Hi guys. Pull up a chair.

by Steve, January 5th, 2007

hockeyLet’s talk hockey. (For reference, you may want to check out this entry and all the witty repartee from the boys over at hockey-fights.com.)

Before this goes over the top, let’s not forget we’re on the same side. Hockey is a passionate sport for passionate people.

I guess the shit storm was ignited when somebody posted on the forum at hockey-fights.com that I don’t like their hockeyfansunite.com site. The posting of my link was followed by a Hansen Brothers-like comment “Nail this guy.” My critique was of their message (so far as I could discern it): the new rules enforcement has taken the excitement out of hockey.

Let me restate my point by directly addressing some comments left on this blog. First, John, I believe the biggest problem pre-exists the rules crack-down. Let’s talk about league expansion to the sun belt and the talent dilution that came with it. From this, we got the trap, as well as and clutch and grab. This was killing hockey before the lockout. The enforcement changes are an effort to address that.

Have they gone too far? I think so, believe it or not, especially with regard to interference. The intent is not to open up the ice by creating power plays, but to allow the skills player to skate without getting tackled. The idea was there would be an adjustment period, then the penalties drop off. From where I sit (having grown up watching hockey from the early 80s on) today’s game is way better than the late 90s and early 00s. So the direction is good, if not perfect. Do you really prefer clutch and grab and trap?

Marc C begins with a straw man argument: “You must be kidding when you write that more obstruction-type penalties being called are making the game truly more exciting.” You must be kidding me if you think that’s what I wrote. Go back and read it again, then feel free to comment when you understand the nuance of what I’m talking about. Marc then pronounces “[r]ivalries are now a thing of the past…” and yearns for “hard-hitting action and, yes, a little tension between teams that work hard to win.” Have you seen Buffalo and Washington play lately? Marc C closes with a red herring, the old war horse about stick work and dangerous hits being up because guys can’t police themselves anymore. Yawn. What’s that got to do with the new standard of calling obstruction penalties? Anyway, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that one…. (“You see this quarter? It used to be a nickel.”)

Hannibal chimes in with another straw man. I don’t think I’ve ever invoked the old Broad Street Bullies. Ah, but those were the days, eh?

Then Chuck comes in talking about football. I might have to ban people for talking about football on this site. Seriously. Football. Football?

Now come Chaser/Johnz/Kevanie and Stinky Johnson with their Beavis and Butthead routine, which speaks for itself (and doesn’t reflect all that well on the “movement”, such that it is).

Anyway, despite the hysteria I’ve incited by not jumping whole-heartedly on the “bring back clutch and grab” bandwagon, I think we can all agree that a lot of obstruction calls could be left uncalled. I never said calling more penalties is making the game more exciting. Come on guys, don’t be thick. I wish you all could look back a bit and recognize the connection between league expansion, talent dilution, the relaxing of enforcement, and the consequent slow down of the game due to clutch and grab and the trap. Either you haven’t been watching hockey all that long, or perhaps you live in the south and think it’s great to have all these teams in the sun belt. You think maybe diluting the talent to expand into markets where the ponds don’t freeze might have something to do with declining attendance and a boring game? Maybe, just maybe, guys.

Is Bettman an ass-clown? You betcha! But I’d still rather see any game this season over just about any game in 03-04. Has zero-tolerance gone too far? Probably. But no way do I want to go back to watching tackle/trap hockey. Talk about taking the excitement out of the game.

15 Responses to “Hi guys. Pull up a chair.”

  1. Comment from Marc C:

    Who wrote anything about going back to the trap, or clutching and grabbing? I have no problem letting guys skate, but there is no way a player should be able to stay in the crease, untouched, while waiting to get fed the puck, and have defensemen stay there like idiots waiting for something to happen. There should also be accountability for cheapshots, and if you don’t think these are mounting, ask Alex Ovechkin what he thinks of that, or others that have been hurt this year with knee-on-knee hits without retribution fron either the opposing team or the league. You mention the latest Caps and Sabres games, how many of those have we actually seen this year? I thought so. Lastly, have you heard of something called the instigator rule, no fighting in the last 5 minutes of a game, etc? Your “yawn” actually shows your complete ignorance of what constitutes physical play, it’s not only about obstruction calls, it’s about calling penalties on just about anything, special teams are now playing more minutes than regular shifts! But don’t let NHL attendance figures sway your weak argument: while they clearly demonstrate that the NHL is NOT going in the right direction, it’s really exciting for Ice Capades fans.

  2. Comment from John:

    MHLW… I apologize for the rude comments left on your blog by some immature posters at FC. I don’t think you and I are far off believe it or not. Let me first get a couple of things clear. No one prefers clutch and grab and neutral zone traps, as you put it, hockey that was played in the late 90s and early 00s. At the same time, not too many people prefer what is being played today… wide open hockey that is created because so many power plays are handed out. Half the game is played on the power play these days and that is boring, emotionless hockey. If they want, they might as well take it one step further and go to four on four hockey. It’s not that far off right now. Watching guys parade to the penalty box for yet another pointlesss obstruction call makes the hockey purist, the traditionalist, want to lose their cookie. The fact that you can admit that they have gone too far with interference calls displays that we have similar points of view. Neither of us want that; neither of us want neatral zone traps. As the brass on 6th Avenue continue to watch their ratings plummet, they need to ask themselves two things: 1) when was hockey most popular; and 2) what made it popular. The answer is the 1980s when you had the perfect blend of talent and physical play. Scoring was up and there was inticipation for huge, rivalry games. Rivalries have been non-existent since the Avs/Wings in the late 90s. Seriously, when was the last time we had a rivalry? The Caps/Thrashers have become a bit of rivals.. but that comes and goes. But it has come because of what transpired two games ago between the two teams (Brash, Vish, Mellanby, Erskine, Hossa, Kovalchuk, etc.). I GUARANTEE the house in DC sees an increase in attendance tonight. And that is all because of the physical play that has marked their last two encounters. If Bettman doesn’t get that rivalries fill seats, he is a dope. If anything, he has taken steps to NOT let rivalries blossom in his league. While has says he tried to create them by making more inter-divisional play, we all know that was to cut down on travel costs to put teams in the black. It’s sad. And do not bring up Buffalo/Washington; that is not a good example. That has been marked by two plays that characterize today’s NHL… a cheap hit from behind and a spear to the groin. Rivalries are simply not allowed to blossom in this league.

    Chuck’s point about the NFL are its characteristics that make it a popular game… hard hitting, emotion, physical play with a fine blend of finesse. This is what fans want in their NHL. This is what they used to have, again, in the 1980s to early 1990s. Instead of Bettman tooling with the rules to increase scoring at the expense of destroying the flow and passion of the game, he should look at what made hockey popular once, what made fans pack seats, the traditions of the game so to speak.

  3. Comment from John:

    And I also want to say that both sides have put word into the other’s mouth. Again, NO ONE wants clutch and grab hockey. It’s boring; there is no passion in that style of play. As for hockey being played in warm climates, you betch… it doesn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense when Bettman moved his office to NY either. It didn’t make sense when hockey was pulled from Winnipeg. If Pittsburg wants to move, send them back to Winnipeg for God’s sake. They would pack that house every night with the Candian Sid the Kid as their superstar.

  4. Comment from Himself:

    Thanks, John, for acknowledging we’re closer together than has been portrayed. You almost admit that the new enforcement standards and the two-line pass have eliminated clutch and grab and the trap. Good. We’re making progress.

    Marc C, on the other hand, can’t get over his own hysteria, and has to change the topic from zero-tolerance of obstruction to the instigator rule. Which gets us closer to the truth about the hockey-fights.com/hockeyfansunite.com crowd. Maybe it’s not the obstruction enforcement that gets them so bothered, but the decreased emphasis on fighting in the league under Bettman. If that’s your beef, why don’t you just say so? If you don’t want to go back to clutch and grab, why do you attack the new standards that have eliminated it?

  5. Comment from John:

    MHLW… I fully admit that the new standards have eliminted clutch and grab hockey. But I will also admit that there is a middle ground that HAS to be reached. Almost every game, we see four or five penalties that do not need to be called. Either it was away from the play itself or it did little to disrupt the player with the puck. This ABSOLUTELY kills the flow and emotion of the game. You have to admit that. Spending half the game on the power play is not what the average hockey fan wants to see. And I personally think that it what is killing the attendance and t.v. ratings… average hockey fans and traditionalists are exiting and not coming back. The hockey elitists will never leave no matter what the game looks like. Bettman is lucky he has these “die hards”, a term that will have a different meaning in the future should we continue with the way the game is called.

    As for fighting, if you don’t think the league NEEDS it, you are 100% wrong. Please read the published research on the front of hockeyfansunite.com. It is published in a prolific journal, meaning the study has to go through a lengthy process of reviews to make sure that the research is valid. You cannot deny its findings. The anectodal evidence is overwhelming as well. If you want me to go into a long rant about that evidence, I could fill pages. But simply put, it is a staple of hockey tradition. Fans used to go to the games because they ANTICIPATED the hatred between two teams and what might happen. You hardly get the nowadays. Like I said, the last REAL rivalry was Det/Col. Nothing lasts more than three games now. It dies out or the league kills it before it can take shape.

  6. Comment from Himself:

    John, thanks again; we’re more on the same page regarding the obstruction enforcement than you guys were initially willing to admit. I agree whole heartedly that too many penalties away from the puck kill the flow and need to be overlooked more often.

    But now we get to the meat of the matter: you guys want more fighting. So why don’t you make that your rallying cry, instead of railing against the enforcement standards that have eliminated clutch and grab? Talk about the instigator, talk about the crusade against fighting. Your message gets convoluted when you talk about zero-tolerance. It’s unrelated (except that the same comish is repsonsible for it).

    By the way, I’m a junior hockey fan. You want fighting? Come see our WHL “Portland Winter Hawks”:http://www.winterhawks.com/ play the Seattle Thunderbirds. Or, better still, check out any given Junior B match-up at a crappy rink near you. The Jr. B team (whom I won’t embarass by directly linking) that plays at the “rink where I skate”:http://www.valleyicearena.com/ has just one (you read that correctly: one) win this season. Those boys get pretty chippy when they’re down six goals in the third period. Heh heh heh.

  7. Comment from John:

    MHLW… John, you are absolutely wrong. If you think that is the mission of the hockeyfansunite.com, you are mistaken. By me saying that hockey certainly needs more fights (from emotion that is), that does not mean that is my goal or anyone’s goal. If I am not mistaken, the goal is to bring back a more traditional brand of hockey to the game. By tradition, again, what made hockey popular in the 1980s, the type of hockey that an excellent mix of finesse, fights, and rivalries. It was the blue collared sport. And it was the blue collared fan that would buy season tickets and show up to EVERY game. Today’s finesse brand of hockey is geared toward the family of four and the yuppie. But there are problems with each. One, it is too expensive for most family of fours to attend games. When you factor in the tickets, food, parking and the occasional souvenier, it is beyond affordable. The problem with the yuppie hockey fan is they only attend a handful of games a year. And while goals are being scored and fights are breaking out on the ice, they are yapping on their cell phone. If you want real hockey back, again, the kind that will put fans in seats, you need to gear the game toward the average blue collared hockey fan… you know, the kind that has walked away from the game and left the Commissioner struggling with new ways to boost attendance… only the problem is, every time he comes up with a new idea, it’s wrong.

  8. Comment from John:

    MHLW… when are you going to come up with an Edit feature? ;)

  9. Comment from Himself:

    John: I have an edit feature. I’m just the only one who can use it. Heh.

    Look, you’re going around in circles. First I hear the main beef is the zero tolerance rules enforcement. Then you grudgingly agree this has successfully ended clutch and grab (even if it’s gone a bit too far). Then you go and talk about “tradition” and “emotion” which come off sounding like a euphemisms for the good old days of fighting.

    If I hear you right, you want no clutch and grab and more fighting. So again I ask what’s that got to do with zero tolerance? At least zero tolerance has addressed a serious problem that resulted from excessive expansion. Does hockefansunite.com acknowledge this? The message is convoluted by an evident blind hatred of Bettman.

    We can all agree Bettman sucks, has been horrible for the game, and shouldn’t even have a job driving the Zamboni for the Ice Capades. But we also seem to agree that zero tolerance has at least done something to address one of the ways he damaged the game. By focusing on zero tolerance as the culprit in killing hockey, hockefansunite.com misses the point, in my opinion.

  10. Comment from John:

    MHLW… I don’t know why you don’t understand the link between the endless parades to the penalty box and the lack of emotion. It’s simple… when teams are busy trying to score on yet another power play or trying to kill another penalty, there is no emotion. The penalty box parade for pointless obstruction calls is an EMOTION KILLER. Power plays are 99% finesse. The average hockey fan, plain and simple, isn’t interested in watching yet another power play. You HAVE to understand this.

    So while Bettman, and guys like you, think zero tolerance is the end all to solving clutching and grabbing, you ingore the side effects. By getting rid of one problem, Bettman opened up a huge can of worms… it called finesse, emotionless, passionless hockey. Some might call it European hockey. It hasn’t sold and it won’t sell.

    Let me ask you a question, why do you think today’s NHL isn’t selling? Why do you think hockey has become a “niche sport”? Marketing? New t.v. deal? The on ice product? The uniforms??? LOL! The placement of teams? Enlighten me.

  11. Comment from Himself:

    I’m getting dizzy from all this spinning in circles (not to mention somewhat bored. Or maybe the dizziness is from too much coffee. Whatever.) I thought we agreed that zero tolerance had addressed the issue of clutch and grab, and that it had gone too far and there needs to be some middle ground. Can we leave it at that?

    Cool it with the “Bettman, and guys like you” crap. Have I not stated clearly enough that I think Bettman stinks? Sheesh.

    Now listen, to answer your question, maybe you need a little history lesson on the popularity of hockey in the US. (Never mind Canada, since hockey’s popularity has never really waned there.) Hockey has always been popular in the Northeast and the upper Midwest, that is, the places where ponds freeze in the winter. In 1980, the US olympic team pulled off the impossible by beating the ultimate “Euro” hockey team, the USSR. Many of the kids on that Miracle team went on to play in the NHL, and the NHL gained nation-wide popularity that it had never seen before, with TV market penetration even in the deep south. Before this, in the 70s and before, hockey was a exactly a “niche sport” with popularity mainly in the aforementioned regions. Before the Miracle, you’d have been nuts to suggest hockey would ever be popular outside the Northeast and Midwest, much less that there would be two (!) teams in Florida.

    Then came the expansion of the 90s, which not only watered down the talent pool, but also put the league in markets with tenuous long-term viability (to say the least). Behold, by the late 90s and early 00s, teams began to complain of losing money. The league lost its network TV contract. Fickle southern markets began to fizzle. But — guess what — hockey remains wildly popular where it’s always been popular, in the Northeast and Midwest. What we see today is the expansion bubble bursting.

    I say contract the fucking league to 24 teams. Get the hell out of Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, North Carolina (sorryAlex!), Texas and Tennesee. Move one or two of the California teams to Canada. What’s the point trying to sell the game where the game can’t be played by kids at the park?

    Seriously, guys, do you want what it takes to give the game appeal in the south? These markets want NASCAR. Should we make the NHL more like NASCAR? Should the jerseys sport ads for Target and Tide?

    The Problem you’ve identified is a product of over-expansion. Plain and simple. This zero tolerance argument is just a distraction from the real problem. The answer is just as simple: contraction. I don’t give a flying fuck at the moon about TV ratings in Alabama. You want true grit and emotion, focus on the markets where kids grow up skating before they can walk.

  12. Comment from John:

    I too am bored with round and round. Let’s see what we can agree on this time. Sure we can agree on zero tolerance has addressed the clutching and grabbing. I never said otherwise. Now… let’s agree that zero tolerance kills the emotion of the game as well. And that is a bigger can of worms!

    Simply put… I 100% agree with your assessment. Traditionally that is. If you look at 2005 attendance figures compared to 2006 by team, you will notice that 10 teams have seen an increase in attendance, 4 staying the same, and a decrease in 16 cities. It’s very surprising to see teams like the Wild, Sens, and Avalanche losing fans. Nonetheless, its happening this year. Boston has lost an astonishing 2,301 fans from last year per game. Philadelphia is -421. These numbers speak volumes about the state of the game. These are cold weather teams too in towns with hockey rich tradition. And while I do agree that the league could drop a few teams (Florida would be a prime candidate – how many teams does FL need?), there is a bigger problem here. And that is the on-ice product.

    Now let’s grab some game attendance figures, add a little theory, and see what happens. The Caps played the Thrashers and there was a huge melee, thus creating a mini-rivlary (again, no real rivalries in the league anymore). The attendance for that game was 11,284. Then they play in Atlanta the next game (16,920). Then the play in WSH tonight (15,642). So we saw INCREASES after that melee… shocker. Wierd how an extra 4,400 fans flock to a game where fireworks might happen. The Caps played the Thrashers the fourth game of the year on a Saturday night at home… attendance… 11,995. That is nearly 5,000 less than tonight.

    Unfortunately we were treated to a power play fest tonight. It was pathetic to watch. Hartley handcuffs his players as if he were Roscoe Keekoetrain. Instead of guys acting like men, they slash and hack on their way to the bench. Their poor toug guy, Eric Boulton, cross checked Donald Brashear on two seperate incidents… again, on his way to the bench. It’s sad to watch this. Boulton will be out of a job soon… why carry a tough guy when you don’t allow him to fight? If all teams were like this, the league would be dying even faster than it is now. The game featured five goals, four of which were scored on the power play or one four-on-four hockey. There were EIGHT obstruction-like penalties called. How much fun is that to watch?

    THAT is your “new NHL.” It needs quite a bit of work. And before we start moving teams back to Winnipeg and Hartford, let’s focus on some things we really can change… like keeping the scoring up without killing the emotion of the game, like building rivalries instead of tearing them down.

  13. Comment from Louie_2d:

    I haven’t read through all of the comments, but you seem a bit perturbed that people from hockey-fights.com are taking issue with your site. You do realize that the name of your site (“More Hockey Less War”) implies a certain predisposition against a physical style of play (i.e., fighting, etc.). Relax and enjoy the fact that your site is getting so much unwarranted attention.

  14. Comment from Himself:

    Louie_2d: The name of my site refers to my political angle, not any predisposition about physical hockey (just ask the guys I skate with). Or, you could actually read some of my stuff and try to find a predisposition about physical hockey (and you’ll find that I love gritty, hard hitting hockey).

    Thanks for playing, though!

  15. Comment from Louie_2d:

    A hockey site that serves as a front for poltical rhetoric…and visa versa. Ingenious.