NOTE: This is part 1 of a 3-part series.
Make no mistake, the NHL is still the best hockey league in the world. However, there is serious competition, in the form of the new Russian league and, should the IIHF ever get its act together, a European super-league. Although the NHL claims it is doing well, I find it difficult to believe that it had such a rapid turnaround from the lockout. Unless, of course, it's actually the six Canadian teams that are driving the revenue.
What follows is the first part of my proposal to fix the NHL. Let's see where this goes.
Part I: Teams, schedules, rules and salaries
The NHL has too many teams. That much should be plain to anyone. There is not enough talent to put 4 effective forward lines and 3 effective defense pairs plus injury reserves on each of the 30 teams. The NHL considers itself the best league in the world. At the moment, it is. It has the best players and the best teams. However, the Russian Continental Hockey League (KHL) should be taken serious as a threat. One way to keep the NHL as the premier league in the world is to improve the quality of play. Eliminating teams will do that.
The NHL should have 24 teams. Therefore, six must go. Those six are Nashville, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Florida, and Carolina. Of those, Carolina was the hardest choice because it has a legacy of doing well. The other 24 owners would have to pony up about $150 million per team to buy out each owner. The market to buy teams out of their leases was set by the Seattle SuperSonics’ move to Oklahoma City: about $25 million per year remaining. The end cost would be about $1.5 billion. If the league is as healthy as the owners claim, they should recoup the total cost and more within 3 years.
The season runs too long. It needs to be reduced to 80, or even 70, games. The reason for this is, again, quality of play. A reduced schedule keeps players fresh and makes the regular season more important. I would suggest starting the season in late September and ending it in March. The playoffs would be in April and May. End the hockey in June madness.
There are some rules that are needed, like no touch icing. It’s a safety issue at this point. I would also suggest long suspensions and high fines for grievous suspensions. Submit them to the NHLPA for approval and suggestions. For example, a vicious two-handed slash is 15 games for a first offence, 30 for a second, and one year for a third.
Others are more optional. I would eliminate tenths of second because there’s no point in hockey. Perhaps counting up would also be a nice change of pace. I would also introduce harsher punishments for fighting. Get rid of the stupid instigator rule. Who starts the fight is not the problem. Give pugilists a 5 minute major and a 4 minute double minor. Missing nearly 1/3 of the game should be enough of a deterrent for all but the most dedicated fighters. Even though I've been in favor of banning fighting in the past, I don't think that's necessary right now. I do think there should be harsher penalties to prevent teams from employing one-dimensional fighters, though.
I admire the NHL for actually implementing a hard salary cap. However, it needs adjustment. The cap itself is fine, but it needs to be made soft-ish. That is, there needs to be some leeway when making trades. There should also be a rule that would allow a team to eat some salary in trades. The floor is the real problem. The salary floor, as it stands, is too high. It needs to be adjusted to be something like 50-55% of the salary cap.
The roster size will be limited to 24 players on the NHL roster.