I write this column knowing full well the next time I run into NHL commissioner Gary Bettman he will wag a finger at me.
The NHL is about as healthy as it's ever been, which you can't really argue with, so the commish will wonder why I bothered with this column.
But I can't help myself. Just because the league is, generally speaking, in a good place, it doesn't mean it's perfect. Um, far from it.
As such, without further ado, here are changes I would enact in the NHL if I had the singular power to do so:
Earlier schedule: Begin the regular season no later than Sept. 20, which would ensure the Stanley Cup finals to be over no later than May 31. The kids are back in school in September, vacation is over, let's drop the puck already. And who likes hockey games in June? Just silly. There would be resistance to this for sure -- heck, one southern team governor once pondered at an owners meeting the merits of starting the NHL season in late November so as to not conflict with the baseball playoffs and the start of the NFL season. I'm sorry, but you're either a hockey fan or you're not. Drop the puck Sept. 20 and don't worry about what the other sports are doing. No games in June!
Move free agency: Change the date of the start of free agency from July 1 to the day after the NHL draft. So for example, this season the NHL draft in South Florida wraps up Saturday, June 27. I would open up free agency Sunday, June 28, keep all the front office staffs from the 30 NHL teams in the same rink for the first day (or maybe two) of free agency and make it one big spectacle for TV and social media. After all, many of the industry's player agents are also on hand for the draft, so they're right there ready to negotiate deals with general managers. Baseball's winter meetings create a nice buzz by having GMs and agents in the same place. This would be hockey's version. But just as important, the start of free agency would no longer be on July 1, a Canadian national holiday. I've always found it ridiculous that the NHL conducted some of its most important business on this holiday, and just a few days before the July 4 U.S. national holiday (the day Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed in Minnesota in 2012). Let’s get the free-agent business out of the way before both national holidays. By the way, the NHL did actually try to change the date for the opening of free agency during CBA talks with the NHLPA last go-around, but the league's solution was actually to delay the start until later in July, which was a no-go with the players' union (the last thing the players want is to shorten the window for free agents to find jobs). Now, if my first suggestion (last hockey game played by May 31) went through, moving free agency up in June would be a no-brainer anyway.
Trade deadline buzz: Let's also make the NHL trade deadline an actual live spectacle by assembling all 30 front offices in the same place for three days (let's say Boca Raton, Florida) -- the two days leading up plus the big day. The actual trade conversations would still be behind closed doors in hotel rooms, but imagine all the live announcements in the same place. It’s about buzz, buzz, buzz! (Believe it or not, Bettman once asked the room at an NHL GMs meeting years ago about this idea -- I think just to humor me -- and the NHL commissioner reported back that there was absolutely zero interest in it. Ouch.)
Play-in game: Stage a "play-in" game for the final playoff wild-card spot in each conference. There’s so much parity in this league, why not allow the eight- and ninth-seeded teams in each conference to play it out for the right to make the playoffs. OK, so I’m stealing from baseball here, but I think the one-game wild card has been a huge hit in MLB. I think it would be the same for the NHL.
Cancel the All-Star Game: Honestly, is anyone really going to argue against this? The emergence of the Jan. 1 Winter Classic as a way to better celebrate the game midseason has made the snooze-fest known as the All-Star Game a completely useless entity. Enough already, let’s get rid of it. If nothing else, it would allow the NHL’s schedule-maker more days to play with as he can spread out the games.
NHL expansion: Expand to Seattle and Quebec City over the next five years. Obviously there is an arena issue in Seattle that needs a solution, but that's what the lawyers get paid for. In addition, I would line up Toronto as the No. 1 contender for a relocated team, charging them a relocation fee resembling what Seattle and Quebec City would have paid for an expansion team. Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to make it ugly perhaps in terms of legal action, but maybe there are indemnity fees that would appease them. Money talks.
Now, some on-ice alterations:
Power-play faceoffs: For power plays that carry over to the next period, drop the puck to start the period in the offensive zone. We’re all in favor of finding new ways to create offense, right? Let the team with the man advantage get right down to business at the start of the period. This has actually been talked about internally in the past by NHL hockey operations but hasn’t garnered traction.
Stay in the box: Before the 1956-57 season, the NHL changed the rule that allowed a player serving a minor penalty to leave the box if a goal is scored on his team. Again, in a league where we are looking to create more offense, why not revert back a half century and make a player sit out the entire two-minute penalty even if a goal is scored on the power play? Others have suggested this as well over the years, so I’m hardly breaking new ground here, but it’s something I’ve been in favor of for a long time.
Get rid of the trapezoid: Give hockey ops, NHL GMs and the competition committee credit; they did change the dimensions of it for this season in order to give goalies more room to maneuver with the puck. But why not go all the way and eliminate it completely? The trapezoid was worth a try when it came into effect in 2005, the idea being that goalies who were really good at playing the puck nullified a good forecheck. But in the end, the number of injuries caused by defensemen getting hammered by oncoming traffic, to me, outweighs it. Let’s go back to life before the trapezoid.
Get rid of the shootout: It’s been fun for a decade but it has run its course. It's a gimmick. Extend overtime if you like -- four-on-four OT is a blast to watch, let's get more of it. If the game ends tied, so be it. We lived with tie games for a huge chunk of hockey history, and I'm pretty sure the game between the Soviet Red Army and Montreal Canadiens on New Year's Eve in 1975 wasn't tarnished by ending in a 3-3 tie.
Fix the standings: And if you can't get rid of the shootout -- and I suspect it won't happen anytime soon because many fans still love it -- then let's make a regulation-time victory worth three points in the standings, an OT/SO win worth two points and an OT/SO loss worth one point. It seems to me that the better teams in the NHL should be more accurately rewarded for winning 60-minute games. The cream should be allowed to rise to the top. I can tell you what the counterargument is to this: People want the NHL standings to stay as close as they have been. But to me, those "close" standings are not a true reflection of the NHL competition, as the loser points are keeping too many teams closer to the better teams.
Oh, I’ve got other ideas, but this would be a start if I ever had my way. Dare to dream, right?