10 ways for NHL to recover from lockout

Let’s look ahead to the moment when this abominable, revolting and shameful NHL lockout finally ends.

Whether that’s this season or next, who knows at this point?

But either way, the road to win back the hearts of fans will be a long one.

With that in mind, here are my 10 recommendations for the NHL for when it ever opens shop again -- moves that I believe would help the league make itself more appealing to fans and regain some form of relevancy in the marketplace:

      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.
      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.
      3. Add a "play-in" round to the playoffs. Depending on realignment, this could take on different forms. But the essence of it in my book is that you have four teams play a preliminary playoff round, two concurrent best-of-three series (perhaps two teams playing each other in the East and two in the West), to determine the final 16 spots in the playoff dance.
      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. Playing it in February instead of September, like the old Canada Cups/World Cup, would bring more legitimacy to the event. As for the All-Star Game, all of you know I’d like to see it canned. But for the kids out there who still get a kick out of it, I can live with having All-Star Games in the years we don’t have a World Cup or an Olympics.
      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. Three-on-three, wide open would be exciting to watch. Plus by lowering the number of shootouts, given that the three-on-three would end more games, you preserve the novelty of the shootout so it doesn't become a tired exercise. Right now there are too many shootouts deciding games.
      6. Shorten the preseason, start the regular season the third week of September and make sure there's not a single playoff game played past May 31. People don't want hockey in June. OK, so maybe that’s the Canadian in me, but I’m going with it anyway.
      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?
      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.
      10. And finally, the NHL and NHLPA should agree to a 20-year CBA with mutual options to back out in Years 7, 11, 15 and 18. I would think 20 years of labor peace sounds pretty good to everybody who cares about this game right about know.