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Jeffrey Hoffman Headshot

Three Ways to Bring the NHL Back to Prominence

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In terms of success, the National Hockey League
is still not out of the woods, yet ... mostly because its popularity
remains under question in North America, especially in the U.S. Last
year's All-Star Game drew lower TV ratings than reruns of Andy of Mayberry. If you Google
sports rankings in the U.S., the NHL comes in eigth with college
football, basketball, and both NASCAR and WWE (pro wrestling) in front
of it ... along with the usual suspects ... NFL, NBA and MLB.

Clearly, losing ESPN
as a conduit to more viewers a few years ago, has taken its toll.
Blaming Comissioner Gary Bettman might be correct, but doesn't solve
the League's obvious problem ... lack of national exposure. So, I offer
these three major suggestions .... as a former season ticket holder for
35 years.

First, get rid of this hokey thing you call overtime and change your
point scoring to three for a win and one when you tie. This way, lower
teams in the standings can reek havoc when they draw with the top clubs
and likewise, last minute goals in regulation can have a much greater
effect on the standings. This is the way it is done in world
football ... soccer in North America ... and the effects are sudden and
immediate. Plus, why would you let two teams beat their brains in for
60 minutes, and then award an extra point just for an overtime fluke,
or a shootout, where goals scored don't count in a player's stats? It's
gimmicky and cheapens the basic game.

Second, stop playing games on back to back nights. Hockey is a
tough, somewhat violent sport, and players deserve a chance to get fit
before they go at it all over again. It also figures that the fans are
then rewarded with better more solid efforts, instead of teams mailing
it in because of fatigue, when they just played the previous night. And
don't tell me that it creates scheduling problems, cause that just
isn't so. Most teams play in their own areanas, so they can do as they
see fit when making a sensible schedule.

Finally, and perhaps most important, go back to the powers that be
at ESPN, and with the help of one major sponser, like FedEx in golf,
have a new 2nd Championship tournament during the season, similar to the F.A. Cup in England, or the other "knockout" championships that world soccer has in almost every country in which it is played.

This will accomplish two important things ... first, it will give the
League more national exposure and second, it creates new rivalries, and
adds to the current ones that already exist in the League ... like the
Rangers and Bruins or Maple Leafs and Canadiens.

Obviously, it will take years to gain the significance of the F.A. Cup or even the Stanley Cup, but look what The Player's Championship
did for golf. It's now considered the 5th major tournament ... and gets
great ratings for NBC, the network that has carried it in recent years.
To keep the player's union happy, reduce the number of regular season
games by two or three, so as to keep the totals close to the current
number. Here's how to go about it.

To start, give the Conference Champions a first round bye, and a
guaranteed home game in the round of 16. This would add prestige and
importance to winning your Conference Championship. Then, take the 28
remaining teams, 14 in each Conference and have a nationally televised
draw, like the F.A. Cup with Hall of Fame players doing the picks.

In the first round, keep the two Conferences (East and West)
separate, to save on travel and set up early and late games on a
designated weekend; with early and late games on a Saturday afternoon,
followed by early and late games that night. Then, finish with three
games on Sunday, two in the afternoon (early and late) and the final on
Sunday night.

Then, the following month, play the round of 16 with a combined
draw, where East can draw West, or not. Teams drawn first would be the
Home team, but like soccer, if the games end tied, replay them one week
later, at the visitor's home rink. In the replay, if tied after
regulation, play one full period, and if still tied, then, go to a
shootout.

Have a national draw each following month for the quarter and
semi-finals, but play the semis and final Cup Championship on neutral
rinks. This will promote travel and weekend festivities surrounding
each game. Finally, have the Championship Game the weekend before the
Stanley Cup Playoffs start, so as to not interfere with that
traditional tournament.

But, keep this in mind, the only way this new tournament could
succeed would be with the support and promotion of a power like ESPN.
Without it, the concept has much less credibility and thus, would be
less successful at bringing the real excitement of knockout competition
and "the Draw" to hockey. Like March madness, one game, winner
advances. Ask any soccer fan, it's tremendously exciting and a huge
boost to the game's popularity ... for while your season may be lost in
one competition, you may still be alive in another.

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