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.