Hoo-ray! The lockout is over but that doesn't mean the NHL has solved its many institutional problems that have plagued it throughout the Gary Bettman era. Over-expansion into non-hockey markets and a tendency to screw up a good thing are just a few of the problems that NHL still faces. Here are five ways to improve the NHL right now:
1. Move struggling clubs in non-traditional hockey markets to American and Canadian cities that actually support hockey. Teams like the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers should relocate to Quebec City and Hamilton. (Plus, as Boston fans wouldn't it be nice to take road trips to Europe-on-the-cheap for Bruins-Nordiques games again?) The NHLís insistence on backing struggling clubs in horrible American hockey markets is baffling. Additional teams in smaller Canadian cities would only pad their incredibly lucrative TV deal in the Great White North.
2. Keep the current All-Star Game format. The All-Star Game is one of the few things the NHL gets right that helps differentiate it from other sports. The pond hockey style selection of teams is entertaining and exactly what a glorified exhibition game should be all about. Hockey officials havenít been afraid to tinker with the All-Star game for but it appears they have finally found a format thatís fun and exciting.
3. Make sending NHL players to the Olympics permanent. Weíll probably never see a return of the legendary Summit Series so itís for the best that the NHL continue the practice of allowing players to participate in the Winter Olympics. Itís hockey played at the highest level that tugs on patriotic heartstrings and it is the best marketing tool that the NHL doesnít have to pay for. More Americans watched the Canada vs USA gold medal game than several Stanley Cup finals combined. The NHL would be out of their minds to end this practice.
4. Reform the ďinstigator ruleĒ. The instigator rule has led to a diminishing role for so called enforcers in hockey while making it easier for cheap shot artists like Matt Cooke to get away with what they do best. Want to cut down on cheap shot artists and illegal hits? Make players more accountable by making them face team enforcers.
5. End shootouts. The shootout is a cheap gimmick for casual hockey fans that messes with the record book. Not only do shootouts unfairly reward teams but they add little to regular season games. A move to playoff style sudden death overtime periods of 20 minutes would be a vast improvement over the current sideshow. Sometimes nobody deserves to win.
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