May 13, 2004


Mark left the following in the comments a few days ago.

1998 saw a new wave of expansion of the NHL. Nashville was selected as one of the new cities. Native Tennesseans don't grow up with hockey (period). We learn the basics of Basketball, baseball, and Football. We tend to tolerate basketball/baseball until football comes back. Hockey vocabulary isn't taught/supported in the home.
I have been a Predator fan since I saw the inagural game back in 1998. I have looked at hockey as outsider for the last six years and have come to understand a few things. I understand that Hockey suffers from a lack of funding that might see a lockout/strike next year. Hockey needs an increase in Television revenue and that will only happen when the networks increase the "newbie" factor in the broadcast commentary. Hockey rules/strategy is not basic to most of American Culture like it is around the "orginal six" cities.
Along those same line, Hockey vocabulary needs to be explained to those who don't know what biscit, top shelf, five hole, or a blue line is. Somethings aren't as aparent like the difference between a wrist or slap shot. Then there are the more obscured, but vital words like a checking line. In this age of instant information the "orgianal six" tend to ignore the obvious that they have developed a language all of their own.
The second thing that the broadcasters need to improve upon is the number of cameras covering the game. How many times durring an NFL or NASCAR event that there wasn't a camera angle avilable to show fowl/accident/excitment? Why is it extreamely better to go see a live hockey game than a Televised game? There are disparities between the two that need to be adressed before the NHL will compete effectively with the NHL.
I would have thought that the fans of the "original six" would seek to convert anyone into a fan instead of this elitist mentality that only they should have hockey. I will be bitterly disappointed if there isn't hockey next season because the elitist have propagated the phrase "watered down hockey" to the point that not even the die-hard fans watch anymore. -- Mark

This guy makes so much sense he should be hired by the NHL to market the league.

To their credit, hockey started a series of televised games called "NHL Rules" where they explain what's going on during the course of the game. When icing is called, you get a quick explanation of what it is and what happens next. Two line pass? Same deal, an on-the-fly explanation, sometimes with a diagram to help explain the concepts. Unfortunately, hockey isn't televised all that much in the US unless you live near one of the teams, and the local teams don't do "NHL Rules", it's a national thing.

The league also does celebrity commercials - little quickies where they go over the slang and bits about how things work. Shania Twain does a couple, as do Jim Belushi and Keifer Sutherland and others. But again, they show these during hockey games, when many of the people watching are already at least somewhat familiar with the rules. They need a generic version to play during NASCAR races and NBA games and reruns of Friends.

Speaking of, the NHL is where NASCAR languished for years. People think hockey means fighting, like auto racing used to mean crashing. The league needs to play up the athletic angles without taking away from the crunch. The hitting in hockey is as intense as pro football, the sustained pace of the game can be compared to NASCAR, and the grace and moves of the players rivals basketball. The downside is the lack of scoring which might make viewers think of soccer, except that soccer doesn't have nearly the number of shots attempted. In addition, the NHL is implementing some rule changes to goalie equipment that should make scoring a little easier.

I learned most of my hockey knowlege from watching live games, and having the season-ticket holders sitting nearby explain things to me. I saw the same half dozen people time after time, and they were great people.

As for extra cameras, I'd settle for better placement. In some arenas in the NHL, the cameras are so badly located that the glare from the ice washes out the action. Or they're placed so high up that it's like watching from the upper deck.

Robert Heinlein once said something like "The answer to most any question is 'money'" (yeah, I butchered that quote). The NHL is trying to survive in markets that aren't intuitive. This year could see a Stanley Cup final between the traditional hockey hotbeds of Tampa Bay, Florida and San Jose, California (hope springs eternal). In the meantime, competition for players has driven salaries up like in every other sport, which in turn has driven ticket prices up. I don't see many live hockey games anymore, because it's just too damn expensive. I wish we had a minor league team closer - I think Atlantic City or Wilkes-Barre are the closest, and both of those are several hours away.

Cap the salaries guys, and if you lose a few stellar European players who decide to stay home, I can live with that.

Face shields should be mandatory. Who wins when a star takes a puck to the face and is knocked out for weeks (Roenick) or even forever (Chelios)?

Market the game, market the rivalries, market the stars - in that order. In fact, there should be a whole lot more emphasis placed on the history of hockey. Everyone knows what the Stanley Cup looks like, even non-hockey fans. Do you know what the World Series trophy looks like? How about the Super Bowl trophy? Hell, the Super Bowl team rings get more attention than the trophy. But the Stanley Cup is like everyman's trophy. It's the perfect link to the history of the game. Use it!

Posted by Ted at May 13, 2004 11:31 AM

I haven't attended a pro ice hockey game in years; ticket prices for the NY Rangers are astronomical, and the last time I made it to one of their games, was put-off by the 'extravaganza' production and light show (this is supposed to be a hockey game, not a figure skating competition.)

The last game I attended was in Arizona for some now-defunct minor league team. It was great and hockey as it should be.

Ted, have you ever given thought to creating a separate blog about ice hockey? (I've not searched to see if any exist.)

Posted by: Cindy at May 13, 2004 01:06 PM

Whatever happened to the Chesapeake Icebreakers? Don't they play at the Show Place arena in Upper Marlboro?

Posted by: Rob @ L&R at May 13, 2004 01:26 PM

There's minor leauge hockey in the top of my head:

Richmond RiverDogs( (coached by Rod Langway last year, although they didn't renew his contract after their fast playoff exit)

Norfolk (formerly Hampton Roads) Admirals ( (don't know if they still are, but they were owned in part by Craig Laughlin)

Roanoke Express

I think the NHL should bring back Peter Puck.

Posted by: nic at May 13, 2004 01:29 PM

The Icebreakers folded (actually, I think the team moved) after the 1998-99 season. We used to go sometimes; it was fun and affordable, if not spectacular hockey. (OTOH, we just sat through a season of unspectacular hockey at twice the price.)

Posted by: nic at May 13, 2004 01:38 PM

Yeah, the ECHL 'breakers were sold (the owner lost a cool million the two seasons he owned 'em )and they became the ECHL Jacksonville Bandits. I'm 99% sure the Bandits have folded/been sold/don't exist anymore.

Posted by: Victor at May 13, 2004 01:49 PM

I was a little vague--the owner of the Icebreakers lost a cool million both seasons he owned 'em. Two mill total.

Posted by: Victor at May 13, 2004 01:50 PM

We used to watch the Skipjacks in Baltimore when visiting my in-laws. Fun fun fun.

Cindy, there are some excellent blogs out there with a strong emphasis on hockey. Over on the right column, almost all the way to the bottom are listed a group of sports blogs. The last three in particular are daily reads for me. Hockey Pundits, Off Wing Opinion, and I just finally linked Sharkspage. I highly recommend them if you're a hockey fan.

Posted by: Ted at May 13, 2004 03:17 PM


Well, it is watered down hockey (and I'm not an "original six" fan.

What frustrates long-time hockey fans is not entirely the presence of teams like Nashville, Florida, Tampa Bay, et al.

But the reality that one-third of current NHL players would not have been in the league in, say, 1990, has had a damaging effect on the quality of the game overall. Especially regular season games.

Couple that with the price increases and you end up being asked to pay $50 to see Nashville vs. Atlanta when, in reality, at least 50% of the players in the game would have been in the AHL 10 years ago. And should probably be there now, which begets trap defenses, clutching, grabbing etc.

I used to go to hockey games all of the time -- 30 a year. And while the Whalers were never so good, the quality of the game itself was a lot better -- end-to-end action, etc.

But the powers that be decided the NHL had to be a coast-to-coast game and larded up the southeast with teams that, by and large, don't have anywhere near the support of teams like Detroit, Philadelphia, etc.

As for the knowledge factor, I'd expect a team like Nashville to include that in their own broadcasts. When I lived in Florida, the Panthers did that, and also offered clinics on rules of the game where you could meet a player, go on the ice, and get game tickets or whatever.

The national broadcasts should not regularly be clogged up with junk like explanations of icing, because if you want a primer on the rules of hockey, the Internet is right there. If you don't, or just want to sit and wait until its explained on the broadcast, then I would question the passion of your fandom. No offense intended, but I think typically when you want to learn about something you check it out.

As for the rivalries, well, no offense, but they take time to develop. The biggest gripe I've heard about all of the expansion was it took away games people wanted (say, the Blackhawks or Red Wings for Blues fans), and replaced them with a lesser game at a higher price (enter, say, the Columbus Blue Jackets).

Time will cure that, but it is tough to preach patience when it is $75 to get in the building.

Posted by: Scott at May 14, 2004 10:13 AM

Scott, probably one half of today's players wouldn't be in the NHL because the European players would've taken an even bigger percentage on team rosters than they do now. Players like Lindros and Messier would've been forced to retire years ago instead of having reasonably productive seasons.

Interest in hockey has grown, which means more kids play all across the country, which means there are more players growing up and going to college or the WHA and good enough to play the pro game. I'd guess that the same has happened in Europe, as kids now dream of playing in the NHL whereas their peak ambition used to be to play on their National team, which was an even more limited opportunity.

To blame dilution of talent for the trap game and drop in scoring just doesn't stand up. The rules are the same as they were back then, so what's more likely: a drop in quality or the rules not keeping up with the current environment?

Goalies fill the net now, they're bigger and faster, plus the equipment has become overgrown. Don't like the clutching and grabbing? Call the freaking penalties that are already in the rulebook. Charra of Ottawa is 6'9"!!!! Players like St. Louis are freaks now, whereas in days past the diminuative player was more the norm. And even St. Louis is amazingly strong in comparison to the old-timers.

I also disagree with your attitude about teaching the games on television. I think this is what Mark was originally talking about. Hockey is fighting for every viewer on an already overcrowded sports schedule, and must actively recruit fans. And you do that by teaching the rules as you go along. By taking your advice, someone channel-surfing and stopping for a moment won't understand what's going on, will reach for the remote, and won't bother going back. Nor will they care to research the game on their own. A potential fan was just lost because the NHL didn't try hard enough.

I agree with you about the prices being way too high and rivalries taking time to develop. On the other hand, other pro leagues have realigned or expanded and survived. Give it time.

Great points. Thanks for commenting!

Posted by: Ted at May 14, 2004 01:38 PM


Thanks for taking the time to respond. I may have mislead ya'll into thinking I didn't know the rules (what rules, the umpires discression?) I know the basics because Craig Leipold and company has done a fabulous job educating me. The Predator Club has what's called hockey 101 which includes an in house arena radio broadcast for complete newbies that explain not only the rules but the stratagy of the game during the game. My opion is that the Networks could pick up and use the SAP channel for a simular "teaching channel" durring the game. There is a hockey 101 station on the ground floor where patrons can learn the basics through a video presentation and the jumbotron has graphics that define the "latest" fowl.

I agree with Ted that the present rules aren't inforced with rigger. The NHL has a war room that monitors every game in progress, so that there are a total of five "judges" to call penalties; two referees, two linesmen, a video referee. However the Linesmen can't call the grabbing, roughing, fighting, or serious penalites that slow the game down.

The Referees of the NHL are some of the most biased officals of any professional sport. They have a great deal of discression and latitude in what they consider a penality. Barry Trotz, Head Coach of the Predators, has on many occasions indicated that he wasn't pleased with the officating of a game. The original six get peferential treatment from the Referees; Fine, I'll get over it. However, it makes them, the original six's players, a target for every expansion team; target of hate.

I know of people who go to hockey games to watch the fights more than to watch the wingers get behind the defense for a break away two on one with the goalie. I go to watch for that, or the fat rebounds in the slot that get chipped in; I never like it's when Vokoun though. Hockey is brutally poetic when the grabbing, and cheap shots are controlled though just and even calls by the officials. You want to see better played hockey, then get the officiating to match.

Ticket prices are basic supply and demand. The Laker and Nicks' fans all suffer from this afflection so it's not limited to the NHL. Nashville is in a small hockey market but a huge sports market; the Titans can attest to that. I personally invite you to come watch a game here. Ten bucks gets you in the door; On the glass tickets are $85 (two rows back it drops to $69). I've sat in the upper deck and down on the floor and have never been disappointed with by view.

I just want to point out one last thing. Less than eight percent of players make the All-star team; only 11 western confrence teams were represented. Nashville sent two players (Timonen and Vokoun) this past year. Dan Hamhuis was named to the youngstars roster too. I'm proud of these guys and look forward to watching them play next year.

Posted by: Mark at May 17, 2004 12:22 AM
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