• I was asked recently by a friend, "What is your favorite thing about the NHL?"
My favorite thing about the NHL is the overall skill level of the players. Hockey has no clumsy 7-footers, no overweight first basemen and no 330-pound linemen. The beauty of hockey, and soccer, is nearly everyone is an athlete in terms of body composition, foot speed and agility. The athleticism is phenomenal. Players entering the NHL are in great shape. Sidney Crosby had a personal trainer when he was 13! When I was 13, I ate every Hostess product available at the local Foodland -- Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Crumb Cakes, Ho Hos and Fruit Pies.
That athleticism is why nearly every game is close and competitive. From a cardiovascular and agility standpoint, the talent has never been better. Players move well for longer periods of time because they are in world-class shape. The regular season would be even better if there were 10 fewer games.
I also like the high quality of all the broadcasts in terms of camera work, lighting and directing. (Although I do wish analysts would talk less during the action.) Buffalo, Dallas, San Jose and New Jersey are four broadcasts that come to mind right away, but I don't want to name more because I don't want to offend anyone. Rick Jeanneret, Mike Emrick, Ralph Strangis, Ken Daniels and Randy Hahn are so good and energetic, it makes the game more fun to watch. And since Jim Lorenz, Chico Resch, Daryl Reaugh, Mickey Redmond and Marty McSorley pick their spots and don't yap all game long, it makes them, and the broadcast, sound better. Analysts that talk too long during game action is like a baseball analyst talking while the ball is in the air.
I want broadcasters to have a conversation with me. That's what Dan Kelly, Bob Wilson, Mike Lange, Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell and Big Bird did, and that's what made them great communicators. Scully still does Dodgers games on TV and radio ... by himself! It's the most beautiful thing in broadcasting today.
I just looked at all 30 teams in the standings; 16 are very good, while the other 14 have major issues. I can see why ratings sometimes suffer. Announcers usually make or break a game whether it's a good television show or not. The Phoenix Coyotes provide very little in offensive creativity, but their games are generally fun to watch because of Curt "Opera Man" Keilback and Darren Pang. Panger is right there with Reaugh as the best hockey analyst in North America. It's not even close.
• Next, my friend asked, "What is your least favorite thing about the NHL?"
Pause. Pause. Pause. This is a good sign.
I watch just about every game and enjoy something in just about every one of them. They all can't be great, but they bring certain amounts of joy. This kind of thought process doesn't come easily to me. I should have just put the broadcasting rant down there, but since my friend asked
My least favorite thing about the NHL is, at times, all of this great skating seems to be bringing us closer to critical mass. There is so little time to get anything done that some games are a perpetual smacking of sticks. That, and the leaguewide philosophy of collapsing on the goaltender, has left the game with very few seams. You have to be a very patient fan and enjoy the effort because there are an awful lot of blocked passes and blocked shots.
This is not a major issue with me, but it is for casual fans. Now, if we can give that up, hockey will ever be a major regular-season TV force. It would help maximize playoff revenues and promote the world's greatest tournament with its sellouts and profitable ratings.
Also, I am no xenophobe, but we need more Americans in the NHL for U.S.-based teams. The NFL is so popular because of gambling, nearly naked cheerleaders ... and it is 99.9-percent American. These footballers are Americans who grew up loving and watching the NFL as kids. It's one reason the NHL is so popular in Canada. Canada loves Saku Koivu, Mats Sundin and Markus Naslund, but they really love Ryan Smyth. The NHL is mostly Canadian, and Canadian fans have watched and read about these players since they were bantams. Would the Caribbean World Series be as popular if all the players were Swedish and Welsh?
I also don't like the dearth of personality in the NHL. Nearly everyone looks the same out there. And where are the personalities fans can fall in love with? Terry O'Reilly, Tiger Williams, Al Secord, Cam Neely, Dave Schultz, just to name a few. Of course, those are all North American tough guys, and we all know there are fewer North Americans and fewer tough guys in the league these days because of how the game has evolved.
I also don't like goal judges because they look very sad. And that makes me sad. I think the women who shovel the on-ice snow during TV timeouts should also work as goal judges. They are always happy.
• My friend's next question: "If you were commissioner, what would be the first three things you'd do?"
1. I would add two Canadian teams to the league. Another team in Ontario, for sure. Probably Winnipeg or Quebec City for the other. The passion and interest are there. Why wouldn't you expand there?
2. I would play four-on-four for 10 minutes before the shootout. The games are not too long and it would keep the shootout special. It would also give the NHL a good sample to explore the possibility of going to full-time four-on-four sometime this century. I really believe it is something that should be looked at. How many times have we seen four-on-four scenarios where we say, "That was unbelievable!"? Why not have the entire game be like that (four-on-four leaves the game with fewer people to trap and collapse)? The NHL used to have six skaters. Then, it went to five. Maybe four-on-four will be the final frontier.
3. I would start the season Thanksgiving weekend and play 10 fewer games. At that point, some NFL teams are out of the playoff race. There is a reason NHL attendance goes up in January. Having half the NHL season coincide with the NFL is a losing proposition in the States, and a September training camp is too early even for Canada, too. I would play preseason games in October and November and have the All-Star Game kick off the season. Players need a rest in the middle of the season.
The All-Star teams would be based on the previous season, because who cares about fan voting? I'm a huge all-around sports fan, but All-Star voting means zero to me. The NFL doesn't have exclusive fan voting and it's the planet's most successful sports league. An "Opening Day" preseason All-Star Game would get people's attention and you wouldn't have to interrupt the season later on. Maybe the All-Star Game could be on a Sunday before the NBC Sunday-night NFL game. Make it a doubleheader. It would get heavily promoted and help both the NHL and NBC. Or have it on a Saturday night. After watching the effort in the YoungStars Game last month in Dallas, I would tweak the format and add that the losing team will be eaten by lions.
4. The NHL needs to make a leaguewide and countrywide commitment with USA Hockey that will get more kids to play the sport. The league won't grow the game in America until it grows and enriches the culture of hockey. This will take millions of dollars and years of attention, but it must be done. Get those kids on the ice for just one year and you'll keep nearly every one of them for life.
• Finally, my friend asked, "State of the NHL: Better or worse than what the casual sports fan thinks?"
The state of the NHL is better than what the casual sports fan thinks because the casual sports fan thinks it's on par with Arena Football, WNBA and MLS. This is what much of the media tells them. First of all, the media ignores the passion in Canada, and this is irresponsible. In Canada, the NHL has a much stronger brand name than all of those leagues combined. It has history and Maurice Richard's eyes. Hey, MLB has the Royals and Devil Rays, and the NBA has the Hawks -- if your team stinks, people don't go.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are an extremely profitable tournament, and it is more dramatic than all three leagues mentioned above. There are markets where the NHL appears to be wasting its time, but again, those teams are historically bad. If a franchise is good on the ice and dicey off it, then we can talk.
Overall, the league still has great global potential and, at least, a sustainable future. The question now: Will MLS someday pass the NHL like NASCAR has in the United States? MLS now has its global celebrity in David Beckham.
I heard that the NHL is actually doing some research and development into possibly going with bigger nets (which you may or may not have paid them to do). I am not alone when I say that this is a terrible idea. I understand that bigger nets would produce more goals, thus producing more "excitement" and hopefully generating a larger audience. But I do not want to see back-and-forth scoring. That's what the NBA is for. The new rules opened up the game and we are seeing some of the best hockey in years. Goals are up as high as they need to go. Do you really want to steadily see 9-8 games?
This e-mail got me thinking ...
I would increase the net 6 inches in length and 4 inches in height. That's one length of the puck on each side of the goaltender and four pucks stacked on top of each other. A hockey puck is one-inch thick and three inches in diameter.
I would do this primarily for more crowd eruptions. Since there is little fighting, less hitting and even fewer confrontations, there are too many games where people don't even have to stand up. Goals get people off their feet, especially long slap shots. We don't see those goals very much. That is hockey's home run. A big, booming slap shot. Where have you gone, Al MacInnis?
Humans are getting bigger and faster, and more and more of the net will slowly be covered. The balance has tilted to the defense and this isn't fair to current players. Goalies are too good, too big and too protected, and so are the teammates in front of them.
With equipment only getting better, the philosophy of collapsing on the goalie will continue to send scoring down. I wouldn't be surprised if we do not have a 50-goal scorer this season.
During the 1981-82 season, 16 NHL teams scored more than 300 goals. This season, we will probably have just one. Do you think hockey was more entertaining in the early 1980s, or today?
Will more goals mean better ratings? Maybe. At this point, the NHL has to continue to put on a better show. In a New York Times article from Feb. 2, Richard Sandomir reported that 736 people watched the Jan. 27 Devils-Panthers game on MSG ... 736. Here are other numbers from Sandomir's column:
• The Devils average 13,206 households for their televised games.
• The Islanders average just 7,336.
• The Rangers average 36,834.
• Of all Fox Sports Net regional channels, the Red Wings lead all NHL teams (average 96,915).
• This season's All-Star Game drew 691,000 viewers.
• 2.7 million watched in 2004.
• 6.5 million watched in 1996.
I have numbers from some of our own network's recent ratings. On Jan. 28, 925,377 people watched the Winter X Games between 9:13-11:21 p.m. On ESPN2, 824,360 people watched a replay of the Australian Open men's final.
Sure, ratings have dropped for nearly every television program as consumers are given more and more choices, but the comparables are relevant. I'm not saying bigger nets will cause a seismic shift in the NHL's ratings (and that's not the primary reason why I would implement them), but it can't hurt.
I have a rules question for you. Let's say a goal is scored, but the referee doesn't realize it's a goal and play goes on. During the next stoppage of play, when they review it and count the goal, does play begin from the time the goal was scored or the time when play was stopped? And if the other team scores a goal during that time, does it count, or just the first goal? And if the same team scores, does it count for two goals? Does this question make sense?
If it is determined that a goal was scored before another goal is scored (I sound like John Kerry) during the continued action, the first goal counts and the clock is returned to the time of the said goal. Anything that happens after that first goal being scored does not count.
I will be reading your (backyard rink) article to my father. Recently incapacitated by a second stroke, he built us a small rink when we were kids, then regraded our yard for a larger one, built a bigger rink at our elementary school, and then helped start a girls hockey league that celebrated its 25-year anniversary a couple of years ago.
The regrade became a selling point when they sold the house and the memories are endless! Our last gasp in the spring -- hearing the neighbors mow their lawn for the first time and finding one of our lost long shots. Vrmmmm -- clunk!
You let Todd the local weatherman steal my thunder!? Glad to see you got the rink up! Let it not be said that us weathermen don't sometimes get it right!
Chief Meteorologist, WETM-18
Props to our boy Scott. He called this cold snap, and because of Scott, I have a backyard rink this winter. I was packing it in. Weather Channel, can you hear me? Jim Cantore can't carry Scott Mayer's Doppler!
I want to paint a picture for you ... a cold winter's week followed by a cold winter Saturday morning. A shovel, a pair of skates, gloves, a stick, a puck and the pond. This pond is the pond I learned to skate on when I was 8 years old. Saturday morning, after a night where the temperature didn't go higher than 15, I spent an hour shoveling off a rink on my old pond down the street from my parents' house. For the next two hours, it was me and the sound of my skates, cutting nature's greatest gift -- smooth, black, untouched ice. Peace was found on this cold Saturday morning on the pond.
Perfect backyard rink weather all this week. This winter is officially a win.
GM Brian Burke talked about possibly acquiring Peter Forsberg. While he couldn't make any profound statements, it looked like he was very interested. He said something along the lines of, "I will make any trade, as long as I think it will be beneficial to the team." I guess we'll just have to wait and see as the deadline approaches. Regarding the new Shins album -- I thought it was very hit or miss. Some of the songs were excellent, others were disappointing. Overall, a fairly solid album. I think we could have been spoiled with "Oh, Inverted World" and "Chutes Too Narrow."
If he stays with the Flyers, Forsberg's season would be over in early April. It's been a frustrating and painful campaign. Not playing anymore this season is probably very appealing to Forsberg. Also, I believe Philadelphia is one of the top 3 U.S. hockey markets right now (Detroit and Minnesota are likely the other two). The organization is first class and the fans are great. I can see why that is appealing to Forsberg. Still, the overriding factor in all of this is, without question, Forsberg can help a lot of teams who will make the postseason. With the playoffs bound to be low scoring, special teams will be huge, and Forsberg can help every team on the power play, even Anaheim's. But I do not see Anaheim acquiring Forsberg. I think Anaheim is fine with their mix.
The more cap room the Flyers have, the more teams should be afraid. Very afraid. Briere turns 30 in October and history tells us that some small guys see their production plummet after turning 30. Denis Savard was such a player. You would think Briere would get a five-year, $30 million offer from someone. Do you want to pay Briere $6 million when he is 34? Well, players certainly take better care of themselves now. Ray Whitney turns 35 in May and he may score 30 goals this season. He also has an outside shot at surpassing his personal best (33).
Buffalo may have to make a hard decision if someone offers Briere a sixth year, or if the Islanders give him a 15-year deal. And I wouldn't say Drury's exit is definite. He doesn't turn 31 until August and the Sabres might offer him a huge deal and let Briere go. Maybe there is a way to keep them both, but that seems unlikely. Every team would love Drury or Briere. That's why they both will get big offers from every team that has cap room. We can't predict cap room because teams could make trades, but I think Briere will get heavy interest from Montreal, Philadelphia and Washington.
As a University of Wisconsin hockey fan, I've always been proud of the way the fans support the team, even in a year like this when the defending national champions have had some key injuries and are hovering around the .500 mark.
And while many of us know the Badgers are perennially at or near the top of NCAA attendance for hockey, I was a little surprised to pick up this little tidbit when I attended the Wisconsin-Minnesota State match last weekend: Wisconsin's current average attendance of 14,272 per game is higher than seven NHL teams, as of Jan. 15, 2007 (Phoenix, Boston, New Jersey, Washington, Chicago, Islanders and St. Louis). That's impressive.
Michael P. May
I know you like Jack Johnson. Question is, come April, do you like him in Ann Arbor or, ugh, L.A.?
Senior at Univ. of Michigan (three more months!)
I don't see why the Kings would bother bringing Johnson in for a couple of games. If he chooses to sign, I'd get him moved to Manhattan Beach. Have him live, train and surf with Rob Blake. Then, play him with Blake next season. The Kings are going to get better fast. By this time next season, the Kings' top four defensemen will be Blake, Johnson, Lubomir Visnovsky and Brad Stuart, who will sign with the Kings this offseason. When Johnson makes his debut next season, I would have the other Jack Johnson sing the national anthem and have him perform in between periods on a makeshift stage behind one of the nets. Let's think big, Kings. If you can't get Jack Johnson, try Son Volt.
Not sure if you caught "Hockey Night in Canada" on All-Star Wednesday. If so, just wondering what your take is on Ron MacLean's suggestion to expand to 32 teams (North and South Conferences), which would include Winnipeg and Halifax. Thought it would be great to somehow stick all the Canadian teams into one conference.
I also believe there should be two more teams in Canada, whether you move a team from the U.S. or expand. More on this up top.
I am a big New Jersey Devils fan and a season-ticket holder in Section 218. I loved the comments you had for Section 217 back in the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs. I was part of that crew, and now most of us have evolved to Section 218 at CAA. I believe we are the best group of fans in all of hockey. The media can criticize and say what they want about New Jersey Devils fans, but no one has more fun at a hockey game than Section 218. No one can ever take that away from us. I want to extend an invitation to you to come join us and enjoy the Section 218 experience.
Sammy from Section 218
It would be an honor to join you someday. I'll come dressed as Chico.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.