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Tasca's Take

Asking Too Much

Steve Buffery offers his take on what's wrong with the NHL:

The truth is, the NHL continues to be a weak cousin on the North American professional sports scene. Some suggest it’s fourth in the pecking order, but an argument could be made that NHL hockey, in terms of real following, has fallen to sixth; behind the NFL, MLB and NBA, as well as NASCAR and golf. But that shouldn’t be. Hockey is a wonderful game. Unfortunately, NHL hockey is often boring. Sure they are good games, but there are too many low-scoring, suffocating snorefests.

Buffery's lament sounds all-too familiar.  In fact, it's the same complaint hockey fans had back in 2004, which prompted the introduction of new rules and gimmicks designed to open up the game following the last lockout.  Yet here we are, nine years later, and the entertainment value of the NHL has improved marginally, if at all. 

These days, I very often find myself leaving the rink dissatisfied.  It's gotten to the point where I've become extremely hesitant to invite prospective new fans to hockey games because I'm worried that the on-ice product won't resemble my description.  The problem is, boring hockey is very often successful hockey.  The 2012 Stanley Cup final may have been the most mind-numbing championship series in league history, but Kings fans won't make any apologies.

Hockey will never be popular in the United States.  The lack of scoring is part of the reason.  But the fact of the matter is hockey is not accessible to the vast majority of the American population.  The sport is simply too expensive to play at the youth level.  Other team sports, such as basketball, baseball, and soccer, command a minimal enrollment fee, and don't require personalized equipment.  On top of that, parents don't have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to drive their children to soccer practice. 

The fight to turn hockey into an American institution is fruitless.  The sport has no cultural roots in the States, and the astronomical cost of participation ensures the game will never cultivate enough interest to keep up with the other major sports.  The leaders of professional hockey leagues should concentrate their efforts on satisfying their current crop of fans.  Hockey die-hards are the best ambassadors of the sport, and they're always eager to recruit new puck heads. 

The key is to make sure hockey fans are excited about and proud of the game.  It's a difficult task, especially when coaches dedicate so much time to clogging up the neutral zone and nullifying offensive talent.  Quite often, guys like Steve Buffery come across as whiners pining for the days of high-flying 80's hockey.  But in reality, all he wants is to see the great things our sport has to offer displayed on a regular basis by the best athletes in the world.

It's not asking too much. 

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Comments

TreKronor's avatar

From the people I’ve spoken to, a number of them have a hard time getting into the sport because they aren’t used to the rules; icing, offsides, the trapezoid, why some penalties are 2 mins, others 4, some 5, etc.  It all makes sense to those who watch the game so much, but I remember being a youngster and having a hard time with it myself. 

Basketball and baseball are probably the two most accessible sports, and sports which people grew up with.  Most people understand the simplicity of both sports, and have known the rules since they were in grade school.  Football is big in high schools.  However, most of the US isn’t familiar with hockey because they don’t have high school teams, or they don’t grow up playing the sport.  That being said, I agree about it being less accessible than other sports.

Posted by TreKronor on 01/11/13 at 03:24 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

The key is to make sure hockey fans are excited about and proud of the game.  It’s a difficult task, especially when coaches dedicate so much time to clogging up the neutral zone and nullifying offensive talent.  Quite often, guys like Scott Buffery come across as whiners pining for the days of high-flying 80’s hockey.  But in reality, all he wants is to see the great things our sport has to offer displayed on a regular basis by the best athletes in the world.

It’s not asking too much.

What a wonderful quote. Perfectly said.

Posted by Hank1974 on 01/11/13 at 04:07 PM ET

Avatar

You won’t see that again.  Why?  The players from top to bottom all skate well and are in great shape.  Bigger rink?  Could be a problem, if too big hockey could start to look like soccer.  Too much neutral zone play.  Bigger nets?  Possibly.  What would effect be?  Would easier scoring diminish value of defense and make offense more attractive to coaches?

It’s not about gimmicks.  The players have improved to the point that the game is being changed.

Posted by 13 user names on 01/11/13 at 06:37 PM ET

Hockeytown Wax's avatar

What would excite me to no end would be to make the referees invisible.

Over the years, the league has invented so many new penalties, theres a whistle going off every 30 seconds.  The flow of the game is gone and by the time you get to the 3rd period, your 4th line has taken maybe 3 shifts.

Most NASCAR fans won’t admit it but, they watch because they want to see a crash.  Constantly turning left for 3 hours can’t be THAT exciting ... unless you spice it up a bit.

Most hockey fans WILL admit ... they wanna see a good fight.  Sure, you can put the red line back in ... take away the trapezoid ... etc. etc. etc.  but hockey will not be hockey until you get rid of the instigator penalty and the 3rd man in penalty.

Let the players take some of the load off of the refs and let the players police themselves.  All we see is a parade to the penalty box because of some stupid hooking or holding or roughing infraction when it should have been a fight.  Theres too much stuff going on at too fast a pace for the refs to see everything, and when something happens to a teammate behind the play that needs to be taken care of, those 2 above mentioned childish penalties get in the way.

Sure, the league claims they’re trying to protect the players from injury blah blah blah.  They’re men ... treat them as such.  3 game suspensions and $10K fines don’t get the message across.  Maybe an old fashioned beat-down will.

Bring back exciting hockey and old fashioned player respect.  Let them fight.

Posted by Hockeytown Wax from West Bloomfield, Mi. on 01/11/13 at 11:19 PM ET

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.