The obvious reason why the NHL won’t switch to a larger ice surface

9 Comments

The 2011 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp acted as a mad science lab to test rule changes both big and small, but it was also a sly way to generate buzz for hockey in August.

Naturally, the talk of altering the game encourages bloggers, fans and writers to chime in with their own suggestions. Some wonder if the sport should do away with fighting, making all head shots illegal or even remove body contact altogether. Others are a bit more realistic with their expectations.

The Toronto Sun’s Steve Buffery is the latest writer to offer a reasonable change that probably won’t happen for a long, long time (if it ever happens): switching to a larger ice surface.

On the surface level, it’s a big picture cure for whatever worries the league might have about scoring. As Buffery explains, more ice means more room, which is a great weapon for speedy and skilled players. The first dissenting point Buffery brings up is that a larger ice surface would likely make for less hitting, a reasonable assumption since it would be that much tougher to lay a body on shiftier players.

It’s not until he gets a little deeper into his argument that he hits on the obvious sticking point, though: money.

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

Sure, it would probably cost each club a few million and a few rows of seats. But it’s a smart investment. It’s 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.

Sure, in an ideal world, all 30 NHL teams would be forward-thinking enough to swallow the bitter, multimillion dollar pill that would come with such a change. But how many teams would actually be comfortable with losing some of their most lucrative seats for a change that isn’t guaranteed to work? The Florida Panthers’ “Club Red” is strong proof that, if anything, the league’s teams are looking for more ways to squeeze every last dollar out of their “premium” seats. Even bigger clubs who could stomach those millions in losses are unlikely to want to give up some of their best money-making rows in the name of an enormous change.

Yes, it’s tantalizing to imagine how entertaining the NHL would be on international-size rinks, but don’t expect that to take place anywhere outside our imaginations.

Is Vancouver considering a Markstrom-Nilsson reunion in goal?

Getty
Leave a comment

With news that Ryan Miller is set to sign in Anaheim, the Canucks need a netminder to pair with Jacob Markstrom.

And a new report suggests they’re contemplating one of Markstrom’s old crease mates.

Per WGR 550, Vancouver has interest in soon-to-be Sabres UFA Anders Nilsson. Nilsson, 27, is coming off a pretty nice year in Buffalo, where he posted a .923 save percentage over 26 games (while making 23 starts).

Nilsson played last season on a one-year, $1 million deal, just like he did the season prior. But ’16-17 was by far his most successful campaign at the NHL level and, accordingly, he’s drawn interest from across the league.

As mentioned above, Nilsson is pretty familiar with Markstrom. They formed the one-two punch in goal for Sweden at the 2010 World Juniors — capturing bronze in the process — and have an awful lot in common. Both are 27. Their frames are eerily similar in that both are tall, physically imposing netminders — Markstrom is listed at 6-foot-6, 196 pounds while Nilsson is listed at 6-foot-6, 229 pounds.

The Canucks will likely want Markstrom to work in tandem with someone next season. Given his body of work, it’s fair to suggest they won’t hand him the keys to a No. 1 job. So if a timeshare is in the works, it makes sense to go with someone he has history with.

From the Nilsson perspective, Vancouver’s as good an opportunity as any right now. Available goalie spots are getting snapped up almost daily, and there are still several UFAs looking for work: Brian Elliott, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson, Darcy Kuemper and Ondrej Pavelec, specifically.

 

 

Oilers put Pouliot on waivers for buyout purposes

Getty
Leave a comment

Benoit Pouliot‘s time in Edmonton has come to an end.

The 30-year-old forward has been placed on unconditional waivers for the purposes of being bought out.

A buyout will mean a $1.33 million cap hit the next four seasons, as opposed to a $4 million cap hit the next two years if Pouliot remained on the roster.

The Oilers could use the cap space, what with Connor McDavid on the verge of signing a massive extension that will start in 2018-19, and Leon Draisaitl requiring an extension for next season.

Pouliot had just eight goals and six assists in 67 games last season.

Related: For Oilers, trading Jordan Eberle was about ‘long-term thinking’

Agent: Numerous Stanley Cup contenders have called on Kunitz

Getty
4 Comments

Chris Kunitz is in demand.

That’s the word from agent Ben Hankinson, who this week told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette his 37-year-old client is garnering major interest from a number of teams — and certain kinds of teams, to be clear.

More:

Hankinson, who represents Kunitz, said he’s fielded calls from as many as 10 teams with a legitimate shot at knocking off the Penguins next season, all interested in signing Kunitz.

“I don’t know where it’s going to end up,” Hankinson said. “Chris does have interest from a lot of teams. Who knows exactly where that interest is going to be once the offers start flying around, but he does have a lot of interest.”

Kunitz, who turns 38 in September, has been told by GM Jim Rutherford to explore free agency (to be fair, Rutherford told all his UFAs this). It’s going to be really interesting what that means for Kunitz, who could bring plenty to a team looking to make a postseason run.

For starters, there’s his experience. Few active NHLers have played — and won — in the playoffs as much as Kunitz. He’s got 161 games on his resume with four Stanley Cups, and was a key contributor for Pittsburgh this past spring.

In 20 games, Kunitz racked up 11 points while averaging 14:52 TOI per night. His nine assists put him tied for fourth on the team, and he famously scored the double-OT winner against Ottawa in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Given the lack of options in this year’s free agent class, Kunitz could score a pretty decent contract. That’s important, as it might be his last. The cagey veteran spoke at the Stanley Cup Final about how this could very well be his last kick at the can with Pittsburgh, and acknowledged that — given how limited opportunities are to win in the NHL — he needed to capitalize on every single one.

“We’ve been together for so long,” Kunitz said. “Our families are close, the kids are getting older and you realize that we’ve been really fortunate to have this great group of guys that have stuck together for so long. It’s rare to have guys stay for that long.

“So you just want to capitalize and make the most of it. [We’ve] all gone out for dinner together before the trade deadline, never knowing where your hockey career’s going to go. It’s something you put into your mind, but you’ve got to go out there and achieve your success every time you can.”

Report: Kovalchuk talking extension with KHL club

Getty
1 Comment

Last week, Devils GM Ray Shero was of the belief that Ilya Kovalchuk was still planning to play in the NHL next season.

Today, however, a Russian media outlet is reporting that Kovalchuk is talking with his KHL club, SKA Saint Petersburg, about a possible extension.

If accurate, that would mesh with an earlier report — the one that Shero ostensibly shot down — that Kovalchuk had decided to keep playing in Russia.

The NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Winter Olympics may be weighing on Kovalchuk. If he returns to North America, he won’t be able to represent his country in South Korea — a fact that was cemented last week when the NHL released its 2017-18 schedule.

Of course, all this could just be SKA Saint Petersburg making a last-ditch attempt to keep Kovalchuk.

“We have the desire to keep Ilya. He is our hockey player, a patriot and loves to play for the national team,” said club president Gennady Timchenko (translated, per Sportsnet). “We will talk today, and we might have some news later.”

Kovalchuk can’t sign an NHL contract until July 1.