The NHL is going the way of the NFL, and burdening the game, the fans, the broadcasters, and the players with absurdly long reviews on that just rob the fastest game on earth of all its trademark speed. You just can’t do that.

Several times a week, sometimes more than once in the same game, we’re all bored to tears watching multiple views of a something in slow motion that happened at full speed, an ever increasing number of minutes ago. The question is why?

We all know the offsides rules are there to prevent unfair advantages and force teams to play in all three zones so the game doesn’t turn into tennis on ice. And that makes sense. A guy who gets into the zone two or three seconds, or strides ahead of the opponent has a clear advantage. But how long does that advantage last? We see the fastest players in the NHL make full laps of the rink in as little as 13 seconds up to 15 seconds. Goalies go from the crease to the bench in about seven seconds.

When it stops being an advantage, shouldn’t it stop negating a goal? If a goalie  gets bumped, has a chance to reset, and three seconds later the opposing team scores that goal isn’t waived off. Why should a goal where a player entered fifteen, thirty or even more seconds before the puck enters the net be negated? Sometimes that player isn’t on the ice any more.

Here’s the rule change the NHL needs:

If a puck enters the net more than ten seconds after a play is deemed offsides, and no other infraction occurs the goal shall count. 

The NHL has seen a lot of things in its time. Full fledged bench emptying brawls, skates that cut necks and knees, changes to the rules for icing, and even the glowing puck. Each of those has come and gone, and some will be seen again. The NHL and how it is perceived in the world have survived all of those things pretty well. I’m not sure the hockey world is ready to embrace Patrice Bergeron as a frequent flier in the church of sin.

Sure Bergeron plays on every inch of the ice doing whatever is needed to push the team along towards success. He’s killed penalties, played in all possible spots on the power play and skated with some highly questionable “N”HL talent some years. What he’s never done is be among the Bruins PIM leaders. Of the currently active Boston Bruins just three guys sit ahead of him, two of them got their with a combined seven fights, Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand got their partly on reputation and partly because he’s Brad Marchand being Brad Marchand.

Any one who’s watched Bergeron play over the years has seen him frequently enter a battle along the boards or at the blue line, engage full force and walk away with the puck. What we haven’t seen him do is take many penalties. His career high for penalty minutes was during the 2009-10 season when he racked up just 28 over the course of 73 games. This season in a slim 36 games he’s already up to 25, including his first regular season NHL fight. A fight which came only a little over six months after a playoff bout with Evgeni Malkin.

The operative question is: Why? He hadWhen you add up with the number of penalty plays that can be laid at the feet of frustration in the last year or so, you have to ask what is causing this?

Possibility A:

  • He’s unhappy with the effort one or more of his teammates are bringing to the game night in and night out.

If so, he’s in theory trying to spark the team to more emotion, or maybe make himself trade able in the eyes of fans and management.

Possibility B:

  • He’s underwhelmed with the skill he’s been put between and wants to make sure the organization’s leadership sees it for themselves.

If so, he is simply lobbying for the team to spend to the caps that will coming along down the line and is hoping to see either more talent acquired for his line, or a reshuffling of the roster that allows him to play a more offensive part.

Possibility C:

  • He’s got one or more off ice issues that are eating at him.

If this is the case, much as Ovechkin’s slump when his grandfather died, it will work itself out, eventually.

Possibility D:

  • At the ripe old age of 28 he’s having some sort of midlife crisis.

Odd as it may sound, this could be true. He’s won at the WJC, won a Stanley Cup, won Olympic Gold, won Gold at the Spengler Cup, won gold at the World Championship, was an NHL Young Star his rookie season, won MVP & All Star at WJC, the Selke Award and the King Clancy award. Realistically, what else is there for him to do in the NHL or hockey in general?

Possibility E:

  • He’s sick to death of blatant calls not being made by officials and is simply more willing to defend himself now.

At one point Joe Thornton who is a likely hall of fame inductee almost retired because of the amount of nonsense he had to endure, Jumbo Joe is a whole lot bigger than Bergeron. The current crop of NHL officials is suspect on good days, and their aren’t many of those.

Whatever the reason(s) he’s getting more familiar with the penalty box, it is slightly disturbing. At his current pace he’ll likely finish the season around 60 PIMs. That’s more than double his previous high, and not something the Bruins can afford long term in their most valuable skater.

The shootout is one of the “innovations” in hockey that just doesn’t work. Like the glowing puck it was a nice idea as long as you ignore every fundamental and secondary thing wrong with it. Those faults are legion. It is time to put the shootout in the history books.

Here’s the plan:

  1. The first over time period will be thirty minutes. Tv break after the 19th minute, and 2 minutes and 30 seconds of commercials during a ten minute break between subsequent overtimes.
  2. Second, and additional overtimes will be forty minutes with 90 second breaks for commercials and ice repair at the stoppage nearest the 30 minute mark.
  3. No trapezoid in over time.
  4. If a team lost a player for the duration during the first period, that player can be replaced at coaches discretion by any player who took pregame warmups in the second or later overtimes.
  5. Strict faceoff timing, no one gets thrown out for cheating, drop the puck and be done in 10 seconds or less.
  6. From the second overtime on all faceoffs not following a penalty will be in the zone of the team that took the most minor penalties in the first four periods.
  7. Refs waive off penalties with low potential for injury (hooking, “interference”, unsportsmanlike [verbal abuse of officials and similar], slashing the stick, … ) but strictly call real slashes, tripping, goaltender interference, high sticking and other penalties that could end someones night, season or career.

Why?

The goal of eliminating the shootout is to make sure the game ends on hockey plays. Not phantom calls, no idiotic non calls and no skills competition. The trapezoid is anti-hockey and needs to go as badly as shootout, but I don’t see it happening. The extended periods will push teams to finish the game in regulation, play to win from the puck drop, and minimize over running of time slots. Adding in players who took warmups in place of injured players means there is more opportunity to create mismatches for coaches and hence win the game.

Ideally the whole thing could be put into practice next season for every game. More reasonably, initiating it so that only games within a division saw this format the first year might be the best way to pitch it to the networks.

This past season was interesting. With the compressed schedule it is hard to keep track of all 30 teams, or even just three or four. There were however been a few noticeable things that have crept into regular appearances in games league wide.

The first is plain and simple stupid that creeps into the play of otherwise sensible players. There is no other way to describe Volchenkov’s suspend-able hit on Brad Marchand. Volchenkov will play his 600th NHL game sometime early next season, he handily dishes out over 100 and often close to 200 hits a season, and yet has just 404 minutes in penalties in his career including the five he was assessed for trying to crack open Brad Marchand’s skull.

The second thing about this season that isn’t surprising, is the absolute collapse of good teams late in games. This season saw numerous games turn around completely not because one team got early bounces and the other got later game bounces, but based on who had played and traveled the least in the past week. If the NHL really wants to be the worlds top skill league, another lockout will damage that as much by talent bleed to the KHL and SHL as by turning in a season of supremely ugly hockey. The third period of games across the NHL were purely ugly this year, it didn’t matter if it was the eventual champions in Chicago, the slick skating Carolina Hurricanes, the lionhearted Columbus Blue Jackets or one of the leagues lottery teams.

Perhaps the biggest thing to suffer in the NHL this season was the officiating. Consistency didn’t exist call to call much less period to period or game to game. In a lifetime of watching the NHL,  can honestly say I’ve never seen the leagues officiating at such a low water mark. The only comparable for NHL Officials this season would be the NFL’s replacement referees, and it probably does the NFL scabs a disservice. Interference calls that were made on a regular basis the first three weeks of the season were weeks dead at the trade deadline. All season long you had as much chance of nailing jelly to the wall as pinning down exactly what was and wasn’t goaltending interference. Some games you could get away with what looked like full stride charges into the crease from the faceoff dot, other games getting pushed into the opposing goalie by their teammate would land you in the sin bin for two minutes.

None of these defects is something you want to sell the game to new fans. Bad hockey, isn’t endearing to existing fans. As the league prepares for its near inevitable expansion, these things have to be addressed. When the NHL sets up it tent in new cities, it needs not just the national sponsors who can be sold on the sexy numbers of big markets and 32 or more major markets, but the local business communities wherever the new franchises land. Why should an advertiser spend millions of dollars to advertise in an arena that isn’t going to see many ticket sales because the product is uncertain, and the market as of yet has no loyalty to it?  There are very few major corporations that don’t pay attention to who they are tying their name to, the recession that has gripped North America and much of the world has weeded out many of those who didn’t. The bottom line is that advertising decisions are made by people, the best people to have making those crucial choices for the NHL and its franchises are fans.

One of the things that I hope both sides of the NHL/NHLPA showdown over how the next decades money will be split is that the current discipline system is utterly inadequate. As mentioned previously diving is an issue that needs to be shot dead. With fines that might as well not exist despite their being cheating as unfair as performance enhancing drugs (and far more common) nothing has been done to curb it.

But the diving is just one small part. There needs to be power for oversight of officiating given to the NHLPA. Some officials clearly are incompetent to hand towels to the officials who do take the ice. Some mechanism for forceful correction of the egregiously bad officiating needs to come into being, immediately. It could even be a joint General Mangers/Governors NHLPA work group to address the worst of the mess.

The third level is bringing in a person or persons to be the basis for appeals. Currently the disciplinarian is installed by Gary Bettman, who also get’s to in his own sweet time decide on appeals. As we’ve seen with the Raffi Torres debacle, without a strict deadline Bettman is able to effectively pocket veto any suspensions he doesn’t wish to address. Him doing so is unfair to the team owners, the players and the fans. Is Raffi Torres going to be the reason a team wins or loses a playoff series? Unlikely, but what if the next person appealing is Alex Ovechkin who is now a “repeat offender” if Bettman answers in any less time than elapsed in the Torres case he’ll clearly be showing favoritism. He’s doubly undermined the system and it makes the NHL look bad.

There are other problems that need to be dealt with sure, but these issues can affect teams bottom line by millions of dollars a year and should not be ignored.

Truth #1

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had no business being in the NHL this season.

As everyone with a functioning frontal lobe knew he had the skill to be in the NHL, but not the body. His two separate injuries are ample proof of this. Twenty games missed, and now a  shoulder that is likely to become a recurring injury. What good did his being in the NHL do the Oilers this season? They were still a lottery team. The Oilers burnt a year of his entry level contract to no long term gain for the organization. The development of Magnus Paaravi and other prospects was pushed back as well. Instead of rushing Nugent-Hopkins to the NHL, the Oilers “leadership” should have taken the long view and had him on a strong conditioning stint that would have packed some muscle onto his frame. While no hockey player needs to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1980,  a lot of winning faceoffs is muscle, and his 37.5% win percentage added to the injuries, and the eyeball test speak volumes.

Truth #2

The on ice #NHLOfficials and Brendan Shanahan’s Department of Player Safety Propaganda have done such a marvelous job over the last seven or eight months that no one knows what a penalty short of the Raffi Torres late-leap-headshot actually is. This is like the courts tossing out every fourth case short of murder and alternating twenty year sentences and community service for all other charges regardless of if they were property damage, manslaughter or jay walking. Most fans, and many players who have played close attention all year long are no closer to a definitive understanding what exactly is a clip, a late hit, or a charge today than in the Campbell era. We have learned however that headshot’s really aren’t a priority. When clipping and boarding calls get harsher suspensions, the handwriting is on the walls and superimposed on the image of every NHL broadcast.

20: The officials healthcare plan doesn’t include vision.

10: Owners know it’s cheaper to lean on Bettman to have calls made to favor their team than it is to pay good teams.

9: European soccer leagues have too high a standard for diving.

8: Kerry Fraser is their idol.

7: Those who can do, those who can’t officiate.

6: The NHL is trying to take the pressure off of NBA officials as the worst in sports.

5: A league that only has five national advertisers can’t be too picky about the people left over from Wal-Mart’s job fairs.

4: #NHLOfficials are more concerned with saving their backsides than calling a good game.

3: Accountability is soooo overrated.

2: If they aren’t seen on tv more times a period than the goalie how will they ever get their big Hollywood break?

1: Hello, my name is Tim Peel.

The NHL has a problem with diving. With some organizations it’s traditional and so much ingrained in their culture even most of their fans acknowledge it. Some NHL stars get away with it on a regular basis. The only player I can name off the top of my head who has been whistled for it more than once this season is Alex Semin. One would think that in a league so conscious of it’s image that it would suspend a player indefinitely for out of uniform, outside the locker room, perfectly legal statements to the media might place a great emphasis on the the integrity of the on ice product. Not so.

The real reason diving will not stop or diminish, and will likely even increase in coming seasons is pretty simple; the NHL doesn’t want to stop diving. There is even the twisty collection of excuses the NHL substitutes for logic behind it. The NHL would rather have another goal to show in the highlight shows from the resultant powerplays when someone cheats, than force players to clean up their act or hold their officials accountable. I’ve watched hockey for decades and can’t think of a single season where two different coaches were fined for publicly criticizing the on ice officials. Neither Tom Renny nor John Torterella are exactly new to the NHL. Neither is all that young, and both have been around to see exactly what NHL officiating looks like.


This dive was well rewarded, the Penguins were already on a powerplay, and this Emmy Award worthy performance turned a 5-4 into a 5-3.

You want proof you say that the NHL doesn’t want to discourage diving? Ok, take a look at NHL Rule 64. We all know about the on ice rule, 2 minutes for flagrant cheating, the equivalent of accidentally sending the puck out of play over the high glass from your defensive end. Obviously a well considered rule, really. The important part is what can happen off the ice:

64.3 Fines and Suspensions – Regardless if a minor penalty for diving / embellishment is called, Hockey Operations will review game videos and assess fines to players or goalkeepers who dive or embellish a fall or a reaction, or who feign injury. See also Rule 28 – Supplementary Discipline. The call on the ice by the Referee is totally independent of supplementary discipline.

The first such incident during the season will result in a warning letter being sent to the player or goalkeeper. The second such incident will result in a one thousand dollar ($1,000) fine. For a third such incident in the season, the player shall be suspended for one game, pending a telephone conversation with the Director of Hockey Operations. For subsequent violations in the same season, the player’s suspension shall double (i.e. first suspension – one game, second suspension – two games, third suspension – four games, etc.) See also Rule 28 – Supplementary Discipline.

So, first offense you get a note sent home to your parents telling them you’ve been naughty? Second offense you get fined less than what most NHL stars spend on a suit, or what James Neal spends on two or three days hair product? Third time you get a day off to perfect your technique so you don’t get caught any more. Oh The Humanity!

There’s a problem here, ok several. How many letters does the NHL send out for the first offense in a year? Even a form letter where all the off ice official has to do is type in the players name, time of infraction and sign it? If I had to guess I’d say the number was less than five a year, and I’m being generous. No one can look at that rule, know the impact a well timed dive can have and not thoroughly understand the rule is an embarrassment to organized sports. Will all of the lovely Shanny Shorts videos released this season, all the fine announcements, I haven’t seen a single fine or suspension announced for diving.

This rule is as completely absurd as all those weird laws you get in granny spam. The scam artists who engage in this are no better than the Nigerian spammers, or the people who sell fake event tickets outside the arena. No one opens their wallet to go to a game to watch people flop all over the place, no one wants to pay for Center Ice or GameCenter for that privilege either. While there are lots of ways to address this issue on the ice, off the ice the best solution is simple: Two game suspension for the offender, the first to be served in the next game, the next to be served the next time the offenders team is scheduled to play the team they cheated against, even if the player is traded or signs with another team should those happen before the next meeting.