SUN Hockey Pool

Hey, NHL, what's in it for the fans?

It's normal locks and security at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, on September 16,...

It's normal locks and security at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, on September 16, 2012, but the fences and chains seem symbolic of the player lockout. (QMI Agency/MIKE DREW)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:44 PM ET

It's one of the things taken for granted in Lockout 3.0.

Once the greed is sorted out and NHL owners and players figure out how they're going to pocket the fans' hard-earned dollars, those fans will flock back to the rinks, tune in the NHL on their flat screens and buy up team sweaters.

That's the way it went down last time, right?

There's a sense this time is way different and it would seem to be a presumptuous assumption the fans will be there the way they were in 2005.

If the owners and players needed another reason to come to an agreement and play hockey this season, they might want to consider the longer this lockout drags on, the better the chances fans will stay away this time.

The previous time there were probably a lot of fans who understood the "cap-no-cap" philosophical battle.

A year without NHL hockey, well, if that was going to be the price to pay for labour peace and a system that guaranteed the financial health of the NHL, fans didn't like it but could understand it.

Now, it just looks like two greedy sides fighting over the fans' money.

When the 2005-06 season was resurrected out of the nuclear winter of 2004-05, the NHL had lots with which to shower the fans to entice them back into the fold.

The NHL, thanks in large part to the Shanahan Summit, roared back from the dead with a new set of rules and a completely different looking game. After more false starts than any of us care to remember, the NHL got serious about cutting down on obstruction, restraining fouls and interference. The game opened up and the result was there was a place again for the smaller, more skilled player.

The red line was eliminated for the purposes of two-line passes, the goal lines were moved out, the neutral zone was shrunk by four feet and the "tag-up" offside rule was reinstituted. The "no-touch" trapezoid for the goaltenders was introduced and teams couldn't make a line change after being charged with icing.

Tied games were decided by the controversial shootout, the skills competition which still appals many hockey purists, but was a hit with the fans.

The timing was also perfect for the league to make a splash coming out of the lost season with the debut of a generational player in Sidney Crosby. He had been touted as such for years going into what turned to be the hastily convened 2005 draft with the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the expanded draft lottery.

The arrival of Crosby and the debut of Alex Ovechkin, who had been the top pick in the 2004 draft, and Evgeni Malkin, second overall in 2004, created a perfect storm of new, exciting rules, new, vibrant players and a game that shifted from old and slow pre-lockout to fresh-faced and fast in the new era.

The fans came back and boosted the game to record revenues.

The NHL won't have that kind of buzz to sell this time.

There's no Crosby or Ovechkin to debut nor little that can be done with the rules. Maybe a new alignment scenario -- a new plan proposed by the owners in December was one of the first casualties of this negotiation -- could generate a boost in interest.

Maybe the owners could continue to work on reducing the size of goaltenders' equipment to boost scoring or bring in hybrid icing.

But those amount to tweaks rather than a revolutionary re-engineering of the game.

Better not to lose the fans in the first place rather than have to worry about how you're going to coax them back after another unnecessary nuclear winter.

-

Five major changes introduced the new NHL

When the 2004-05 lockout ended, the NHL came back with a vastly improved game to sell to its fans and that helped make up for the pain of losing a season.

Apparently hellbent this time on going down the same path, it will be tough for the NHL to come up with such sweeping improvements that led to record revenues over the course of the late collective bargaining agreement. After the NHL resumed play in the fall of 2005, here's a look at what turned out to be the top five developments that helped revamp the game:

1. The shootout. It remains controversial among hockey purists who sneer at the idea a "skills competition" would decide games, but there's no question the fans love it.

2. The debut of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. The top picks in the 2004 and 2005 drafts respectively, they quickly became the new faces of the NHL. For the first few years the rivalry blossomed; it has been on the wane with Crosby's concussion issues and Ovechkin's fading star.

3. Crackdown on restraining fouls. The NHL finally got serious about cutting down on hooking and holding. It has been an ongoing battle with ebbs and flows in the enforcement, but the new standard resulted in a game with more flow and more opportunity for smaller, faster, more entertaining players.

4. Parity. A function of the salary cap, which has levelled the field somewhat, parity has resulted in seven different Stanley Cup champions during the life of the past CBA. The flip side of that has meant the demise of the dynasty.

5. The death of the two-line pass. The removal of the red line for the purpose of two-line passes was to speed up the game. After a positive start, it now has mixed reviews. Players simply fire the puck up the ice to a waiting teammate at the far blue line who tips it into the offensive zone. The other team does the same, leading to some unimaginative play. There's also concern players can now build up too much speed on the forecheck, creating dangerous collisions.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson

 


Videos

Photos