Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey has undergone significant changes since its creation. The principle of the game remains the same as it was back in the early 20th century - put the puck in the opposing teams net - but the National Hockey League (NHL) has shown a willingness to listen to its fans, protect its players, and a desire to change the game for the better.
Sometimes those changes work. For instance, we can probably all agree that having goaltenders wear masks over their face was probably a good idea, although there was never really a rule against that - goaltenders were just crazy. In the 1920s, players weren't allowed to make forward passes, which by today's standards just seems absurd. Playing defense must have been the easiest thing to do, and likewise, watching a game with that rule in place would be more boring than watching paint dry. Other changes haven't worked, whether it's to the game itself or the league's operations. With that in mind, we've compiled a list of 15 things the NHL needs to fix that we believe all fans can get behind, starting with the league's most hated gimmick - the shootout.
15 Fix The Shootout
When the league announced it was doing away with ties and bringing in the shootout to settle games that hadn't been decided in overtime, fans were, for the most part, intrigued. There's nothing worse than leaving a stadium knowing your team didn't win, but also didn't lose. As fans, we're programmed to be passionate one way or the other, and there's simply nothing to get excited or upset about over a tie. It's boring.
For the first season or two, the shootout seemed fine. It gave us a few memorable moments such as Sidney Crosby scoring the game-winner in his first game in Montreal and Marek Malik's between-the-legs snipe. But it has gotten stale, and now fans are even more devastated to see their team lose a hard-fought game as a result of a skills competition. At the very least, the league should adopt the IIHF shootout rules, in which each team gets to shoot five times and, if still tied past then, both teams can use players who already had attempts rather than going through the entire roster.
14 Allow Kicking Goals
The NHL's rule on kicked-in goals has long been the subject of controversy and change, so much so that nobody truly knows what the rule is anymore. Okay, that's not true; the rule is based on kicking intent and whether or not a player purposely kicked the puck in the net. He's allowed to angle his skate to deflect a puck in, but if he moves his foot in a "kicking motion," then chances are the goal won't count. Although there has been discrepancies in rulings.
The simple solution? Allow players to kick the puck in the net. If it were up to us, you should be able to put the puck in the net by any means, other than physically picking it up and throwing it in the net. However, allowing goals batted in by a high stick would simply be too dangerous, and you'd have plenty of stick swinging. Kicking, meanwhile, would be a last resort for players jamming away in the crease. It might only lead to a few more goals a year, but it's a start.
13 Extended 3-on-3 Overtime
The first shootout solution listed earlier is one that could be easily fixed for next season if the league had any desire to do so. There would likely be no push back from the player's association and fans would at least get their money's worth from the shootout. With that said, the shootout is absolute trash and, in a perfect world, games would be decided with extended three-on-three overtime.
Ideally, the league could make the overtime period ten minutes and greatly reduce the chances of a game going to a shootout. Through three quarters of the 2016-17 season, there has been 73 games that have been decided by a shootout, which is far too many. An extra five minutes of overtime should cut that in half and give fans more entertainment value.
12 Make Regulation Wins Three Points
This likely won't be a change that happens anytime soon given the way three-point games has kept nearly every team in the playoff race for most of the season. Teams tied late in the game often seem to prefer playing it safe and securing the guaranteed point for heading into overtime. All too often a highly entertaining back-and-forth game is ruined in the waning moments of the third period as neither team is willing to risk losing a crucial point. The result is every team remains in playoff contention, which is exactly what Gary Bettman and the NHL wants.
But it's simply not fair to teams that can pull out the win without having to go to overtime. Rewarding those teams with an extra point would creative incentive for teams to take risks towards the end of the game. Instead of playing it safe for one point, teams might value trying to win in regulation to secure three points. Had those rules been in effect last year, the Boston Bruins would have made the playoffs over the Detroit Red Wings.
11 Lose The Bye Week
Following the NFL's lead, the NHL adopted a bye week for teams this season. Throughout the year, teams enjoyed a five-day break as well as the usual All-Star weekend break. Some teams even had both breaks within the span of a month. In football, the rest is welcomed, and while it gives players time to heal in the NHL, hockey is a game of momentum and when a player - or team - is in a groove, taking a week off is the last thing they want to do.
Coaches throughout the league have already voiced their displeasure with the initiative, including Toronto Maple Leafs' Mike Babcock, who argued the bye week is "100 percent wrong for player safety." Players seem to like it, however. But for the fans, going without watching your team for a week after being used to seeing them every other night is a tough gig. Moreover, as to Babcock's point, it compresses the rest of the schedule, forcing teams to play additional back-to-backs throughout the year.
10 Remove The Trapezoid
Remember what a treat it was to watch Martin Brodeur handle the puck behind the net? It probably wasn't if you were a fan of the team playing the New Jersey Devils, as any dump-ins got shut down quickly by the soon-to-be Hall of Fame goaltender. But dump-ins are boring, and teams seem to be perfecting them more and more now that goaltenders can't venture off into the corners of the ice.
Allowing goaltenders free roam to play the puck wherever they wish would, at the very least, force teams to enter the zone with the puck and perhaps try to be more creative offensively. Should they continue to chip the puck in, it could also lead to more goaltending miscues, which are always fun misplays.
9 No Video Review Before Challenges
Everybody seems to agree that video review is important and essential in professional sports. But nobody wants to sit around and wait two or three minutes while a coach determines whether or not he is going to challenge the play. Baseball is the worst for this, as managers hang out the dugout while waiting for the word from their video review guys to determine if they want to challenge a play or not.
Many were hopeful the NHL's roll out of the coaches challenge rule would feature an immediate time limit, but that wasn't the case. More often than not, referees and linesman huddle up by the opposing bench waiting for a verdict on whether or not the coach is going to use his challenge. That coach is waiting for word from his associates, while watching replays on an iPad on the bench. In no world does it make sense that you should be able to watch extensive replays of the goal before deciding if you want to challenge. If it looks suspicious, you should have to rely solely on instinct or input from players.
8 Offside Challenges Removed
Goaltender interference challenges have become annoying enough, but it's the offside challenges that the league really needs to do away with. The recently-implemented challenge rule has already taken away numerous goals this season as a result of an offside play that literally nobody would have complained about in previous years. Is it ridiculous to allow a goal in which a player crossed the blue line a few strides ahead of the puck? Absolutely. How often does that happen? Once a decade.
For the most part, the linesmen do a hell of a job, especially considering the speed of the game. Yet, far too often, games are being slowed down by challenges that even have announcers confused. Yet, five or ten minutes later the goal is called back because one player's skate was an inch off the ice while entering the zone. It's only been one year, but the league clearly needs to do away with the offside challenge already.
7 No Timeouts After Icing
We have to give the NHL some credit here. One of the best new rules the league implemented in the 21st century is preventing teams from changing after icing the puck. Far too often in the dead puck era (the trap), players hemmed in their own zone would simply loft the puck into the air and down the ice to get fresh legs on the ice. Now, teams have to work to exit the zone, get over the red line, and fire the puck down the ice before starting a line change. Icing the puck is a no-no. When they do ice the puck, the other team is able to take advantage of tired legs, and it often leads to scoring chances.
This is when coaches use their timeout. And we can't fault them; it's the smart thing to do. However, how much better would it be if they weren't allowed to call timeouts after icing? Surely, scoring would increase at least a tad, and players would be far more reluctant to ice the puck. Timeouts would then be saved for crucial moments of the game, rather than being utilized as a defensive tactic.
6 Angle The Goal Posts
Although goal scoring was up slightly during the beginning of the 2016-17 season, it has since dropped, highlighting a problem that has been prevalent in the game for over a decade. Teams are being over-coached and instead of letting creative players do creative things, they're more often than not taught to dump the puck in deep and chase after it. That mentality is slightly changing with the rise in analytics, but it hasn't led to an increase in goals.
There's one foolproof way to add a few more goals and that's to angle the posts of the net, so that if a player's shot hits the middle of the post, the puck ricochets into the net and not out of play. It's a suggestion that analyst and former player Ray Ferraro has been talking about for the past year, and it's one that makes too much sense. Goalies can stay comfortable in their oversized gear and nobody has to lose their minds about the size of the net changing. Just think of how many pucks hit the post during a given game.
5 Establish Award For Top Offensive Defenseman
Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty? That has seemingly been the question for the past few years as to who is the most deserving winner of the Norris Trophy. Of course throw Duncan Keith in there, and certainly Brent Burns this season. But the overarching issue is the fact that there's only one true award for defenseman, while forwards are eligible to win every award but the Norris, Vezina, and Jack Adams, naturally.
Is Erik Karlsson the best player in the league at stopping opposition forwards? Not even close. Is he one of the most talented and exciting players in the league? Absolutely. Is all the flash and dash enough to win him an award given to the league's top defenseman? Probably not. Likewise, it was a bit controversial to have Doughty win the award last year when Karlsson scored a point-per-game. Remove all the controversy and create the Bobby Orr top offensive defenseman award.
4 Go Back To 5-on-5 All-Star Game
The All-Star Game (ASG) is a joke in every league, save for maybe the MLB in which the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series. Because of that, the game is taken serious, but at the same time, let's not get into how terrible that is. The fact is the ASG is an event simply for the kids, but at the very least make it more entertaining.
For the past two years, the NHL has gone to the three-on-three format, which works fine in overtime, but becomes stale for a full game. Players aren't skating as hard or even trying, leading to boring breakaway after breakaway. At least during five-on-five play, fans are given the odd awe-inspiring play and get to see more of their favorite players play with each other. We say bring back the All-Star draft and allow the players to let loose.
3 No Double Minors For High Sticking
This is one of the rules that has never truly made sense. A high stick is a two minute minor, but if the player who gets hit shows blood then the offending player spends four minutes in the penalty box. If you've ever watched wrestling or the UFC, you know that some people can bleed a lot easier than others. I myself got plucked in the nose by accident in high school and bled all over the classroom floor.
In the NHL, players have taken some pretty harsh high sticks to the head area resulting in no blood. Others have been hit with a slight poke to the face and found a way to find blood on their cheek or in their mouth. It's not a pressing rule change, but it's one that simply doesn't make any sense. If the league is concerned players might be apt to get their sticks up more without the possibility of a double minor, then make all high sticks a double minor. Just take away the potential of blood determining the severity of the penalty.
2 More Throwback Jerseys
One of the least anticipated things about the 2017-18 NHL season is that teams will not be allowed to wear alternate jerseys as Adidas takes over as the league's supplier and manufacturer. Sure, it might keep some teams from creating horrible third jerseys (looking at you, Boston and New York Islanders), but sometimes, something as simple as seeing a team unveil a unique third jersey can add some excitement to a game, or at the very least, make it more pleasing to the eyes.
The Ducks and Flames recently launched alternate uniforms that became fan favorites, while several others just rolled out new jerseys in 2015-16. Moreover, now we won't see Original Six franchises rocking vintage jerseys, which is a damn shame. It's out of the NHL's hands for the time being, but we're hopeful the alternate jerseys can come back into play for the 2018-19 season.
1 Change Playoff Structure
The implementation of the wild card playoff structure has done exactly what the NHL hoped it would do. More teams are tricking themselves into believing they're in playoff contention, while playoff races have been full of intrigue heading down the stretch. However, there's at least one team - and likely others - who would be happy to do away with the whole format. The Washington Capitals finished atop their division last year and won their first round match up, but because of the playoff divisional bracket structure, were required to play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. In prior years, this would have - and should have - been the Eastern Conference Final matchup.
Gone are the days when teams were re-seeded following each round. The bracket format allows the NHL to encourage fan engagement, similar to March Madness. It ultimately keeps the best teams from competing against each other in the conference finals in case where those teams play in the same division. The NBA does it right, and the NHL used to. The league would be better served to go back to the playoff format it used just a few years ago. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.