Y’know, for a sport where both players and fans can’t wait to tell you just how tough and manly they are, and how tough and manly you aren’t when you point out that anything they’re saying doesn’t make an ounce of sense, they sure do whinge a lot. And it really doesn’t take much for them to do so. Even the slightest change in rules, or coverage, or even an interpretation of said rules, and you get everyone losing their mud.
So this preseason, because we have no evidence that this sort of thing will actually carry in to the regular season and have a strong hunch it won’t, the league is trying to change the ways it enforces faceoffs and slashing penalties.
All it would take is the least amount of foresight from anyone involved to see what the league is doing here. The problem is foresight is territory for people who can reason and read. Those people do not find hockey to be much of a bastion.
For the fans, I understand. Watching games with 10-12 penalties or more is a bit tedious. Though it’s the preseason, and preseason hockey is all sorts of tedious anyway. But a fear that early-season regular season games will look like this is valid. It doesn’t make for the most entertaining product. At the same time, it shouldn’t be too hard to see how at least the slashing crackdown could open up the game more. And slashing was never “a good hockey play.” It almost certainly means you’re behind where you’re supposed to be so you can’t get a shoulder into a puck-carrier. And the chances of you breaking an opponent’s stick or finger and drawing a penalty are way higher than actually emancipating the puck from said carrier.
As I’ve said in the past, hockey fans don’t need to be concerned with how many other hockey fans there are or aren’t attending or watching games. If you have it on your TV or have your ticket and are enjoying what you see, then I suppose it doesn’t really matter to you what the ratings are. You have what you need. Sure, a concern for the overall health of the game would seem to follow, but it’s not your wallets and checking accounts that are affected by what NBC can charge for advertising on “Rivalry Night.” Which is why the #PleaseLikeMySport crowd has always been hilarious to us and always will be.
But the players…oh, the players. NHL players, you’d hope, would realize that the NHL has an attention problem. And anything that might make the game more attractive of a watch to people who don’t at the moment should be something they greatly welcome. And they don’t have to be anthropologists to know why. The answer is in that filthy lucre.
An example. Connor McDavid. If not the league’s best player, he soon will be. Probably the most exciting watch in the sport today. Might actually change the way the game is played. Just signed a contract extension that next year will pay him $12.5 million per year for eight years. Lots of cash. But here’s something: You know how many NBA players make more than $12.5 million?
That’s right. 94 players! Here are some names in the NBA that make more than $12.5 million: Cody Zeller, Marcin Gortat, Thaddeus Young, Kenneth Faried, Eric Gordon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It’s fine if you haven’t heard of these guys, because a few of them don’t matter and none of them are stars. Tyson Chandler makes more than $12.5 million. Tyson Chandler! Yes, that Tyson Chandler, the one the Bulls tried to build around 33 years ago! He’s 68 years old. Yes, 68. All he can do is stand under the rim now and grab rebounds that hit him in the head (a skill Eddy Curry never actually had). Ok, maybe that’s not true because Chandler actually turned himself into a hell of a player. But now he’s ancient. And he makes more money than the best player to come into the NHL in a decade.
We don’t have to stay there. Know how many MLB players make more than $12.5 million? 93! Matt Garza makes more than that. Matt Garza is a fourth starter, at best, on a team that isn’t going to make the playoffs. Matt Holliday makes more than that, and he actually died two years ago. Chase Headley makes more than that, and he had to wear disguises to get in and out of Yankee Stadium. J.A. Happ makes more than that, and he’d be a fifth-starter if he played on any team that mattered instead of the one in Canada which clearly doesn’t because it’s in Canada.
The point is clear. Instead of kicking their legs, screaming, and throwing all their toys everywhere when anything changes, the NHLPA should be working hand-in-hand with the league to make their game more accessible and marketable. Because look at where it could go for them.
Oh sure, I know what some might say, Liam Gallagher. They’re just simple Canadian and Minnesota farm boys and they don’t really care about another five or ten million dollars.
So shut up, get on with it, and maybe even help out. And maybe one day NBA players won’t laugh at you.