Bettering Bettman: 3 ideas to improve the NHL

The shootout, the final, quick-draw method to settle tie games. Nine years later many of us are still not exactly feeling the love with that decision. (Gary Wiepert/AP)

When Gary Bettman took the podium to announce the end of the NHL Lockout in 2005, he played the role not just of NHL Commissioner but also, it seemed, like the new Sheriff in town. With labour peace he fired in a salary cap. But the NHL sheriff didn’t stop at that…, bing, bing the new rules and changes to the game came out rapid fire. Quick as they came, three of those ideas especially are still having an impact on the game today.

Gun and done

The first is obvious: The shootout, the final, quick-draw method to settle tie games. Nine years later many of us are still not exactly feeling the love with that decision. If might be a gimmick, but a gimmick that means real points in the standings. As the Leafs currently own the best shootout record in the NHL (9-4), it was funny seeing John Ferguson Jr. (now a San Jose scout) in the ACC press box the other night after yet another Leaf shootout victory. Time was the Leafs’ lack of success in shootouts was a significant reason why they didn’t make the playoffs in two of the seasons of Ferguson’s reign as Leaf general manager.

There are too many shootouts (for many of us), where I’d prefer having more games end in overtime. In a five-minute OT, the long change is a considerable scoring advantage. I think simply changing goals halfway through overtime period will spread that advantage. There is no question the longer change to the bench will result in more goals in OT and, so, resorting to the shootout fewer times.

Quality over…geography

Bettman’s next idea was born back in the mid-1990’s when it seemed like the Western conference was “best” as teams like Detroit and Colorado battled to meet a weak Eastern Conference winner to battle for the Stanley Cup. The Florida Panthers (1996), Philadephia Flyers (1997) and Washington Capitals (1998) were each swept in four games by either the Red Wings or Avalanche. At that point I though it would be appropriate to scrap the conference finals and have the final four teams to cross over in what would be an “NHL Semi-final,” allowing Detroit and Colorado the opportunity to meet in the Final.

Given the strength of the Western Conference these past few seasons, I like that idea once again. Make it possible for the very best two teams to meet in the Stanley Cup Final, even if they are from the same Conference. Why not? What is the NHL holding on to? There isn’t the same history that Major League Baseball has with the American League and National League and the NFL has with the NFC and AFC.

For Leaf fans, it keeps the possibility of a Toronto-Montreal Stanley Cup Final alive (though realistically these days it would more mean likely a Battle of California Final starring the likes of Los Angeles, Anaheim or San Jose). Regardless, how nice would it be to know the Stanley Cup would be contested by the best two teams in the NHL every year?

Cashing in on success

Last is an idea that Bob Goodenow talked about when he was the head of the NHLPA and was becoming resigned to the idea of the salary cap becoming a reality weeks before Sheriff Bettman took the microphone. Sports fans love dynasties. They like powerhouse teams. The Cap system works against that. The Montreal Canadiens of the 1970’s and the New York Islanders of the 1980’s and Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s would never have been able to stay the dynasty course with a Cap system.

With that in mind, why not reward playoff champions and help them maintain the nucleus of their championship teams? Why should the price of success be the inability to keep one’s lineup intact because of the success? Why not give this year’s Stanley Cup champion an opportunity to go $6 million above the Cap while the Stanley Cup finalist can go $4 million above and the two Conference finalists can go $2 million above…for one year only. This would give them the richly earned ability to keep a player or two from their winning core in trying to repeat!

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