Usually I enjoy Pierre LeBrun’s commentary, and his Twitter account has been especially informative throughout the hard-to-follow NHL labor negotiations. But in his latest piece for ESPN.com – proving that the sports giant still cares little and knows little about hockey – LeBrun provides a thoroughly ridiculous list of ten ways the NHL can recover after the eventual loss of the 2012-13 season. Each is more laughably perplexing than the last.
1. Give away the NHL Center Ice package for the entire season after you return, as well as the Game Center package online. If you’re going to beg fans to return, might as well make it easy on them.
Why on Earth would a greed-strapped league, whose success largely depends on the quality of its television deal, give anyway a pricey television package when it’s already charging $20 for a Blue Jackets keychain two-pack?
As anyone in the New York/New Jersey area will tell you, cable and television companies are petty, spiteful, and near impossible to deal with – much like the NHL, actually. Neither the NHL nor DirecTV, Dish, or especially Cablevision will give away anything for free. Remember when the NHL blocked NBC Sports from airing Operation Hat Trick, a charity game to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy?
2. Ensure that realignment happens for the 2013-14 season. The buzz that surrounded the realignment conversation last season during the NHL’s failed attempt at switching up its conferences and divisions was surreal. Fans loved debating the future look of the league. The NHLPA, which blocked realignment last year, must work with the NHL to make realignment happen for next season. It’s what the fans want.
Realignment would be awful for the game. The divisions may need slight adjustment given that Winnipeg and Atlanta are two vastly different geographical areas, and the travel that the Jets must endure is unfair and impractical. But a four conference format will only alienate casual American fans, who have been conditioned to expect two conferences. Either way, LeBrun fails to make sense. If fans loved debating realignment, it is implied that there was at least division on the issue. How then could it be what the fans want?
4. Bring back the World Cup of Hockey, but make it permanent. More importantly, have the tournament played in February every four years, right smack in the middle of the NHL season — just like the Olympics. And yes, send your NHL players to the Olympics. So in February 2014, you’ve got NHL players in Sochi, Russia, followed by a new World Cup of Hockey in Toronto/Montreal/New York/Philadelphia/Boston in February 2016, etc. So every two years you either have the best in the world playing in the Olympics or the World Cup . . . As for the All-Star Game, all of you know I’d like to see it canned.
The Olympics are likely the most that casual American fans will care about international play, and anything more would be overkill. If there is really such a demand for international play, purists can watch the world’s most promising young players – those who ought to be competing in the Olympics, after all – in the World Junior Championships, and yearly. There is simply no need for another international hockey championship. And regarding the All-Star Game – as long as it is no where nearly as bad as the NFL’s Pro Bowl, there is no immediate reason for getting rid of it.
5. Let’s bring in Ken Holland’s idea regarding three-on-three overtime as a way to freshen up the overtime/shootout format. You still play four-on-four for five minutes, but if there’s still no goal scored, you also play a three-on-three, five-minute period. If there’s still no goal, then you get your shootout.
NHL Hitz, anyone?
7. Change the start of free agency from July 1 to an extension of draft weekend. So when the draft ends on that Saturday in the third week June, I would make Day 1 of free agency that Sunday and keep all 30 NHL front offices (and player agents would be welcome, for obvious reasons) in the draft city for three to four days to create a huge buzz for the start of free agency.
8. In a similar vein, why not also gather all 30 front offices in the same arena for NHL trade deadline day? Make it an even bigger media event with fans in the stands when trades are announced?
Because the entry draft itself is horrible, boring television. Because no other league makes a spectacle out of its trade deadline. Because watching team execs carry out trade before the deadline would be the television equivalent of a Dilbert strip. The NHL would be lucky if audiences tuned in to watch players they won’t see on their team in three or four years get drafted. Even when the league tries to make compelling content, you get a debacle like the NHL Awards. Hockey should be the only thing the National Hockey League is putting on TV.
9. Strongly study the merits of having NHL teams in Europe. I’d move my six weakest NHL markets to Europe and create a European division. I know people will laugh when reading this, but I’m dead serious. Unlike some southern U.S. markets, you don’t have to explain the icing rule to folks in Helsinki, Stockholm, Prague, Zurich, Berlin and Moscow. They love and know the game there. I know there are travel issues that make this less than perfectly ideal, but it’s worth it.
If Winnipeg’s distance from the rest of the teams in its division is enough to warrant realignment, why create an entire division overseas? Never mind that Switzerland and the Czech Republic have thriving leagues, and Russia’s KHL ascended into legitimacy this year thanks to the lockout.
And if you’re making an argument and need to qualify any of your points with “I know people will laugh when reading this, but I’m dead serious,” chances are you’re making an argument worth laughing at.
The only decent suggestions Pierre LeBrun makes are a shorter preseason (I’ll advocate this in any sport) and a longer CBA. LeBrun suggest a 20-year CBA, “with mutual options to back out in Years 7, 11, 15 and 18.” But since both sides are mutually opting to prolong this lockout, it isn’t at all far-fetched to believe we would see another lockout in seven years – one year shorter than the last CBA.
I understand that there might not be much to write about at the moment as the lockout drags on, but crackpot pieces like this will only make these hockey-less months more unbearable.