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Here are three ‘major changes’ the NHL should consider

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There will be no “major changes” to the NHL’s rulebook, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

“There will be some recommendations, some things people will look at, there will be some more homework done, but you should continue to enjoy the game principally the way it’s being played.”

And for most hockey fans, that’s fine. The NHL is in a good spot right now. There’s labor peace. More and more people are watching — in rinks, on TV, and on the internet. And hockey fans are traditionally averse to change anyway. They wonder why people are always trying to mess with their game.

Which I guess puts me in the minority. Because here are three fairly major changes I’d like to see the NHL consider:

1. A revamped points system

Something that gives teams an incentive to win in regulation time, not play for a tie and hope for the best in overtime or the shootout. In the Olympics, it was three points for a regulation win, two for an overtime or shootout win, one for an overtime or shootout defeat, and none for a regulation defeat. A system like that could be especially effective down the stretch, when there’s desperation to make the playoffs and the difference between winning in regulation and winning in extra time could be the difference between making and missing.

Granted, lots of people have suggested this, so here’s a more dramatic idea to consider: a bonus point for scoring a certain amount of goals in a game.

Before some of you faint at the mere suggestion, they already do this in rugby, as Wikipedia explains:

It was implemented in order to encourage attacking play throughout a match, to discourage repetitive goal-kicking, and to reward teams for “coming close” in losing efforts. Under the standard system, points are awarded as follows:
—- 4 points for a win.
—- 2 points for a draw.
—- 1 “bonus” point for scoring 4 tries (or more).
—- 1 “bonus” point for losing by 7 points (or fewer).
No team can get more than 5 points in a match.

The “encourage attacking play” is the big part for me.  It’s not so much I need goals, but I at least need the attempt to score goals.

Look, obviously there are drawbacks to a system like this. It would penalize teams whose best players are goalies or defensive-minded skaters. I appreciate defense. It takes a total team commitment. Frankly, at the end of the day, I probably wouldn’t even want this system. But it does make me laugh thinking about an idea like this even being broached by the NHL, and what the response would be. People would go ballistic. Why is that?

All I know is the NFL has never been more popular. Just a coincidence that the league has also seen a dramatic rise in scoring in the last two decades? Why are hockey fans who want to see more goals treated with such disdain? Were people who watched hockey in the ’80s wrong to like what they saw? Can you not want to see more attacking hockey, on average, and still appreciate the occasional 1-0 game?

2. Bigger nets

Before you rip the stupid blogger in the comments section, you should know that you’d also be ripping Mike Babcock.

“If the goalies [are] getting bigger, then the net is getting smaller,” Babcock said last year. “By refusing to change you are changing. Purists would say you can’t do it because you’re changing the game but by not changing you are changing the game.”

I’m old enough to remember the time when, if you were a small kid, they’d throw you in goal. Hence, the diminutive retired goalies we see working in TV today, like Darren Pang and John Garrett.

The small kids don’t become NHL goalies anymore. And let’s not even get into the size of pads those big, tall goalies wear now compared to back in the day.

At the very least, I’d like to see what bigger nets would look like in a real-game situation. I mean, wouldn’t you? Play a few exhibition games with them. What would be the harm in trying? Green eggs and ham, etc.

3. No more icing allowed during penalty kills

For as long as I’ve been a hockey fan, I’ve always wondered why a team that’s been penalized suddenly gets to do something it normally wouldn’t be allowed to do. Does that make any sense? It’s like being thrown in jail for assault, but because you’re in jail and being in jail is hard, you’re allowed to — I don’t know — engage in tax fraud or something.

Again, I’d just like to see how this looks. I’m not saying put this rule in right now. There are always unintended consequences. But I think the new icing rule where the offending team’s players have to stay on the ice has been fairly received. This would be an extension of that, because tired players don’t make for very good defenders, and if you can’t ice the puck on the PK, you’re going to see a lot of trapped, tired defenders on the ice.

“The overwhelming sense of the group is you don’t make change for the sake of change,” Bettman said after the general managers’ meetings. And he’s right in saying that.

But he’s also making a bit of a straw-man argument, because nobody’s suggesting change for the sake of change. People who want change are trying to make the game better, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

Quite a promising present

So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

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via EA Sports
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EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

 

Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

91rinneea

To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

Some other debate-starters

Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

***

Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.

NHL says it isn’t bothered by Coyotes’ salary cap methods

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 02:  Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skate after the loose puck in Game Three of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is deftly playing the system when it comes to the salary cap to the point that some might accuse him of exploiting loopholes.

If the NHL bristles as such tactics, they’re at least not showing it in public.

In taking on the absolutely dead money of Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk along with the possibly dead money of Dave Bolland, the Coyotes are getting to the cap floor while saving money in the actual cash they’re dishing out.

The Score’s Ian MacLaren succinctly explains the savings they’re enjoying thanks to these clever trades:

That’s how the league is viewing Arizona taking on the salaries of Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk and Dave Bolland. The cap hits amount to almost $18 million but result in less than $2 million in actual salary paid out by the club, while simultaneously allowing it to reach the cap floor.

Honestly, it’s difficult to shake the image of Gary Bettman & Co. bristling at the tactics of a franchise they’ve defended year after year amid myriad arena issues.

Today’s Slapshot’s Craig Morgan caught up with Bill Daly, whose overall message is that the league is OK with what Arizona is doing.

“I would say that it’s a matter that we monitor, like all other areas of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and if we believe it starts to be abused in a way that is inconsistent with how the system is designed to work, at that point, we would try to correct it in collective bargaining with the union,” Daly said. “I would say we aren’t at that point on this issue — we do not view it as the loophole that‎ some describe it as.”

One key point from Daly is that he doesn’t view Bolland’s case as the same as that of Pronger or Datsyuk. The critical distinction is that Bolland at least hopes to become healthy enough to play again.

(Chakya’s update wasn’t particularly optimistic in that regard, but a return isn’t totally inconceivable since Bolland is just 30.)

Best of both worlds for Coyotes

Again, the Coyotes are really reaping the benefits of this gameplan. Not only are they saving real dollars by absorbing other teams’ dead money, they’re using those trades to acquire promising assets like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse.

These are the sort of moves that make the team look bright today and possibly terrifying for opponents in the future, even if the 2016-17 product may be a little hit-or-miss.

Time may tell how the NHL truly feels

To some extent, we probably won’t know how the NHL truly feels about this situation until the next CBA eventually gets hashed out.

Then again, the league did make a big stink about cap circumvention during the memorable days of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations, so perhaps such maneuvering really doesn’t bother the NHL?

Maybe, but you’re free to picture Bettman grumbling about Chayka’s moves either way.

(H/T to the Score.)

Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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via Alex Ovechkin's Twitter page
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Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.