Tuesday, January 9, 2007

As the 20th Approaches...

Thus far, I couldn’t be more pleased with the reaction we have received about the site. Simply put, any reaction is a good reaction. To be quite honest though, we receive good and bad comments. The good comments we take with a smile. The negative comments we digest and decide if they are worth a rebuttal depending on how close our views are.
Most of the negative comments we received from individuals that frequent team message boards. While some of these hockey enthusiasts respect our cause, others are blinded by recent past. The typical response we get is that today’s game is much better than it was in the mid to late 90s. I am guessing that the people that wrote this have 1) yet to have looked at our site; and/or 2) are in their late teens or early 20s and never had a chance to see 1980s hockey played.Let me get this straight… the neutral zone trap made for boring and emotionless hockey. We are glad that it is gone and the game is more wide open.
Now, let’s get another thing straight. You cannot sacrifice the emotion and physical play of hockey for the sake of increasing scoring. While the new rules do cut down clutching and grabbing, they open up a bigger can of worms. The average hockey fan cannot stand to see hockey players marched to the penalty box for countless obstruction calls. It sacrifices the integrity the game was built on. It flaws the scoring records by creating more power play goals than ever before.It extinguishes any emotion that can be played out during five-on-five hockey. And it ultimately kills the characterization that hockey players are tough, rugged individuals that play though pain. How can anyone think this these days when a whistle is blown whenever a player is touched by a defenseman’s stick?
There is a battle going on in hockey today and the rules have clearly dictated two sides.On one side you have the yuppie, politically correct hockey fans that attend two games a year and yap on their cell phones when goals are scored and fights are breaking out on the ice.They love the finesse of the game; they praise Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby as the next Lemieux and Gretzky; they view tough guys as being a wasted roster spot.On the other side you have the hockey traditionalists.They too like the young guns in the league, but they don’t like the cheap shot Ovechkin threw on Briere (or the spear to the groin Briere gave back), they think that Crosby is a great player, but needs an attitude adjustment.They are the fans that appreciate the tough guys for their willingness and ability to protect star players.They are the fans that used to purchase season tickets, would show up early to games that had that anticipation, would give away tickets to their friends if they knew they were going to be used.They studied the game as it unfolded, studied the players on the ice, they stood and cheered when a player from their team scored a goal or shed the gloves to inject some intensity into the game or protect a teammate.
The problem today is that the traditionalists and average hockey fans have walked away from the game.They have been insulted by the product that has been put on the ice before them.The issue with this is that the NHL hasn’t identified this as a problem and they have been left trying to think of new ways to attract new fans.And instead of bringing back the fan base that once made hockey part of the Big Four, they are marketing to the Google generation.Yet it isn’t selling to them either.
So what should Gary Bettman being doing to fix the attendance and t.v. ratings?Gary needs to ask himself two questions: 1) when was hockey most popular?; and 2) what made it popular?Hockey was most popular in the 1980s.In the 80s you had a perfect blend of physical play and toughness.Guys had open ice because opposing players respected their territory.Say what you want, but Gretzky always had Dave Semenko or Marty McSorley nearby to make sure players weren’t taking liberties.Goalie pads were smaller too… personally, I still haven’t figured out why a team hasn’t hired a Sumo wrestler and put them between the pipes!But even if a goaltender was tall back then, they didn’t have the bulldozeresque pads to fill half the net.They had to rely on their flexibility and reflexes to make saves.Goaltenders today are terrific athletes… instead of creating power plays to beat them, why not decrease the width on their pads even more so?Then let guys play five on five hockey, let the emotion build, and give guys a chunk of net to shoot at rather than a small piece of twine.
What else does Gary need to do?Let’s start with a few names… Redskins/Cowboys, Heat/Lakers, Dodger/Giants, and, uh wait a second, no rivalries in the NHL!When was the last time there was a true rivalry in the NHL?The answer is the Avalanche/Red Wings in the late 90s.All we get these days are mini-rivalries, strings of two, maybe three, games that have some bad blood that boils over from previous games.An example if the Caps/Thrashers mini-rivalry that escalated from the Sutton/Brashear/Vishnevsky incident three games ago.This past Saturday night, the Caps played their first game since that incident; 15,642 fans were in attendance.Compare that to the last time the Caps played the Thrashers at home on a Saturday night (the second home game of the season mind you) and you will see that they drew 11,995 fans that night.That is a difference of 3,647 fans… at $25 a ticket, that is a $91,175 profit.Why the increase in fans?Because fans anticipate a great game that comes about as a result of a rivalry, excuse me, a mini-rivalry.So instead of suspending players for sticking up for their teammates, suspending guys for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game, and making league phone calls to team locker rooms before highly anticipated games,the league should be promoting these games.The Thrashers promoted the mini-rivalry when they got their home game crack at the Caps after their initial run in.They posted a 30 second clip on the front of their home page promoting the number of penalty minutes from their last game!Too bad they have a coach that makes their players dip their hands in cement before putting their gloves on… ahh they hypocrisy.
Gary thought an increase in scoring would bring back fans.He thought that it worked for the Olympics and Europe, why wouldn’t it work in the North America? The answer is the Olympics are played every four years and games are a matter of national pride; Europe if Europe and their idea of a great game is not ours.That is why soccer is the most popular sport in Europe, yet football is the most popular sport here.
Gary has forgotten the hockey traditionalist.After the strike, he focused on creating a new fan base instead of bringing back the fans that loyally supported hockey.He changed the enforcement of rules; he added additional penalties, fines, and suspensions for fighting.He catered to the yuppie hockey fan.
On January 20th, we hope to see some traditionalists suck it up and attend games and show their support for a game that once was great, a game that fans would attend because they were excited about rivalries between teams, not just star players that scores countless goals on the power play.Success would be 10+ fans showing up at each arena and holding a sign.Next year, we will come back stronger and more organized and the .As the integrity of the game continues on its downward spiral down Gary Bettman’s toilet, and the articles about attendance and television ratings continue to pile up on this site, fans will open their eyes and realize that the NHL has big problems.And speaking out is the only way to fix them.

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