The NHL has a decision to make.
The recent GM meeting down in Florida showed that those in custody of creating a roster are worried their most important player is not being given his best opportunity to perform.
i am of course talking about the thought process behind video review on goaltender interference. I think the NHL needs to take a broader look at what kind of ENTERTAINMENT product they want to put on the ice.
This season is going to be the first full season since 2003-04 with Marty St Louis getting 94 points that we do not have the Art Ross winner cracking 100 points. since Jumbo Joe won with 125 points in the year of his arrival in San Jose we have watched a slow decline in offensive production from the top end of the talent pool.
The hard part here is working out why this number is declining, this year you can make the argument the players with the highest points per game average are not going to play in enough games to crack the required 'mark'. 1.22 points per game will get us to that magical number, Sidney Crosby is the closest player at 1.11, if he played all 82 games, 91 points is what he would expect.
I bring this up because one of the changes made from the 'cost certainty' lockout was the way the product on the ice was to be officiated. The idea being the league was going to finally call the game by the book and open up speed and skill on the ice. Give something back to the fans for missing a season.
I don't know about you, but this season feels like we are heading back to the days of clutch and grab. It is no longer the chosen method for leveling the ability on the ice however, it is the 'legal' interference, slashing, and hooking infractions officials are now choosing to ignore.
It is obvious the officials have been told to allow 'a small level' of interference to try and slow down the game to try and improve 'player safety'. The fear being the speed of the game was largely contributing to the increase of concussion symptoms, along with illegal hits to the head.
Whilst I don't agree with the severity of the punishment the Department of Player Safety hands out, it has over the past 3 seasons been consistent with it's punishments, however there has been no reduction in suspendable hits.
This all comes back to the product, what is the NHL wanting to present as its product to bring fans to the arena, to purchase merch and to subscribe to its Gamecenter product. It is not an easy questions to answer, but one the NHL will want to have worked out before the next US TV deal comes around.
As fans we all have a differing view on what is great hockey to watch. I love lots of scoring chances, great goaltending and big physical clean hits. Note it is not about the score, a 1-0 game with multiple scoring chances and a few high quality scoring chances is usually more exciting than a 5-4 track meet because elements in that game will be missing. It could be physicality we love, or defensive positioning, or an overreaction from the officials on a hot button topic they have been advised they need to be 'hot' on.
Right now I feel like the NHL isn't sure what it wants to provide as a product. We have 2 more offensive phenoms about to enter the league next year. One is a sure fire franchise changing player, the other considered pretty close to that level of importance. Both are exciting players with skill coming out of their skates, but that will be suffocated if the rules are called as they currently are.
I had some friends mention the NFL and how they have made it pretty clear the rules are designed to be biased towards the offense, and most will say they have gone too far and it needs to be clawed back a little. I think the NHL needs to have a look at how it exposes the exciting elements of hockey to the casual fan, speed, physicality and skill. It is not about artificially increasing goal scoring, it is about ensuring the chance of scoring a goal is improved.
If the officials call the game as they did back in 2005-06 the product on the ice is going to change, and change drastically. Would it be too much of a change away from what we currently watch? Many complained about the number of penalties through the first half of that season, however by the end of the season the players had adjusted and the number of 5 on 5 scoring chances improved from the 2003-04 season.
We are heading into the playoffs and we are about to start watching games with limited scoring chances, more board play, and more 'playing through' than we have this year. There is going to be more pushing and shoving and diving around the net, the fear the officials have in 'having an impact' on the game and therefore putting the whistles in their pockets will come back to haunt them. There will be a series decided on a goalie interference call due to a player being cross checked into a goalie, if they just called cross checking as written then the penalty would be called before the goalie is interfered with.
The cross check is abused in the playoffs, I see nothing 'tough' about using your stick to push someone out of position, hell use your leg strength and positioning to get an advantage, forwards are just as culpable as the defensemen, so call it both ways.
I hope I am wrong, who knows the NHL may treat the second season differently than in the past and call what they see, not what they think effects a players ability to make a play.
Thanks for reading.