Yesterday's Globe and Mail has a good summary of the changes the NHL is looking at implementing whenever they get around to having hockey again. One of the ideas mentioned is one I had never heard before: changing the shape of the pipes so that the puck goes into the net more often after hitting the inside of the post (rather than going along the goalline, hitting the other post and bouncing out). Since I seem to remember an inordinate number of “Hit the post!” shots last season, I might be open to this idea. But read the article and see what David Shoalts thinks will or will not be implemented by the League. Some of the proposed changes scare me.

Anyway, I find the NHL’s focus on increasing scoring rather amusing. To me this equation

more goals = more excitement

is not necessarily true. I can remember a number of high scoring games that I just hated to watch because they were embarrassments to the teams playing in them, either because of the sloppy play resulting in the goals or because of the disrespect shown the losing team by a coach not calling off the dogs. In my opinion, games that are hotly contested but that end up low scoring are some of the most exciting hockey games you can watch. I would rather see a 1-0 shutout by Curtis Joseph in which he makes 40 saves than a 7-6 game in which CuJo makes 13 saves.

Sure goals sound exciting on paper. Anyone would look at the boxscore of a 8-7 game and say “Wow, that must have been an exciting game!” and they could be dead wrong. What matters is the players and how they are playing the game. When you have teams skating up and down the ice for huge chunks of the period, with chance after chance, line change after line change, with no interruption in the flow, you have an exciting hockey game. And that kind of game does not have to result in lots of goals. With goalies as good as they are today, the league should showcase them! The league needs to work on opening the game up more rather than on opening up the nets. If scoring is so important to them, why not eliminate the goalie altogether? Then, you could have Brendan Shanahan lob a backhand from deep in his own zone and score on an empty net. Sure sounds a more exciting seeing Shanny take a pass from Pavel Datsyuk and walk out of the corner on Martin Brodeur, puck on a string. When it’s a question of whether the goalie will make a spectacular save or the skater score a spectacular goal, I find excitement.

Offense is exciting and that doesn’t necessarily mean goals. High quality scoring chances that are denied by a hot goalie in one moment but scored on by a hot forward are what create a balance in the game. The NHL should showcase the areas in which it has excellence and it can be done with the defensive players as well as the offensive at the same time.

Defense in the game today has become boring but it doesn’t have to be. In football, a team could give up the whole field but stop their opponents on the goalline with three sacks in a row and a blocked field goal. Fans remember that goalline stand, not the drive that lead to it because it is exciting to see a linebacker take down an oblivious quarterback or to see the ball blocked despite all the effort of the opposition to give their kicker the time to get the ball off. In hockey, when you see Rob Blake or Scott Stevens lay on a big hit, it can bring people out of their chairs. What are they doing when they hit an opposing player? Usually preventing a scoring chance, directly or indirectly. It’s when something out of the ordinary happens that fans get excited. Are goals in and of themselves exciting? Anyone who has noticed the increase in “junk” goals recently will tell you no. It’s the spectacular goals that are exciting, the goals in which the shooter has the room to work his magic, where the goalie doesn’t merely have to be in position to make the save.

I don’t see quite how changing the nets does anything but screw the goalies over. Defenses will collapse even harder around the net and become even more impenetrable. Forget the 1-4 forecheck. Prepare to see blocked shot after blocked shot and increased clutch-and-grab.

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the NHL should throw out that bulbous monstrosity of a net they have as a concept. Imagine the NFL with round uprights. The NHL will look like a joke if it messes with its nets in that way.

I wonder if my definition of excitement is based on being a serious fan of the sport. It’s certainly possible that the casual fan would like to see 15 goals a game or something since they might not appreciate the finer points of hockey. Does that mean the NHL should cater wholly to them by any means possible? Is it worth it to alienate your real base by gaining fans who may or may not stick with the sport?

I would like to see the NHL work on opening up the ice rather than the nets. The flow of the game needs to be emphasized and then the goals will follow. If it takes making the rinks wider, they should do it. Sure, the owners would lose some of their most expensive seats but perhaps the excitement generated by a smoother game would lead to more sellouts that would compensate.