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.

Erik Cole retires as a member of the Hurricanes

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Erik Cole has officially retired.

The Carolina Hurricanes made the announcement on Wednesday, stating that Cole signed a ceremonial contract with the NHL team and retired as a member of the Hurricanes.

Now 38 years old, Cole played 892 regular season games in the NHL, scoring 265 goals and 532 points. A number of his best seasons occurred while he was with the Hurricanes, reaching 30 goals with the 2005-06 Stanley Cup winning team.

His best season came with the Montreal Canadiens in 2011-12, as he scored 35 goals and 61 points.

His last season was in 2014-15. He began the year in Dallas and was moved to Detroit at the trade deadline, but a spinal cord contusion essentially meant an end to his playing career.

From the Detroit Free Press in April, 2015:

Cole revealed Wednesday that he has a spinal cord contusion severe enough doctors have cautioned him not to play again this spring.

“It stems back from my neck injury in 2006,” Cole said. “When I ran into the player in the Arizona game, I bruised my spinal cord. A spinal contusion is something that you have to let heal and obviously, it’s a pretty serious occurrence. Doctors feel I need to look out for my well-being as a person, not just as a hockey player.”

Cole is now a team ambassador for the Hurricanes.

Eriksson looks to bounce back after ‘tough start’ with Canucks

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The Canucks signed Loui Eriksson last summer, with the hopes he’d help give them a boost in scoring.

It didn’t quite turn out that way — at least not during Eriksson’s first year of a lucrative six-year, $36 million contract with the Canucks.

He scored only 11 times with 24 points in 65 games. The previous season in Boston, he scored 30 goals and 63 points in 82 games, so, yeah, it was a drastic drop in production in one year for the veteran winger, who started the year with a 13-game scoring drought.

“It was a tough start,” said Eriksson, per The Canadian Press. “I had to work uphill through the whole season.”

Read more: Under pressure: Loui Eriksson

That’s a difficult start for any player, but especially for one at the beginning of an expensive new deal in a new market.

“I’m anxious to see Loui. I’m confident that he’ll have a good season. We’ve talked about that … about the transition from Boston to Vancouver,” coach Travis Green said at the start of training camp. “He knows he has to have a better year than he had last year. I think he’s more than capable of it.”

The Canucks were active this summer, too, signing a number of free agents. Again, the hope is the additions they made heading into the new season — Sam GagnerThomas Vanek and Michael Del Zotto among them — could help give them a spark offensively, particularly on the power play.

Eriksson’s season ended in early March because of a lower-body injury. Now he’ll look to rebound from a disappointing season at the age of 32.

Panarin trying to ‘find chemistry’ with new teammates in Columbus

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Artemi Panarin faced his old team, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Tuesday.

It was only preseason and Panarin didn’t register a point in just over 22 minutes of ice time, and 8:17 on the power play.

But there was an interesting nugget to come from his media availability following the game — Panarin’s first against his old team following this summer’s blockbuster trade between the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Panarin was loose and comfortable, occasionally chatting in English and frequently devolving into giggle fits with teammates Vitaly Abramov and Matiss Kivlenieks, who tried in vain to interpret for him. In fact, Panarin said he was ‘‘glad’’ to be with the Blue Jackets, where he’ll have more creative control on the ice. As dynamic as he and Patrick Kane were as linemates, Kane is basically a center playing wing, dominating the puck.

With the Blue Jackets, Panarin can be that guy.

‘‘I can play a little bit more with the puck,’’ Panarin said through the interpreters. ‘‘Just kind of express myself on the ice a little bit more.’’

In two NHL seasons, both with Chicago, Panarin has been a scoring threat, reaching the 30-goal mark twice. Now with Columbus, Panarin is on a two-year contract worth a total of $12 million and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency when this deal concludes, per CapFriendly.

With the Blackhawks, Panarin spent plenty of time alongside Kane and it appears there has been suggestions that his offensive production was inflated as the result of playing on a line with Kane.

That suggestion has annoyed Panarin. Still, he joins a Blue Jackets team already equipped with a strong nucleus of young players that made considerable progress with a franchise-setting regular season in 2016-17.

“We’ll see how the season will go,” Panarin told the Chicago Tribune. “Beginning of the season maybe I’ll need to make some adjustments, but I just try to find chemistry with my new partners. It’s still in progress.”

NHL hopes to make inroads in China with preseason games

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SHANGHAI (AP) As the Vancouver Canucks held their first practice in Shanghai before their exhibition game with the Los Angeles Kings, a dense fog settled over the ice. The humidity in the arena was high and the players could barely see the puck.

Large dehumidifiers were rolled in and the mist eventually cleared, but the NHL has perhaps a bigger visibility problem in China – a country with little tradition of winter sports, hockey included. The league is hoping to turn that around with a major push in the country, beginning with its first two preseason games between the Canucks and Kings in Shanghai and Beijing this week.

The timing couldn’t be better for the NHL. With Beijing set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the government is putting a massive emphasis on developing winter sports. Hockey training programs and youth leagues are expanding across China, and the nation’s first professional team, the Kunlan Red Star, plays in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

With interest on the rise, the NHL believes it now has an opportunity to crack a market that has traditionally been more fixated on basketball and soccer.

“You don’t quite know what to expect the first time the game is coming here, but I’ve always believed that hockey is a game you need to see live,” Los Angeles Kings coach John Stevens said after Wednesday’s practice. “And once you see it live, you become hooked as a fan.”

A glance at the numbers shows just how far the NHL has to go. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, China has just 1,101 registered players, compared with nearly 556,000 in the U.S. and more than 631,000 in Canada.

And the fan base in a nation of more than 1.2 billion people is still in its infancy. On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the NHL has just 47,000 followers, some of whom are obviously new to the sport. (One posted a question about the temperature of the arena and what was suitable to wear to the game.) The NBA, which hosted its first preseason exhibition games in China in 2004, boasts more than 33 million followers on Weibo.

“We’re learning a lot about how to market here and we’re learning a lot about how tickets are sold,” says David Proper, the NHL’s executive vice president of media and international strategy. “We’re just viewing this as Year 1 of a multi-year project and in Year 1 we may not knock it out of the park . but we can still build over time.”

Media exposure certainly helps. State broadcaster CCTV now televises five games per week to Chinese audiences and the Internet giant Tencent streams 14 games per week on its digital platforms, including the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The NHL also has an influential partner on the ground in Zhou Yunjie, the billionaire founder of a Chinese drinks packaging company who has devoted significant time and resources to building the game he fell in love with as a youth in Beijing. Zhou’s company, ORG Packaging, is the presenting partner for this week’s exhibition games.

“Hockey was actually quite common in northern China back in the ’60s and ’70s, so there is a foundation among the kids in those areas,” Zhou told The Associated Press at his company’s newly opened hockey training base in a Beijing suburb, which includes a fully stocked gym, physical therapy room and a hotel for players attending training camps.

Zhou said China’s hockey revival should focus on both universities and a professional league, using the North American, northern European and Russian systems as models.

“It will take time before ice hockey really becomes like a religion with young people as it is in the West,” he said. “But ice hockey will definitely catch on with lots of kids.”

One thing that will certainly help is developing a home-grown star similar to Yao Ming in basketball and Li Na in tennis. There are promising signs on this front, too.

Song Andong became the first China-born player to be drafted in the NHL two years ago, selected by the New York Islanders. The 20-year-old Song has committed to play at Cornell this season.

On Monday, the Vancouver Canucks signed 21-year-old Sun Zehao to an amateur tryout contract to serve as the team’s third goaltender for the China preseason games.

“He’s working with our goalie coach,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “He liked how quick (Sun) was, how competitive he was. . I just think it’s a great experience for him.”

The NHL should also get a boost in China as excitement builds for the 2022 Olympics. The league angered its players by deciding not to interrupt its season to allow them to take part in the 2018 Games in South Korea in February. That stance may change for 2022 in the much larger Chinese market.

To some, skipping the Pyeongchang Olympics is a missed opportunity to gain a bigger foothold in China.

“With 2022 coming up, winter sports are taking the leading focus of all sports in China right now – more so than football,” said Mark Dreyer, founder of the China Sports Insider website. “They’ll be promoting the Korea Olympics more than ever before.”

For now, the league is focused on taking its first baby steps in China, giving spectators in Shanghai and Beijing a good show.

“It’s going to be pretty cool, especially for people who have never really experienced it before,” Kings forward Tanner Pearson said. “It’s going to hopefully start something good here.”