Yes! The Canucks are officially slumping. It has reached epic proportions (What? H. Sedin pointless in 8!). Power Plays are down all around the NHL. I know, I know, Blame the Refs? But, as fans of 'New Age Gillis-Style Up-Tempo Puck' ,- Have we encountered our worst fear? Have we all hopped on board an 'NHL Time Machine', and been transported back by Captain Neilson to the 90's DEAD ZONE - a world of 1-0, 2-1 snooze fests, Brodeur vs Hasek - 'mano-a-mano', Lemaire and Hitchcock - clipboard to clipboard, - dull, shutdown, dump and chase hockey, 'Satans of the Neutral Zone', where the Devils Rule the world!
1. Call more frickin' penalties
2. Get 30 grizzled G.M. veterans -who proclaim to "know the game', and gather in a sunny local and
come up with even more rule changes: bring back the red line ,create hybrid icing, nix the trapezoid
try 3 on 3, eliminate the glove hand pass...
3. Consider the results from recent research - objective statistical analysis done by qualified researchers - (okay hockey nerds if you prefer), which clearly identifies the main problem.
Hockey analytics/sabermetrics or 'MoneyPuck', has been met with skepticism and has yet to find much acceptance within the powers of NHL.The NHL has long been seen as an 'old boys club' with most teams preferring to hire former players in high level positions of power and influence Currently, the Gm's are having their yearly 'think tank' in Florida, they are meeting in breakaway groups, looking for innovative ways to improve the game -'our game'. But are they listening to the 'Fans'; their 'Market'.
Hockey Fans Want Exciting (High Event) Hockey. Hockey Fans Hate Boring (Low Event) Hockey.
The1994 Finals, as painful as it is for us old school fans to recall, was one of the most exciting in history.
"As The CBC broadcast of the deciding Game Seven attracted an average Canadian audience of 4.957 million viewers, making it the most watched CBC Sports program in history to that time."(Wikipedia)
Even Sports illustrated proclaimed, on its cover, "Why the NHL is hot and the NBA is not"(Sports Illustrated June 20, 1994). Then we fell into the dreaded 'dead puck era'. However, since the lockout their has been a renaissance. And, its no coincidence that the recent high ratings coincide with the rise of the dominant Canucks and their entertaining up-tempo style. The new rules did help hockey. They did open up the game. But only briefly, and I argue artificially, relying on very high level of power plays for continued effect.Unfortunately, the players have adapted to the new rules, and with a a goal becoming increasingly valuable and rare, the referees are feeling increasing pressure, not wanting to decide these many low scoring close 'key' games with a borderline call. They say ,"let the players decide it".And, I wholeheartedly agree.
However, the main problem as I see it, is players aren't deciding it now, the coaches are. We have the re- invasion of: "The Society of Excessively, Defensive Coaches". Who many of us find very offensive ( Neilson, Lemaire, and Hitchcock,as leaders,and 'Pre-Gllis' Alain Vigneault, Dave Tippett,and others as their disciples). Even the higher scoring Maple Leafs have now abandoned offense and ordained Randy Caryle to save the day. Caryle, an offensive defenceman in his heyday, is now a 'take no chances kind of guy'. Aaron Ward (on the team 1040 radioshow "Scotty and Company" this morning), revealed one of Randy's secrets; "Coach Caryle on every defensive zone face off , has his center look to the bench to get a hand signal to indicate which defensive scheme they will use." Can you say,"Micro-Coaching!"
Further to this point, Pierre LeBrun, (again on team 1040,"The BMac and Taylor show") has reported from the Gm's meeting, that Mike Gillis is actively persuading other Gm's to consider any idea that promotes more offensive play. So what can be done to convert the shutdown zealots. I suggest that it is simple a case of risk and reward? Increase the reward; and encourage the risk.
Two recent detailed reports and articles from the world of Hockey Anyaltics provides strong evidence in support of this view. I''ll spare you the number crunching (you can check them out if interested).
"...for every situation the current points system (the Bettman point) rewards cautious, defensive play compared to the alternative 3-2-1-0. If the league wants to open the game up, as it seems, then it should change the points system...."
Similarly, The Sports Analytics Institute examined three full NHL seasons 2008-2010 under the current point system and concluded that in terms of points gained,
As early as the 2nd period a home team leading by one goal has, a 15.0% benefit from scoring an additional goal and a 22.6% benefit from preventing one. Therefore, it is, "...a rational behavior under this circumstance for the home team to favor a defensive style of play rather than offensive style of play."
Put another way, when leading, and after the first period, trying to score amounts to an irrational decision.
Still need more convincing? Here is another excellent post by Snark SD of the seminal Hockey Analyitics blog "Artic Ice Hockey." One of the findings from his detailed analysis of how the game is played is,
"...scoring a goal in the first is worth exactly the same value as preventing your opponent from scoring for the entire 3rd period. Perhaps the reason many coaches emphasize a 1-3-1 trap later in games to lock down the lead."
Coming out of the lockout, teams were encouraged to market the new brand of hockey hoping to win back fans they might have alienated. Five years later, with t.v. ratings up, most old fans and many new ones are re-invested in their teams,and most importantly the salary cap has resulted in far more average teams, with the gap from the top team to the bottom narrowed drastically. And, many of these coaches of average and below average teams have caught on and are now in full shutdown mode. And, why not? Can you blame them? We have seen that it is their best choice with the greatest reward. And, the attraction to this strategy is further magnified during the playoff push. (Now starting in January) A time when the standings are obsessively checked, printed, and refereed to after every game; a time when for these coaches and teams,every lost point feels much more costly, and, with many fearing for their jobs they are even less likely to take the irrational risk and try to score.
Even top teams, who may be tired from too many games in too few days, or suffering from injuries (i.e. Detroit, Boston) may be changing their strategy to coast a little, and shut it down and still able to pick up the points (i.e. the Canucks, in Feburary?). After all, other than entertain their fans, which is thankfully a noble cause that the home team subscribes too, what incentive is there for the Canucks to freewheel and try to win 4-2 (a risky play), when a 1-0 overtime shutdown shootout game, is safer and more beneficial in potential points.
The Bettman point is truly a dumb idea - It has 'Dumbed Down Hockey'.
Yes calling more interference, and some rule changes may provide short term relief, and the extra power plays will inflate scoring but it's all window dressing. Given more time and videotape - 'Defensive Wizards' will grab another clipboard and conjure up another scheme. If we really want to change the game we must get rid of the negative reward, Punish the Defenders-. And, make the 'Non-Attackers' pay.
Keep the loser point if we must, as the NHL seems tied to it.. But, If a team scores 3 goals or more in regulation and wins the game they get an extra point (empty net and shootout goals omitted). This puts the reward precisely where it ought to be - on goal scoring! To me, scoring a goal is the essence of the game. It also rewards the best skilled performances high scoring teams that can win with the most points, at present, we are rewarding teams that have the skill to defend leads and hang around in close games.Right from the beginning of the game all teams would be encouraged to open it up and, equally as important, when defensive teams get up 1,0 2,0 and 2,1 they would be strongly encouraged to look for that third goal. And, If a team is able to get to three goals then yes, they can try to shut it down -but I say if you score three you earn this right. Most importantly, it would put an end to the "Society of Excessively, Defensive Coaches". In addition, I feel this is better than the 3-2-1 system (3 points for a 60-minute win, 2 points for an overtime/shootout victory and 1 point for an ot/so loss). which still does not differentiate between higher scoring (usually high event) games and the lower scoring (low event) ones. In fact, 3-2-1 might be counterproductive in that if a defensive team goes up 1-0 they would be encouraged to play even more defensively to now protect 3 points. Yes, this idea may have flaws.But, one thing is sure. Keeping the status quo will continue to encourage and reward boring hockey!
I'd be interested what you think? (you can cast your vote after the article)
So why aren't the Gm's at least talking about altering the current point system. This is because thus far, the debate had been either/or. Scrap it or keep it as is. We can safely assume that the NHL wants to keep the Bettman point as it does keep more teams in the playoff race, to create parity and to keep fan interest and hope alive as long as they can. But, does it work? Isn't the salary cap the real cause of league parity - there are no dynasties,or dominant teams like Anaheim 2007, and Chicago 2010, as they can't be kept together. While even Detroit, the last repeat champion, has one cup in 9 years.
Besides, I predict that the 3rd goal bonus point would only separate the very top skilled teams as the cream would rise to the top and still leave a large number of average teams, surrounded around the mean point totals and still able to compete for the Bettman point. Yes, a few bad and unlucky teams would appear farther back in the standings but they could have more of a chance to catch up by playing wide open hockey (As a 3 goal win would be worth the same as 3 ot/so losses). Best of all, this proposal is a compromise, It's Win-Win. The NHL gets to keep its Bettman point and Hockey Fans get a very reasonable chance for more scoring and more exciting hockey.
For the time being, Canuck fans are left to 'grin and bear it'. And, wait for the playoffs. When overtime is Sudden Death. And, to pray we don't draw the Coyotes in round one - Vigneault vs.Tippett - A rematch of Dallas '07 - "The Race to One".( 7 games, 23 total goals, and three shutouts by the losing goalie) and,the next time we are stuck having to watch NHL ShutDown v. 2012 we can thank Gary and the NHL Governors, for his gift that keeps on hurtin'...