Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NHL drops the puck

        Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks had the highest ratings since 1999. Coincidence that it was on NBC and not Versus? In April the NHL agreed to long term contracts with both NBC and Versus, rejecting ESPN. That means a national game of the week for NBC and one for Versus. NBC and Versus then share the Stanley Cup playoffs. But I noticed early this playoff run that certain weekday playoff games were omitted from television. I don't believe a single Penguins game was televised in New York. National exposure is still lacking. A deal adding a third game of the week, potentially from ESPN, really could help the league and its exposure. At the same time, NBC really should have exclusive coverage of the Finals. This is an event that should be easily accessible to long time fans as well as potential fans who could use these games as a spring board to following a truly great sport.

        A new rule involving head shots is close to being instituted. The word blindsided is removed from the language of the ruling. Any hit that targets the head in any way will be punished. What this means is that we can conceivably watch a preseason and potentially a quarter of a season of tentative, reluctant hockey. Or we can see a rash of early season suspensions or fines as players who grew up playing the game full speed will fail to adjust. At the same time, the NHL has failed to come up with an agreement with the KHL to stop unauthorized player movement. Young talent is being picked and paid handsomely to move over seas, or even in some cases back home, and play in a league where if you haven't noticed, we don't hear a lot about head shots. There are some fixes for this, easy ones at that. The easiest way to avoid a headshot is to not get hit. Expand the rink. Use the Olympic sized rinks used in the Olympics and of course the KHL. Bring style, speed, skill into the game. It's a lot harder to size someone up across the rink when it's 20 feet wider. While we're at it, let's stop turning these players away from the NHL. Last season I heard Mike Milbury use the term "Eurotrash" on national television. How does that go unnoticed and unpunished? Can we please put a muzzle on Don Cherry? I know he's a Canadian icon. But the man loves Canadians. He is not good for the future of hockey. They all have an anti European agenda. The more they speak, the more time the NHL fails to develop a transfer agreement, and the more money the KHL throws at young European stars, the bleaker it will get for the NHL. Creative an environment that welcomes these guys. Let them come here, make the same money, display their creativity, and not worry about their careers being shortened because players choose to hit prone players to make up for their lack of skill. Ask Sidney Crosby. I'll bet he agrees.

Daniel Mazler
Twitter - @DMazzle

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