much to the chagrin of the NHL.

- This years playoffs were uneventful at best and downright unwatchable at worst. Of everyone I talked to about the playoffs, almost everybody had lost interest and stopped watching after the first round. Not a good sign when even Canadians have stopped paying attention. The reason I think is that the season is at least 10 games too long, maybe even a month too long. Why on earth would I still want to be watching hockey in June?

- The TV ratings are so bad in the U.S it's just too easy to make a joke about it. I'll just tell you the facts - Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final received NBC's lowest rating ever for a Saturday night, beating out the previous champ, a 2 year old re-run of the West Wing. It's enough already, these rating are an embarrassment to the league. Some say that any press is good press but having your league mocked on a nation-wide scale does nothing to grow the game. The simple fact of the matter is that nobody is watching the games.

- The salary-cap that was supposed to save the NHL and give everyone an equal playing field has gone up for the second straight year. In less that 5 years the league is going to be in the same position it was before the lockout. Even though there is going to be a cap on what teams can spend, pretty soon teams won't be able to spend up to that cap. Montreal has already announced that they're raising ticket prices to deal with the cap increase. I thought that the cap supposed to stop things like that from happening.

- Attendance is very, very sad in a lot of cities. Sure places like Calgary, Toronto and Buffalo sell out all the time but for every Calgary there seems to be 2 Nashville's. The NHL's official attendance number's are lies, that's all they are. There may be 11,000 people at a game in Carolina on occasion but you can bet that 11,000 people didn't pay for tickets. The NHL's numbers are padded by corporate giveaway tickets and other giveaways of that nature. Sure it might be nice to have that many people in the seats, but giving tickets away doesn't do much for a teams bottom line. Even traditional hockey cities like Chicago and Detroit are struggling to sell tickets. Chicago because they are terrible and have been for over a decade, which is very sad and a whole other story, and Detroit because the economy there is so bad that there is not a lot of money left over for hockey tickets. Did you know that Detroit made it to the Conference Finals and didn't sell out one playoff game?

- The Stanley Cup Champion is Anaheim. Just let that sink in for second. Anaheim. I don't really have a problem with the team, they had more Canadians than Ottawa, although I do think that Brian Burke needs to shut his mouth for the good of the game (nobody embarrasses himself more with old fashioned thinking, except maybe Don Cherry). But I don't think it's a good sign that a city where only about 12,ooo people show up to the victory celebration is the league champion. (How many would have shown up last year if Edmonton had won, or two years ago if Calgary had won?) Is the league going to benefit at all by having its champion in a city where nobody really cares about hockey? How do I know that nobody cares you may ask? Well I have a source in Irvine, California (which is about 10 minutes from Anaheim) and this person said that the day after the Ducks won the cup, nobody, absolutely nobody was talking about hockey. The only thing that people in the office where this source works were talking about was Paris Hilton. That is the sad reality of the situation.

What does all this add up to? I'm not really sure. All I know for sure is that I have never been less interested in hockey than I was this year. The NHL is sick and it seems like it's on the brink of being broken beyond repair. This game used to mean too much for me to watch it go further and further down the drain. And that is why I'm so hard on it.

1 comment:

Hobbes70 said...

I read your critique of the NHL and somewhat agree with you.

The guy that I know in CA has called me throughout the playoffs to offer a GO DUCKS almost every day. His daughter and her boyfriend has season tickets (4) and were able to get a huge offer for two of the tickets for each of the games of the finals and for the semi's as well.

I noticed a lot more this year being in a draft and keeping closer track of what was happening.

In terms of the players in the league being larger, faster etc., that goes without saying. What kind of training was being done back in the 70's and 80's. You sure didn't see a player riding an exercise bike after a game ... they had left it all on the ice.

The training that goalies take on makes them better. They cover the same real estate as always, but now are wearing larger equipment and have better reaction times - leading to fewer goals.

Want to open up the game ... remove offsides.