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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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