As the NHL and its followers approach the Christmas holiday, I thought I would express some wishes that I have for the league, its players, and fans.
My first wish is for increased intelligence among the league's players. Injuries, most notably those to the head and neck region, have reached near epidemic levels in the league. Given the amount of work on Brendan Shananhan's desk, the stiffer penalties associated with dumb play don't appear to be much of a deterrent. Let us consider the example of Mr. Andy Sutton, who twice this season has been leveled with multi-game suspensions. His first suspension occurred after he intentionally went head hunting on a player (Gabriel Landeskog) not involved with the puck. After missing five games, he topped that off by leaving his feet to destroy Alexei Ponikarovsky. Either he is the stupidest player skating these days or he simply didn't read the rule book. And now he's crying about being Shanahammered? I'm all for hard play, but when you cross that line, and your efforts are not only jeopardizing a player's career, but the overall success of the league as well?then there is little use for you in said league. This leads me to my second wish...
Here's hoping we see improved health for the fallen stars?Giroux, Pronger, Crosby, Staal, et.al. It doesn't matter what you think of these players. I happen to despise both Crosby AND Pronger. But you have to consider the importance of star power and its influence on ratings. If Giroux, Pronger and Staal are hanging with the owners on Jan. 2nd, diehard fans won't see the game they expected, and casual fans won't be able to put a face to the product. I am not trying to discount the importance of the role player and that player's health. I am saying that the All-Stars create buzz, and buzz creates ratings, and ratings generate profits?which makes that role player happier come collective bargaining time.
My final wish involving player safety focuses on equipment manufacturers. Provided nuclear physicists like Andy Sutton can adhere to the rules, we need to see more in the ways of innovation to keep these players safe. Hockey legend Mark Messier was recently touting a new helmet design with this in mind. There have been accounts that all the major manufacturers have put safety first in new helmet design, but the players choose helmet options that are more attractive and sacrifice the helmets true intent. If this is true, make it attractive. God knows I won't buy an electric car until they can make one that doesn't resemble some futuristic Matchbox car that I had when I was eight. So I get it. I do, however, find it funny that a group littered with bad hair and hillbilly teeth would be that concerned about helmet attractiveness.
For the fan who complains about the new division alignment coming next season, I ask for patience. This is a good thing for everyone involved. Players will be traveling less which should hopefully improve the product on the ice. Rivalries will intensify. The ecstasy of beating your hated rival and the sting of losing to them will only sharpen as the season progresses.
This proposal is to live hockey what NHL Center Ice is to televised hockey. No matter where you live, you should be able to see your team in a nearby market. Every fan knows how much more you can appreciate hockey when viewing it from a fold-down seat as opposed to a recliner. There is no more guess work as to whether or not you will be taking that pilgrimage to Chicago to see your beloved Bruins.
Sure...there is a chance that your team could get screwed out of the last playoff spot. Well...they should have played better. Seriously, the NFL sees its share of playoff screw jobs (I'm talking about you, Seattle), but the league still thrives. Get over it.
Finally, I hope the new found success for a number of upstarts continues. The Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, and St. Louis Blues have outperformed everyone's expectations. This success expands the media's view of the league, which in turn gives exposure to markets and players that would have otherwise been ignored. In addition to these three, Winnipeg and Edmonton hover around .500 and play in environments that are filled with postseason-like energy. Have you watched a Jets game? I had the good fortune to watch Selanne's homecoming game and smiled every time the hockey-starved Jets fans erupted. It was quite a scene. Edmonton's games make you think you have ADD as you try to focus on one of the many future All-Stars that adorn their roster. The futures for these collective teams appear to be quite optimistic for once.
Follow me on Twitter @SBooch1