Chat about ESPNHL!
Negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement may be the National Hockey League?s biggest priority, but it?s not the only one. Rules changes, equipment modifications, scheduling options and reconciling with disenchanted fans are among the others.
Instead of trying to fix the NHL, we took a different approach. We asked SportsNation to clear the ice and tell us what it would like to see in a league that started today. We then took the results from the December poll, as well as some commonly suggested NHL changes, and discussed them with members of the sports, media and entertainment industries.
Not everyone we contacted agreed to participate. Either they did not want to appear critical of the NHL or they preferred not to meddle in another league's business. Others who spoke with ESPN.com requested anonymity for similar reasons.
We compiled the most popular ideas and sentiments, including the outlandish and the innovative, and incorporated them into one ?what if? league: the ESPNHL.
Join Sherry and Darren in The Show on Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET.
Sherry Skalko (1:01 PM)
Hello everyone. We'll be here at 5 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments on the ESPNHL. Go ahead and start sending your questions now!
Sherry Skalko (4:29 PM)
Hey everyone ... we're starting early so we can get to more questions ... Darren is here with me, so fire away!
Graeme (Dover, NH)
I love the idea, but why Las Vegas, what in the marketing would lead you to believe LV would embrace a hockey team? Wouldn't North Dakota make more sense with its rich college hockey tradition?
Darren Rovell (4:32 PM)
Graeme, It's the fastest growing city in the united states, with a lot of money. I'm not sure the casinos will build the arena because it gets you out of their environment, but it does make sense. North Dakota might have the passion, but college hockey passion does not necessarily translate to NHL attendance. Plus, the corporate sponsorships and the suites would be a much harder sell there than in Vegas.
Rory (Poughkeepsie, NY)
Do you think that an organization such as the NHL would ever make such drastic changes as the ones suggested in ESPNHL?
Sherry Skalko (4:34 PM)
That's one of the reasons why we started from scratch ... we had the luxury of setting up our league the way we wanted it and implementing whatever changes to the standard hockey rules we wanted.
Sherry Skalko (4:35 PM)
That said ... I'm sure the NHL has heard many, if not most, of the ideas we came up with. And I wouldn't be surprised if some of them appear on the other side of this CBA mess.
Rich (Houston, Texas)
This is so detailed it sounds like ESPN is truly considering it. Am I reading too much into this?
Sherry Skalko (4:35 PM)
Yes. Way too much.
Erich (Providence, RI)
Why a luxury tax? Baseball has a pretty strict Luxury tax and it is still broken. Big market teams can still scoff at the restrictions and spend a ton of money. The Smaller market teams will be even further restricted by this. So what if Detroit has to pay $20 MIL extra and have it divided 29 ways. It still won't help the Buffalos of the league.
Darren Rovell (4:39 PM)
The luxury tax in baseball is only broken because they didn't anticipate the yankees would be a third time offender and have a $200 million payroll.
Darren Rovell (4:43 PM)
yes, we are institutionalizing the inequities. but realize that the NHL has the most parity among any leagues anyway.
Tom Druckrey (Minneapolis )
Was a larger ice rink considered when thinking of rules changes?
Nick Kursell (Joliet)
Would the center line be eliminated (like olympic hockey) thus even further opening up the offense without all the 2-line pass infractions
Sherry Skalko (4:44 PM)
We decided against the bigger ice surface because when it comes to rink size, bigger isn't better. Plays happen a lot more quickly on the smaller surface.
Sherry Skalko (4:45 PM)
We decided against taking the center red line out because we opened up the game a lot by moving the nets, implementing the tag-up rule, etc.
Sherry Skalko (4:46 PM)
We had to give SOME concessions to defensemen.
but why not a hard cap since it seems to have produced parity in the NFL?
Darren Rovell (4:47 PM)
When I was referring to parity before I was referring to parity at the end of the season. Of course the NFL has parity, but that's not necessarily towards the end -- Eagles, Patriots. OK, on to this question, why not a hard cap? Because it was boring and I'd have nothing to do. I have to justify my job here, Corey.
Tim Monteith (Lethbridge Alberta )
I love this system that you guys have come up with, I truly believe this would work. This is what the real NHL needs to do is market there star players, so people know who they are, The only thing i dont agree with is no fighting, being Canadian i just feel this is a part of the game.
Sherry Skalko (4:50 PM)
Tim, you just indicted an entire country by tying a rule to a nationality. Seriously, several of the people we spoke with -- from the marketing experts to the hockey people -- feel it doesn't belong.
What do you say to the marginal talent that gets left in the dark?
Sherry Skalko (4:51 PM)
Umm ... find another job?
John Cothran (Dallas, TX)
This is greatness! Finally someone is putting a number of smart, financially sound ideas on the table. Do you think this system succeeds because of the limited number of franchises?
Darren Rovell (4:55 PM)
Good question. We looked at everything, including what our relationship with our players union would be and if they would possibly accept something like this. We felt 20 was a good number for teams, but the model stands on its own.
Mark (San Antonio, TX)
Have you thought about banning trap defenses?
Sherry Skalko (4:58 PM)
We did ... but the problem was how do you call it? One of our experts suggested getting the referees off the ice and on chairs situated high above the ice to call such infractions (not unlike tennis). Besides limiting our officials pool to people who aren't afraid of heights and exposingour referees to projectiles thrown by unruly fans, we were concerned with obstructing fans' views.
Andy Nadeau (Winona, Minn)
Love the ideas, but not a huge fan of widening the net. This seems to make many of the records set by such superstars as Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe more obtainable. I just think that players such as a Forsberg or Nash could break this records without having the same size net to shoot at as the greats did
Sherry Skalko (5:01 PM)
All the other leagues -- NBA, MLB and NFL -- have apologized to tradition and done things to increase offense. Plus, we're starting from scratch, so we don't have to worry about Wayne.
Bo Bowen (St Louis)
Do you foresee an owner v. player union type atmosphere like the NHL has today? Or will the franchises be owned by the league?
Darren Rovell (5:03 PM)
We tried to come up with something that a union would accept. Just like we could have imposed a salary cap (boring), we could have called this a single entity (boring). We wanted to challenge ourselves and we thought that the union would accept this lux tax system. Is there going to be tension as our league gets older? Yes, there is always tension -- even in the NFL when everything appears to be rosy.
Matt Spychala (Tallahassee)
Why do you have the Florida hockey team in Miami, I know Tampa isn't as big a market, but I think after the Lightning won the Stanley Cup that you would try to build a fan base there instead.
Sherry Skalko (5:06 PM)
Matt ... and everyone ... this isn't contracting the NHL. This is establishing a new league and starting from scratch -- new rules, new teams, new financials, new everything. Just for fun and debate. So please don't think we've got something against the Lightning (which we don't) or any other team in our league that isn't currently reflected in the NHL.
Sherry Skalko (5:06 PM)
That being said -- Tampa vs. Miami was a toss up.
A Hard cap prevents renegade owners (ala George Steinbrenner)and general managers from overspending. are you all blind? can't you see how baseball is STILL operating?That luxury tax didn't slow the yanks, boston, or any big market team down ONE BIT!!without a cap , small market teams will ALWAYS suffer!!!
Darren Rovell (5:08 PM)
George Steinbrenner paid for a team in New York. He paid for a potentially large revenue generating team (although he got a steal for $10 million!)
Darren Rovell (5:09 PM)
But you need to understand. Just because baseball didn't work because the penalty wasn't high enough, doesn't mean that our system wouldn't work. Do you realize what $2 for every dollar you spend over $6 million means to our team in detroit? It means that a player that would cost $6 million, now costs $12 million. We think that would stop people.
Darwin Dang (Dallas)
Do you really think utilizing additional camera angles and micing up players would improve marketing efforts? Nothing bothers me more about the NFL than random switches to camera views that give you no depth perception, and having to listen to Ray Lewis bark incoherently. It seems almost as if this is another "glowpuck"-esque gimmick people may end up hating.
Sherry Skalko (5:10 PM)
Like everything, Darwin, it's gotta be done right.
Like it or not, fighting is a huge part of the game that many of us were raised on....you need to be carefull in changing the game too much to appease newer viewers.
Sherry Skalko (5:11 PM)
So we'll mark you down as a "won't watch" if there isn't any fighting?
Blily Billington (Red Deer, AB)
I think almost everything had merit, except making the nets bigger. Thankfully that would never happen, but it's still disturbing to see it on paper.
Sherry Skalko (5:11 PM)
Sorry, Billy, you can open your eyes now.
Did anyone think of bringing the glowing puck back? Or how about a mix of the WHA and the NHL? Glass boards and a red puck!
Sherry Skalko (5:12 PM)
We did have a suggestion to make the puck yellow ... and another to make it white to REALLY increase scoring (the goalie wouldn't be able to see it) ... we opted not to include those.
Mike Thorbourne (Liverpool, Nova Scotia)
With "American Image" being a hockey league concern; regardless of NHl, ESPNHL, or any other name; do you think that league offices in Hartford will allow the league to be taken seriously by the hockey-sceptical American general public?
Darren Rovell (5:14 PM)
Would you rather it be in Bristol? Because that was my vote.
Chris Knight (Albuquerque, NM)
Can't take away fighting -- no way, no how and yes I wouldn't watch without it. I like everything else though -- I'd sooner see refs in the rafters calling illegal traps than killing fighting.
Sherry Skalko (5:15 PM)
And after losing you, we'd probably get five new fans. And after you see how the skill level increases, without losing the hard hits and the physical elements, you'll be back. And we'll be glad to have you.
What are your thoughts on a franchise in Madison, WI? I think one would take off just like the Blue Jackets did at OSU, and WI is much more of a hockey hotbed than Ohio.
Sherry Skalko (5:16 PM)
Only if they'll play "On Wisconsin."
Sherry Skalko (5:17 PM)
That reminds me ... we were thinking of having some sort of "band" element, but we couldn't come up with the professional version of a college band.
Rachel (New York)
What would stop a rich owner in a small market from buying a cup under your system?
Darren Rovell (5:20 PM)
Nothing. We determined that profitability was the most important thing for our owners to consider. Not that they didn't care about what went on the ice, but we wanted to encourage a healthy financial situation. If an owner with small revenues wants to lose a bag of money to try to buy a championship, he can go ahead and do that. History doesn't necessarily show that will work (see NY Rangers).
Ron (The OC)
Is Bucci going to be the commish?
Sherry Skalko (5:21 PM)
We haven't asked him yet.
Angel (Los Angeles)
Have you thought about introducing competion with the international leagues, sort of like the European Cup or Copa Liberatores to increase interest
Sherry Skalko (5:22 PM)
We asked many of our experts about a Euro division, but that got shot down for various reasons ... one of which is all the high end European talent would stay home and our talent level would decrease.
Sherry Skalko (5:23 PM)
As part of our marketing initiatives, we'd participate in as many Olympics and World Championships as possible.
Sherry Skalko (5:24 PM)
But playing teams from other leagues that people in North America would have a difficult time following and couldn't identify doesn't make sense for the ESPNHL right now.
Chris Hanson #52 (Los Angeles)
There has to be less coaching, period. Give the game back to the players and give coaches only a limited amount of say during the game and how the team functions before and during a season. And only THREE paid coaches insteed of the eleven now for every concievable part of the game that can be controlled!
Sherry Skalko (5:25 PM)
Hearin ya Chris ... we were going to tie their hands behind their backs, but we thought that'd be too cruel.
Is there going to be a players union in this suggested new league? If so, how do you think the players will react to these new ideas?
Sherry Skalko (5:26 PM)
One would form eventually. But at the beginning it's a little like "Hey, here's our league, here's our rules, here's how much you'd make. Wanna play?"
Rob (Brooklyn, NY)
Would the ESPNHL as an organization do anything to regulate and/or cap the prices of tickets and official league merchandise? Currently, many NHL organizations are charging absurd amounts of money to enjoy a night of hockey.
Darren Rovell (5:29 PM)
We don't want to take out all the fun for the owners. So they would set their own ticket prices based on what the market would bear. Merchandise is a tricky one -- I often think leagues take out incentive for individual teams to get creative since they split all merchandise revenues equally. That being said, a team in a larger market with larger revenues is likely to have more sales and depending on the royalty structure, it might get too out of hand.
Mike (Newark, DE)
Had you considered changing to a 4 Quarters systems instead of three periods? Better ice, more rested players, more fun to watch for the fans.
Sherry Skalko (5:32 PM)
Have you been talking to one of our college football editors? We certainly did, however ...
Sherry Skalko (5:33 PM)
Between long enough periods (15 minutes) and enough time between them for the ice to freeze (another 15) ... our games would be all-day events.
Sherry Skalko (5:33 PM)
Sherry Skalko (5:34 PM)
It would allow us to take SOME commercials out of the game and put them in the intermisssions.
bob (San Antonio)
stop saying that being said
Sherry Skalko (5:34 PM)
Chris (San Bernardino, CA)
Players are too big, limit the size to people under 5'8" and 175 lbs. Then watch the fun begin!
Sherry Skalko (5:35 PM)
Then it would be the ECHL.
JOe (State College)
While watching AROUND THE HORN, I have been reading this discussion. Quite frankly, it is a terrible idea. With all the different rule changes, bigger nets, you would also need to come up with a new name for this sport. It certainly is not called hockey.
Darren Rovell (5:37 PM)
I think it's the multi-tasking that has put you in a bad mood. But thanks for doing both.
Trenton (Bonnyville, Alberta)
Q # 2, What about elimination of the red line, like in the Jr.'s?
Sherry Skalko (5:38 PM)
Many current amatuer scouts aren't in favor of no red line in college hockey and the world juniors because it doesn't give them an idea of what a player would do under pressure, there is too much time for him to make a decision with the puck.
Sherry Skalko (5:39 PM)
And like we mentioned before ... we do want our defensemen and goaltenders to want to come to work every game.
Jason (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida)
What's with the rule about wooden sticks being given by the teams vs. players paying for composite ones? Would they be charged for Gatorade instead of water?
Sherry Skalko (5:40 PM)
Do you know how much money is spent on the composite sticks that explode on impact?
I agree with some of the rule changes (no-touch icing, tag-up offside). It doesn't solve the real problem with the game though. The trap. If the league really did away with all the hooking and clutching and grabbing that goes on in the neutral zone. I like the idea of removing the redline, but they also really need to widen the icerinks in order to keep this from happening as well as really crackdown on the obstruction calls. I know it costs seats, but the product would drastically improve. Use the SLC Olympics as a model. That was some of the best hockey we've seen in years.
Sherry Skalko (5:43 PM)
the SLC Olympics were the best hockey you've seen in years mostly because of the talent level and the ban on fighting. And it was an eight-team league with a short season.
Darren Rovell (5:44 PM)
I have to run. If you have any more questions, you can email me at email@example.com. I'll try to get to as many as I can.
Mark (London, ON)
If you are dead set on removing fighting then you must make a minor penalty 2 minutes regardless of wether a goal is scored. This would make it a bigger risk to whack someone with your stick
Sherry Skalko (5:45 PM)
I agree with you Mark, and lobbied hard. But I got overruled. I'm now turning a few questions over to our designer ... Aaron Weyenberg ... who, as it so happens, is a goalie ...
Rachel (New York)
Aaron - should the new league just be renamed the anti-brodeur league???
Sherry Skalko (5:52 PM)
You know, we thought about banning good puckhandling goalies (ok, not really) but -- how does one do that? Restricting their puckhandling to behind the net only should open up some exciting scoring chances...
John (Burlington, Vermont)
Rather then limiting the goaltenders ability to handle the puck, if the glass was uneven as in less expensive arenas, with the puck liable to jump out front, would that deter the 3rd defenseman issue and increase chances?
Aaron Weyenberg (5:56 PM)
Goalies in the professional level can pretty much send the puck where they want. I don't think uneven glass/boards would deter them at all. If it were me, I'd rather take the chance of clearing the puck out of my zone, rather than offering a chance on me close in.
Jason Menashe (Woodland Hills, CA)
Why is it the goalies fault that they are so good (i.e. Brodeur)?
Aaron Weyenberg (6:01 PM)
I agree with you Jason. Maybe we should just limit the number of fancy passes a team's star center can make? After all, they are good too, right? I lobbied hard to remove the rules restricting goalies in any way (equipment, play, etc) but I lost out to the editors, and was told to go back to design. What I like to see is great hockey, and to me that means great saves, too.
Sherry Skalko (6:01 PM)
Aaron had to take off.
Cody Feller (Glasgow, Montana)
Regarding the player equipment, I don't think players should be REQUIRED to have a visor on their helmet. I feel if they want to take a slapshot in the eye-socket let um!
Sherry Skalko (6:02 PM)
If I'm paying a player $5 million to play and our fans are paying $30 a game to see him play, he's wearing a visor.
While there are merits to increase scoring in hockey, dont you think there comes a point of diminishing returns? Homeruns in baseball are entertaining but many would prefer the well pitched 2-1 decision over the 15-11 slugfest. People like Scott Stevens, true defensemen, would be marginalized by this league and I think that there should be a place for them in hockey.
Sherry Skalko (6:04 PM)
Scott Stevens would do just fine -- he can skate, handle the puck and can line up a hit like no one else. It's the defensemen who can't skate or pass that will be looking for other jobs.
Joel (Springfield, MO)
On the topic of visors, would tinted ones like that Russian punk wears be banned? As a fan and a TV viewer, I think it's important that a player's face be visible.
Sherry Skalko (6:04 PM)
Consider it done.
Bob ((Burbank, CA))
Geez, seems like our new league management has ADD. Only Sherry works full time.
Sherry Skalko (6:06 PM)
It's a tough job, Bob, and a lonely one.
Shawn (Syracuse New York)
Are we worried about seeing the players faces or the job they do on the ice?
Sherry Skalko (6:07 PM)
Yeah but you have us bored people here keeping you company
Sherry Skalko (6:07 PM)
And I'm thankful.
Jay Roddy (Pittsburgh, PA)
Would there be any sort of review for officials to make sure they call existing rules? I think part of the problem is that the annual "crackdowns" disappear by Thanksgiving. More poplular leagues strictly review their officials and can hand down edicts to effectively change the rules -- witness the NFL's crackdown on illegal contact this year. How would the ESPNHL handle officials calling interference and holding?
Sherry Skalko (6:12 PM)
A hockey official's job is unique because of the speed of the game and their vantage point. It's easy to sit in the stands or in the press box or at home and say what should have been called and what shouldn't have -- then find the view on the ice was completely different (or even obstructed). Yes we would have a strict review system -- and we would cull those reviews from supervisors AND coaches. And assignments would be based on performance.
Shawn (Syracuse New York)
Would this league allow advertising on the players uniforms to increase team revenue?
Sherry Skalko (6:13 PM)
Whatever it takes Shawn. Seriously, we considered taking the adds off the ice and the boards and putting them on the players so people could follow the play easier.
If the shootout is introduced im going to stop watching hockey because a shootout is not a fair way to decide a game even though shootouts are exiting
Sherry Skalko (6:14 PM)
That's not what the other three-quarters of the globe thinks. :-)
E.J. Freeman (Abilene)
Sherry, Love what you've done so far. Quick comments before I go home. First, as a goalie I'm in favor of smaller equipment. I've never needed my pads to make up for my skills. If I get beat then I practice more. But 7 foot nets!?! C'mon! I thought you said you wanted your goalies to want to show up to work.
Sherry Skalko (6:16 PM)
Please let the record show that in "The Details" page of the "rules" section, we do point out that after an experimental period, the nets will be adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, the only way to find out what will happen is to try it under game conditions.
Derek (Fort Worth, TX)
Why not increase the nets hieght instead of width?
Sherry Skalko (6:18 PM)
That would then eliminate any goalie shorter than six feet. THEN how would Darren Pang resurrect his career?
Rob Doney (Old Bridge, NJ)
Sherry, what about the playoff schemes? 3 rounds of best of 7 is too long. Less teams in the playoffs and less games. Go to a best of 5 twice then the finals in a best of 7. The playoffs seem to take just as long as the regular season.
Sherry Skalko (6:20 PM)
Sorry to say Rob, but it's all about the money.
I personally think that increased net size takes the skills out of the game. Your making Matthew Barnaby a skill slap shot artist.
Sherry Skalko (6:21 PM)
Hey, Barnaby was the Rangers best player for a while! You didn't see him at his best in Tampa.
Sherry Skalko (6:21 PM)
Heck, back then, you didn't see many at their best.
Eric (New York)
And "3/4 of the globe" doesnt know what hockey is.
Sherry Skalko (6:22 PM)
You got me. (Actually, you'd be surprised.)
Shawn Porter (Phoenix)
How about taking away the free icing that short handed teams get when trying to kill a penalty. Really make the penalty a penalty, instead of watching teh team on the power play chase the puck 4 times in 2 minutes.
Sherry Skalko (6:24 PM)
Thought of that too ... then players would be dead tired from killing a penalty for two minutes because they didn't have the opportunity to change, they'd be useless for the next four shifts.
Sherry Skalko (6:25 PM)
To paraphrase Crash Davis: Icings are more democratic.
Shawn (Syracuse NY)
I agree, how many players can realy function at any high tempo after more than a min 30.
Sherry Skalko (6:26 PM)
Yep. Then you've got the lactic acid buildup afterward.
Sherry Skalko (6:27 PM)
The biggest challenge -- and the funnest part -- of this was figuring out what the effect of each change was going to be. Keeping players out there for that long hinders a team's ability to compete 5-on-5 ... we're new, we're not mean.
Brian (Brooklyn NY)
Have you thought about going to 4 on 4 at all times?
Sherry Skalko (6:29 PM)
Yes. But that would be altering the game TOO much. Heck, it's bad enough I'm getting riddled with questions/comments about how we altered the game too much with a tweak here and there.
Matt (CV, Cali)
Can I suggest playing a series against a team like baseball. You could slightly increase the number of games played while keeping the fatiuge down
Sherry Skalko (6:32 PM)
That idea was floated out there too, but it was pointed out by someone else we consulted that the reason it's popular in baseball is that the pitcher changes and the teams alter their lineups accordingly. In hockey, the goalie seldom changes and teams don't alter their lineups if they do. It works in the western college hockey leagues, partly because there isn't an alternative because of travel, but you'll see the eastern college hockey league's don't schedule back-to-backs against the same opponent in one place that often (they do home and home instead).
Do we really need 20 teams, with 16 going to the playoffs? What do you think og getting rid of LA, LV, Vancouver, and Hartford, and going with a 8 team playoffs?
Sherry Skalko (6:36 PM)
We plotted out 16 teams, but it's not enough to accomplish our goals. We don't want to be regional and we don't want our teams to be too far from each other. I get what you mean from a competitive standpoint, though.
Nicolai (Lenox, MA)
How about having Zamboni races inbetween periods?
Sherry Skalko (6:37 PM)
I'll ask our marketing people. If they're actually cleaning the ice at the same time, why not?
Sherry Skalko (6:40 PM)
OK, I just got an e-mail from a hockey-starved colleague that my fatigue is starting to show in my answers. So instead of exposing you to an inferior product, I'm calling it an evening. For the record, we received over 4,700 questions, which proves that caring about the NHL lockout is one thing, caring about hockey is quite another.