Sunday, March 30, 2008

Response to a Daily Miner Op/ed...

Oh no... you may be thinking... what did Nick Wilbur write about this time that warrants a response?? Not Nick Wilbur?? Oh... it must be that rascally editor then, right?? No??

It is actually nothing of the sort... other than there was a certain op/ed piece in the KDM. The article appeared on the KDM website on 3/28... on the sports pages. I found it very interesting and noteworthy because the opinion was on the state of the National Hockey League. I know, I know... you must be thinking what is the National Hockey League?? Well I don't have time to explain, and this blog post is meant to be light hearted so hang in there with me on this one.

You'll find the entire column linked here.

The NHL's scoring, snoring dilemma

Shawn Byrne
Miner Sports Writer

First of all, thank you Mr. Byrne for even attempting to publish something about the NHL on your pages. I have to say that it is unexpected.

I notice many vehicles around town that have bumper stickers or window decals with NHL team emblems on them. I see people wearing hats and t-shirts as well with their favorite teams. I've even seen some homes with their teams represented on flag poles. There are what I call 'underground' fans of the great game of hockey... even way the heck out here in Kingman.

The team sport of hockey has always been my favorite sport to watch... and play. While I was a better baseball player, hockey has always been my game. I didn't start playing hockey until I was in my early adult years... and I only played in organized recreational leagues. I started in Las Vegas and now continue to play in Lake Havasu. I just realized that I still use my goalie chest and arm protective gear that I bought 14 years ago (could explain the inordinate amount of bruises I've received this season).

More from Mr. Byrne...

There are five games left in the National Hockey League's regular season. The Phoenix Coyotes are six points out of the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference.

I wish I cared.

A league that I used to follow closely has gone by the wayside, and now I can only hope that the league makes some changes to entice me back into the fold.

The games themselves are too long and have way too few goals or even opportunities to score.

I have my beef's with the NHL these days as well. I still follow the game quite closely, but starting in the 90's the game changed for the worse because of emphasizing a defensive brand of strategy to win games. Larger and often times less skilled players were chosen to play for teams over better skilled players because the bigger player got in the way better and closed off scoring chances and therefore goals. Team coaches protected their jobs by winning with this new strategy to clamp down on part of what makes the game of hockey great.

Of course fans were spoiled in the 80's and early 90's by great skilled players such as Gretzky, Lemieux, Yzerman (before he became a checking center), and a few others. Players like this simply had their way and piled up scoring chances and points. There were a few teams that were truly powerhouses while the rest of the league was merely average. The team defense concept was in response to being embarrassed by the best skilled players in the league... and it was easy.

As this year's regular season comes to a close, the team with the most points is the Detroit Red Wings. This doesn't mean they're the best team - the Stanley Cup playoffs will determine that.

The Red Wings average a measly 3.16 goals per game. The Coyotes are at a whopping 2.66. For a game that has 60 minutes of ice time, the lack of scoring results in a snooze fest for fans.

While I have my issues with the game of NHL hockey, in my opinion it is not the lack of scoring goals that makes the game a 'snooze fest'. Besides, Mr. Byrne the Stanley Cup playoffs start in a couple of weeks, there is no way you are going to tell me that those games will be a 'snooze fest' if you really are a hockey fan anyway.

The NHL will never be anything more than a cult following for a small percentage of sports fans. As much as I love the game, I've known this for many years.

Never mind capturing my attention on television, it can be complete torture attending a game live when you add in the 40 minutes of intermission time.

I attended my first live hockey game in 1986 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Up to that point, I dreamed of the day when I would be able to see my beloved (at that time) Rangers play in person.

Oh I now see your problem... you're a Skirts fan (Skirts is derived from the team being called at times the 'Blue Shirts' because they wear blue jerseys, I think lowly of the Rangers and therefore I refer to them as the 'Skirts', 'Smurfs', 'Rags', and even 'scourge of humanity'... but forgive me, I'm a Flyers fan).

I'd hate to spend my hard earned to sit in the 'Garden' and watch the 'Rags' play hockey as well.

I was eager to attend the Pittsburgh Penguins-Rangers game. I took the PATH train over to Manhattan, walked to the Garden, and then was crushed.

The marquee said, "Rangers - Sold Out."

I ventured to the front of the arena just to reminisce about the few times I had gone to the Garden as a youngster. I was staring at the model of the seating arrangement located in front of the ticket windows. I silently wished there was some way I could get into the magical palace.

From nowhere, a guy approached me then and asked, "Do you need a ticket?"

"What do you have?" I asked.

He showed me a red ticket. I looked at the model and my eyes lit up. Red seat! That would be right behind the glass! "How much?" I asked.

"Ticket value," he said.

Red seat!! Hilarious. A real hockey experience would call for a fan to sit in the 'Blues'. Heck I even did that once... I learned some incredibly wild foul language in that experience. Glad I didn't wear any orange and black that day.

For only $20 I sat right behind the glass for my first hockey game. I had a fight break out right in front of me, and without hesitation, I became a glass pounder.

When I left that game, however, I was glad that it was over. It was a night filled with anticipation that ended with major disappointment. Three periods of hockey, two intermissions and an overtime period that ended in a 0-0 tie. Not exactly what I would call fun.

Even then, I knew that hockey needed to spice things up some.

Zero to zero games are rare these days, just so you know. The NHL adopted a new rule that if the game is tied at the end of regulation and overtime (even at 0-0) teams hold a 'shootout' to determine the winner. A goal has to be scored at some point.

I hate the 'shootout' for the record. Sure, I watch the shootout and am entertained by it, but it is a silly way to determine a winner of a game... that's just my opinion.

Mr. Byrne... just so you know the league front office has been tinkering with changes throughout this entire decade. The game still suffers.

In a recent discussion with my boss about the state of hockey, we arrived at a couple ways for the game to be improved, and maybe, bring us back into the fold.

Eliminating the center line would be a good start. Keep the two-line passing rule, but get rid of the middle line to allow for more fast breaks. More scoring would lead to more excitement.

That's what baseball did. They lowered the pitcher's mound in 1969, and more runs have been produced. Additionally, stadiums are now built to encourage more home runs. When a pitcher throws a shutout today, it really means something.

It would be the same for hockey.

Another FYI, since the 2005 season, the red line and two line passing infractions were taken out of the game. If you watch closely you will see attempts at long stretch passes to forwards moving ahead of the defenders creating glorious chances... when those attempts are successful. The red line only matters in terms of 'icing' infractions at this time... but the coach of the Coyotes (the Great One) has offered an idea to remove 'icing' calls short of the red line but only after the puck gains the neutral zone. If this happens... the red line is dead.

When a goalie keeps another team scoreless, it would have more meaning than it does now.

If you are really that jacked up to see many goals, I invite you to come to Sara Park in Havasu this upcoming Wednesday for the finals of the league I play in. Last week I played goalie for two teams and gave up 9 and 6 goals in each of those games... and both of my teams won their games.

I've posted 2 shutout's in the last 3 years playing goaltender. Winning still is more important than shutout's to me. Team play and defense determines the amount of goals that are going to get by me, this year all four of the teams in the league are balanced and high scoring.

Another rule that we decided would add some excitement would be a take-off from basketball's three-seconds rule.

On power plays, a defensemen could only be in a predetermined area in front of the goal for five seconds. The defensemen would have to skate out of the area, opening up the inside for an attack by the team with the advantage.

Boo!! Any rule that borrows from basketball is not needed in hockey. Besides, you won't find D-men camped out in front of the goal unless there is an offensive player camped out in front of the goal. And five seconds is a long time in hockey when you are a player down trying to kill a penalty.

These two simple changes would allow me (and maybe my boss) to watch the Coyotes' last five games like a fanatic, and whether or not Phoenix made the postseason, I would tune into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

I really miss the days when the NHL meant something to me.

Can't help you with they Yote's. They will miss the playoffs this year but I think they've turned a corner and we should see them make the playoffs next year. They have a really nice young team in the making.

And since one of your requested changes has already happened, I urge you to watch the playoffs this year. The Western Conference part of the tournament should be incredible. The Ducks, Sharks, and Red Wings are great teams in a great conference.

Of course I'm partial to a certain team in the Eastern Conference that still has work to do to qualify for the playoffs. They won't win it all this year, but like the Coyotes, the Flyers are a team on the rise and my expectations will rise.

Mr. Bryne, please know that us hockey fans are out here in Kingman. We are more of an underground kind of group. I can't speak for the others, but this hockey fan appreciated seeing your column in the Miner. Throw us a bone once in awhile.

Also, I've mentioned our league in Havasu. We are winding down play for this year (it just gets too hot to play outdoors). Sure, it's only a roller hockey league but it is the best thing we have at this time. No one can afford to keep a sheet of ice in Mohave County (not even the good old boys with all their riches). Hockey is still hockey though. There is a nice youth organization in Havasu and an adult league.

There is talk of a new events center in the Bullhead City area that would bring a minor league hockey team to the area. In my opinion a better value for your dollar. No one will ever confuse Mohave County with a province from Canada in terms of hockey, but the sport is on the ever so slow incline of interest in this area.

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