Normally, the NHL board of governors spends Thursday night tickle-fighting their besties, plowing through a vat of cookie dough, and finishing it up with 60 minutes of Ugly Betty. Since the Writer’s Guild went on strike, it’s re-runsville and man can not live by cookie dough alone. Which is why they got to work last Thursday night and changed the NHL schedule. This is actually a big deal.
Under the old schedule, each team would play every team in their division eight times a season, play every team in their conference, and play a fewer number in the opposing conference–but not every team. It was a strategy to build division rivalries and, in many cases, it worked. But in the Southeast division, this meant that fans had to endure eight annual games between the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals, which is the real reason Terry Schiavo wanted to kill herself.
Next season, under the new schedule format, at the expense of these new division rivalries, each team will, holyfuckingshit, actually play each other at least once. Given that there’s 82 games to play, this should have been obvious. Anyway, the division rivalries will remain (six games against each divisional team instead of eight), 40 games against other teams in the conference, and 18 games against the opposing conference.
For some, such as Detroit GM Ken Holland, this wasn’t enough. In the near future, he’ll push for an 84-game schedule, enabling every team to have a home-and-home series with another–allowing every NHL player to visit every NHL city in the league.
NHL insiders believe this is the key to “saving” hockey. There’s abysmal attendance in once solid hockey towns like Detroit, who’s center ice logo reads “hockey town,” along with long-good teams like Dallas, and original sixers like Boston and Chicago. Changing the schedule, they think, will magically fill up arenas where only asbestos-tasting cotton candy and $7 Bud Lights once could.
Right–Crosby. We’re getting there. Allowing every NHL star to play every team, the thinking goes, creates star power buzz. And that, sadly, is the long and short of their strategy to save hockey.
The problem is that NHL Commissioner Bettman, a former NBA man, is looking at other sports. He’s trying for the Michael Jordan effect. The Yao effect. The Nash effect. Whatever.
Hockey’s had it’s share of it. It happened when Gretzky arrived in Los Angeles, when Messier became a Ranger, when Lindros was skating with his head up his ass. But this era, when the NHL was a violent novelty coming to conquer America in the early ’90s, is over.
The NHL doesn’t see the real problem: Hockey is simply too fast for never-ever watchers to understand it inside its current television incarnation. When the images are tiny and fast, how can the new audience appreciate the subtleties–the toe-drags, angling of players to the perimeter, and headfakes–of its highest-level talent? How can they measure the unmeasurable and see that, yes, even when Sidney Crosby doesn‘t score, he’s a fucking force of nature on just about every shift?
Despite this, which is as self-evident as Bernie Mac comedy, Bob McKenzie, TSN’s analyst, actually believes that Crosby is the panacea to the league’s woes. But if you look at the standings, he isn’t even a panacea to Pittsburgh’s woes.
Nevertheless, the hockey establishment has unofficially shouldered a 20-year-old kid with riding a cloud, eating lightning, and flying like a Valkyrie painted on a boogie van while he brings the NHL into public consciousness…by himself.
Right. Hockey’s poor attendance has nothing to do with watering down talent to stretch it into irrelevant markets. It has nothing to do with the fight-killing instigator rule and the general decline of physical play–the two events that bring fans out of their seats other than anthem singing.
And it has nothing to do with most TV broadcasts that look like the camera lenses were retrieved from a latrine and then smeared with mayo for good measure. It has nothing to do with fuzzy pictures on FSN and Comcast and one-angle broadcasts that show the ice as the world’s largest antfarm that’s been endorsed by Geico at its margins. It has nothing to do with zero coverage on any major network in America; or that the most reliable coverage is on Monday and Tuesday nights on Versus, which I get on channel 603.
The takeaway? Crosby could pull an octopus from his vagina at center ice and America would STILL remain preoccupied with wearing white Nikes with suits and buying terrible mortgages. If televised hockey doesn’t receive substantial investment and creative changes, the NHL better pray that Ugly Betty gets canceled. They’ve got work to do.