A valid question if there ever was one. Since weâ€™re currently in â€œwork stoppageâ€ mode I decided to put forward some perspective on this topic.
Itâ€™s true that the NHL and hockey are, in most cases, in a league of their own. Combining a finesse skill like skating with devastating hits not unlike the NFL and adding the hand eye coordination needed to simultaneously control the puck trumps every known game out there. It does so for every hockey fan, but even those that donâ€™t follow puck that closely admit it really is a challenging game.
That said, rarely has a game, no matter how special, been treated with that many special white gloves as NHL hockey. Perhaps the most glaring aspect of this story is the NHLâ€™s lack of will for implementing a) more supplementary discipline, b) a stronger, stricter, more transparent disciplinary standard, one that is not this highly influenced by the owners.
For example, diving has been recognized as an increasing problem. However, besides the 2 min. minor penalty for unsportsmanlike behavior, there hasnâ€™t been a true initiative or crackdown on diving offenders. Perhaps the main reason for it is the competitive advantage which teams get for having Maxim Lapierre or Patrick Kaleta on the ice. However, removing said competitive edge from the game would hardly make those teams uncompetitive and would make the game that much better.
Whatever the case may be, you have to admit that on many issues, the NHL moves as fast as a mastodon on sleeping pills.
How many times have you been upset by a non-call in the 3rd period, especially in the playoffs? Sure, other sports have their mistakes, but how many have officials who have openly admitted to having a different standard depending on the period of play?
As hockey fans, we can sometimes understand the need for such decisions, but one has to wonder; would a set standard of referring â€“ call everything thatâ€™s a penalty according to the current rulebook â€“ make our game better?
Then thereâ€™s the Hall of Fame transparency problem. Ken Campbell of the Hockey News once described the HHOF selection committee as backwards as they can be:
â€œI think Iâ€™ve finally got this group figured out. Itâ€™s made up of 18 NHL-establishment white guys, not a single one of whom is under the age of 50. And the ones who carry the most weight among them are the same people who had to be dragged into the 21st century to allow women to be inducted. Just listen to them when they call the inductees, basically congratulating them for becoming one of their little insular group. Theyâ€™re not going to be dictated to by anyone and itâ€™s almost as though they thumb their nose at people by making these bizarre selections, just to remind everyone itâ€™s their group.â€
The comparison to other major European and North American sports wouldnâ€™t be entirely negative either. Video technology implemented by the NHL was a bold move forward, the percentage of NHL players who get involved in charity work is probably amongst the highest in professional sports and NHLâ€™s readiness to make it a more open, fun game (even if it was mainly a post 2004 lockout marketing ploy) signaled a positive turn of events.
However, itâ€™s because of the aforementioned extinguishing species is NHL hockey still trailing in terms of progress. Those are the same kinds of people giving jobs to players who play to injure, the similar types of people to those who think gay people and women shouldnâ€™t have a place in this beautiful game of ours.
My title is wrong – the NHL isnâ€™t scared of change. Itâ€™s the dinosaurs that still have a major say in running it that are either scared of pitting itself against other, more transparent sports that they are doing it so-so, just for the sake of public opinion or are simply refusing to change for the better. Yes, public, not that of a hockey fan. â€œSo-soâ€ brings diving, the divide in political correctness and NHLâ€™s hard hitting and violent nature brings head shots and concussions without consequence and yes, it brings out guys who â€œrun aroundâ€.
You might argue his solutions to the problem, but Brian Burke is right when he says that the rats are taking over the game. My question is – what about those rats that have been on board since it left the harbor? Will the NHL ever be all it can be? Weâ€™re getting there, Initiatives like You Can Play are making that progress, but the process is much slower than it really needed to be.