NHL hockey has improved since the lockout due to the fast young talent that’s allowed to skate now that clutching and grabbing have diminished and two-line passes are allowed. With this, the league rewarded speed, vision, offence and defence, and made life harder for brutish slugs. Very good! But all the other post lockout changes have cheapened hockey because they represented nothing more than undignified pandering to Americans, who incidentally rank the great sport of hockey below circuitous driving and arena football.
The NHL wanted to give teams incentive to play reckless pond hockey in overtime, that fertile ground for exciting highlights, so they decided to award a team one point for losing in OT. It’s wrong that this cheap perspective has altered our game. Like an ageing Hollywood star going under the knife to once more look appealing, the NHL underwent plastic surgery to change its face to look sexier for Americans. One result is the unnatural traces of botox found embedded in the standings, warping their appearance. Consider: Florida is currently third in the East and if playoffs began today they’d have home ice advantage, but remove their eight points awarded for losing in overtime, and adjust everyone else’s, and they’d be out of a playoff position! Teams are making playoffs by losing games at the right time. The NHL slyly acknowledged this and reversed the bad optics years ago by changing the term “overtime loss” to “regulation tie.” Currently, something in the stats is synthetic, and doesn’t look right. I look at the standings and see Joan Rivers.
The NHL’s contrived and sleazy infusion of excitement, as represented by three point games, might not only be fatal to teams (the Leafs missed the playoffs in 2007 because the team ahead succeeded in losing more in overtime), but it actually makes the hockey less exciting. I give a huge sigh of relief when the game finally reaches overtime and a point is safely deposited in the bank. Shouldn’t this tension be prolonged? The real exciting time is just before OT, when there’s a chance to win and lose two points. Anyway, improvement was never necessary, as overtime was always the best part of a game. Now the NHL’s exciting solution to a non-existent problem has created a new problem which I hope gets redressed one day. Like economic inflation, precious points are being printed out of thin air and handed out for failure. Put us back on the gold standard, please.
The shootout, though exciting, is nothing but a trashy sacrifice of the spirit of the game (that elusive thing!) that disproportionately rewards one- dimensional offensive players and only privileges one singular aspect of the sport. As Canadians who revere skilled players who also back check we should understand this. Abolish shootouts! It’s wrong that those wise and nobly built defensive teams, of which the Leafs are tragically not, can’t use their biggest asset in the game’s deciding moments. One point should be awarded to each team for a tie. Hockey is fundamentally a team game, and must remain so.
Not that any of this is currently in any mainstream discussion, so fixated is everybody, quite reasonably, on the players’ brains, but it’s problematic that a team might win the Stanley Cup after worming their way into the playoffs on the strength of accumulating a high number of OT losses. Our most exalted trophy deserves better.
I hope these issues get taken up one day.