Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Will Make Hockey Relevant Again. And Then I Will Smooth Out The Israel/Palestine Thing For Dessert.

Some people fantastize about having a nice lunch with Giada. They maybe have a warm calamari salad and then too much Lambrusco leads to an afternoon of nakedness. Oh my. You know what? That sounds great. But I've had a different fantasy lately. In this dream, Gary Bettman is fired after more than a decade of incompetence and I am installed as NHL commissioner. I have this fantasy because I have delusions of grandeur and also because I hear the office comes with a really nice desk.

Now, the simplest move would just be to undo every single thing Gary Bettman has done during his reign of terror. Easy AND effective. Whether Bush or Bettman has done more damage while in charge is nearly impossible to figure out. It's really up to you to decide whether the suspension of habeas corpus or the RBK Edge system offends you more. But I'm willing to go above and beyond and unveil my however-many-steps-it-turns-out-to-be plan for improving both the league and the game itself.

Let's handle the game first. Although some people might be fans of the head hunting, insane boarding and stickwork, other people are fans of skating. Although the league seemed to be more vigilant coming out of the lockout, waterskiiing is coming back in fashion and obstruction is way up. If the NFL was like the NHL, defensive backs would be allowed to tackle wide receivers while the ball was in the air. Running games would have to grind out 10-7 wins and Western Canadians would be raving about the NFL's grit. The rest of us, of course, would be bored out of our minds.

So we need to heavily, heavily discourage obstruction and hooking. The annual promise to call the game tighter is a given, so our first substantial change is:

1) Power play goals will no longer end penalties. All calls will run for the full two or four minutes.
2) Shorthanded teams are no longer allowed to ice the puck.

You want some fun? Watch a tired forward try to beat two guys so he can carry the puck across the red line to dump it. Or watch a defenseman behind his own goal line try a soft clear so it doesn't go all the way down the rink. Are you an exhausted defenseman fishing the puck out of your own net for the second time in 90 seconds? Don't get mad at me. Get mad at your boy who lazily put his stick into an opponent's ribs.

3) Goalies are no longer allowed to handle the puck behind the net.

I'm not paying money to watch Marty Brodeur whip the puck around the boards. As it stands now, teams can line four guys along the blue line and if the puck is dumped in, a good goalie can fire it back out. No problem for the guys standing on the blue line. But if that's a live puck behind the net just sitting there, the offense can blow by the defense because they're sitting still. Dump-ins will become much more effective and a quick team can have a bang-bang play. Dump it in, win the race, pass out to the slot, boom, goal. So easy! Eventually defensemen will start backing up so they stop losing races to the puck behind the net and suddenly the blue line is open again. Oh my God, I'm something like a genius.

Goalies can't touch the puck behind the goal line even if they can reach it for the crease. Puck sitting besides the net? There's a fun race for you! Only a true visionary could make a simple dump-in a cardiac event!

4) Goalie gear is going on a diet.

The league made goalie pads shorter a couple years back. Great! Now the puck hits a goalie in the thigh instead of the upper pad. Big difference! The pads are getting narrower, barely extending past the width of a leg. This is the space age. Everything is lighter and stronger. Goalies will not get hurt with smaller gear. Unless you're fat, your legs should not touch when you're standing still. I want to see some space! Narrower pads, narrower blockers, smaller gloves and upper body gear that wraps around the body. Nothing drapes. Watching games today, you'd think every goalie played left tackle in college. Marc-Andre Fleury weighs about 120 pounds. He should look it in net!

So those are changes to game itself. It's already so fun that LeBron James has become an afterthought. People think he's an actor because nobody in the NBA is famous now. I did it!

Up next: Changes to the league itself.

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