Bigger better for NHL rinks

The Beezer has said it before and he's saying it again: More ice should mean more goals for the...

The Beezer has said it before and he's saying it again: More ice should mean more goals for the NHL. (Getty Images)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:32 PM ET

TORONTO - The NHL should be applauded for its Holy Grail-like quest to make the game safer and more exciting.

Just last week, the league held a Research, Development and Orientation camp, at the MasterCard Centre in beautiful uptown New Toronto.

Kudos to some of the ideas kicked around to make the players safer, like the curved glass around the stanchions and the bear-hug rule.

But, unfortunately, in terms of making the game more attractive and increasing goal-scoring ó which is apparently something everybody wants ó nobody in the league seems to be looking at the big picture. At least, nobody seems to be pushing the agenda at these camps, even though Iíve heard certain NHL general managers speak favourably of the idea.

To my way of thinking, the NHL could increase goal-scoring and make the game more exciting with one simple change, without having to constantly tinker and retool. (And when a league is constantly retooling, it sends out the message, unfortunately, that thereís something profoundly wrong with the game).

Yes, Iíve harped on this before, but itís necessary harp: The NHL should increase the size of the ice. Not even the length of the ice, just the width. More ice, more room to move, more creativity, more goals. More goals, more excitement, more fans.

Iím not a math guy, but that seems to be a winning equation. Still, opponents of the idea, including some very good friends of mine who write and broadcast hockey for a living, argue that changing the ice dimensions would result in a boring game, because there would be less hitting, as there is in European pro hockey.

But I donít buy that. The NHL features the best players in the world.

Most NHL players, even the sweethearts, like to hit.

And when youíre dealing with the best players in the world, bigger ice would not turn the game into glorified shinny.

Why is 4-on-4 hockey so exciting to most fans? Because thereís more room for the players to create. Itís as simple as that.

But rather than kick around the idea of bringing in 4-on-4 during regulation time ó which, for a traditionalist, is a kick in the chops ó why not widen the ice? That way, you keep 5-on-5 hockey and gain the element of creativity and, ultimately, increase goal-scoring.

Opponents of bigger ice will also argue that, logistically, itís too costly to widen the ice, that itís too late the make the change.

Sure, it would probably cost each club a few million and a few rows of seats. But itís a smart investment. Itís like the federal government increasing spending on health and fitness. Yes, there are big up-front costs but, down the road, the investment is going save money on health costs.

If the NHL spends the millions now to widen the ice, it would pay off in a big way down the road, because, as the game becomes more exciting and goal-scoring increases, more fans would get turned on. And it would make sense that TV ratings would go up. And perhaps, one day, the NHL would even get more lucrative TV deals outside of Canada.

Another argument against wider ice surfaces is the tired one that when the Olympics are played on NHL-sized ice, as was the case at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, itís incredibly exciting.

Thatís true. But letís face it. Youíre dealing with a handful of the very top players in the world, playing in a short tournament for national pride. Of course itís exciting.

It would be exciting on the bigger ice, too.

But weíre talking about 82-game NHL schedules here, with 30 teams. Not a two-week long Olympic tournament.

Hereís hoping at the next R&D camp, or at the next GMís meeting, they think outside the box. Enough about the nets and verification lines. Think big. Big ice.


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