|Artist's Rendition of the NHL Shield Under Gary Bettman's Leadership|
The mere fact that Gary "I WILL PUT HOCKEY IN THE DESERT! ....No, seriously guys! Stop laughing!" Bettman has continued to serve as commissioner for twenty-two years despite three (!!!) lockouts speaks volumes about the league's reluctance slash-inability, slash-STUBBORNNESS to adapt in order to improve the product.
Yes, the NHL did institute a rules overhaul following the disaster that was the 2004-2005 lockout, but outside of instituting a salary cap, the league owners, referees, and players have reverted back to the...well, I'm getting ahead of myself.
#1) The Officiating (and the return of the "Clutch-and-Grab" Era)
Due in large part to the NHL anti-Christs (the aptly named New Jersey Devils of 1995), the fast and fluid game of ice hockey was relegated to a game of neutral zone traps with teams placing a premium on hooking, holding, grabbing, tackling, hugging, tangoing...basically, coaches encouraged any action that would impede opposing players as they skated through the middle of the ice.
|Slight exaggeration of an interference tactic, but barely.|
Those Cup-winning 1995 Devils proved to the league's other franchises that by treating hockey like a kindergarten hand-holding exercise, they too could win a championship. The Devils' remarkable success spawned league-wide copycat defensive systems that took away the creativity of offensively skilled players.
Mario Lemieux so hated the status quo of 1990's clutch and grab hockey that he called the NHL a "garage league," and that moniker has hung over Bettman's reign ever since. The on-ice product became so bad that overhauling the way referees called games was a major component of the 2004-2005 lockout and subsequently cancelled season.
Upon resuming play in 2005, the league and referee emphasis on allowing players to skate unimpeded through the neutral zone resulted in a better, faster, more dynamic game...
...which was all great and good, but referees have allowed blatant interference to creep back into the game (see: the Detroit Red Wings' defense on EVERY DUMP AND CHASE), and the results have been both predictable and discouraging: far fewer goals being scored per game, fewer penalties being called, and the Art Ross Trophy being awarded to Jamie Benn (a worthy winner, mind you) for having tallied only 87 points in an 82 game season.
On top of the referees allowing games to turn into molasses, the men in zebra stripes have been allowed to enforce personal grudges against teams, specifically the Pittsburgh Penguins.
|Even Jagr has embraced (pun alert!) "Clutch & Grab Hockey"|
Why and how a professional sports league can allow referees to not call penalties as dictated by the rules while simultaneously affecting the outcome of games by denying specific teams power-play chances is borderline criminal in the denotative sense of the word.
If the NHL brass can somehow force its officials to call its games as the rule book dictates, everybody wins- from the owners' wallets to the fans attending and watching the games on TV.
#2) The Philadelphia Flyers (and their delusional fans)
To be fair, not all things Flyers-related are terrible. Take, for instance, the ability to invoke simultaneous RAAAAAAGE and stammering in Philly fans by saying "1975." At this point, "1975" is more-or-less a God given right to all of humanity.
The delusion among Flyers fans run deep: many of them have dubbed Claude Giroux's opening moments of Game 6 of the 2012 playoffs as "The Shift," despite the fact that the Flyers collectively faceplanted in the second round, losing 4-1 to the aforementioned New Jersey Devils.
...do you know what Mario Lemieux's famous goal against the Minnesota North Stars in the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals is called?
...do you know what Jaromir Jagr's famous goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals is called?
|Man, the Devils are everywhere in this article.|
Also: nobody calls this play "The Hit."
The only Penguins' play to have a similar title is Frank Pietrangelo's "The Save" during the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and guess what? "The Save" helped the Pens stave off elimination en route to winning their first championship.
Even the Flyers' media is nuts: who can forget Sam Carchidi proclaiming Claude "I've Been On a Video Game Cover" Giroux as the best player in the world, and then having the instant audacity to declare himself "#NotAHomer"?
The 2015-2016 Philadelphia Flyers season is certain to feature a lot more losing and will invariably continue the franchise's awesome losing streak even further, but that won't stop their fans from celebrating (meaningless) regular season wins from 20-30 years ago.
Let's hope that the Pope can pull a miracle out of his hat today in Philadelphia and convince Dan Snyder to fold the franchise...or, at the very least, resign Vinny LeCavalier for another 10 years at $5 million per.
And the absolute worst thing about the NHL right now...
#3) The NHL's Embarrassing Priorities When it Comes to Sexual Assault
There's nothing funny about the situations that have played out with NHL superstars Slava Voynov, Patrick Kane, and Mike Ribeiro.
There's no graphic or play on words that can diminish the irrevocable harm the league has done by demeaning the serious nature of the accusations brought against its players.
All that can be said is that the NHL- like the NFL before it- has decided to prioritize protecting "The Shield" and its players ahead of protecting human beings from violence.
Why Voynov, Kane, and Ribeiro were not suspended by the league or by their own clubs (suspended with pay, mind you) while their legal situations played out is mind-boggling, as it indicates that neither the league or the players' teams thought that the accusations warranted serious and decisive action.
Why the Chicago Blackhawks held a press conference to discuss Patrick Kane's serious legal situation and then tried to/intended to pretend as though that 8,000,000 pound Tyrannosaurus Rex in the room didn't exist is equal parts absurd and insulting.
The Sporting News' Sean Gentille absolutely nailed the litany of problems and repercussions stemming from the NHL's deplorable handling of these cases, and I would be remiss to try and top his work.
Absolutely regardless of whether or not you think Kane is innocent or guilty, you, me, everyone has a moral obligation to acknowledge the seriousness of what he is accused of doing. By doing nothing, the NHL has shown an unacceptable degree of tolerance for sexual assault, and that is, by far, the worst thing about the NHL right now.
So, ridicule Gary Bettman for trying to grow the game in the worst possible markets. Feel free to mock Bettman for allowing three lockouts to occur on his watch, and certainly hold Bettman to task for allowing the standard of officiating to drop over the past few seasons.
But above all else, demand that Gary Bettman be removed from his position as NHL Commissioner for not having the balls to stand up to violence against women.