Out with the Old (Gimmick), In with the New (Gimmick)

The college hockey season is coming up quickly, which means conferences released preseason polls and all-conference teams. Those can be found here for the NCHC and here for the WCHA. There is really nothing more I hate than preseason predictions or polls, so if you want to look at them, go ahead. Some fans enjoy them, so there they are if you are curious.

For future reference, the same goes for any other type of polls throughout the season. I’ll only write about the Pairwise and not until about January.

An interesting trend has been gaining steam over the past few years. Overall public opinion about the shootout has changed from an entertaining way to end a game to no way to decide a game.

The NHL started using the shootout to decide games after the 2004-2005 lockout (I originally typed just ‘the lockout’, but since there have been three since the mid-90’s I feel like I should clarify). One of the biggest complaints about hockey, and why it fell further and further in the ratings abyss, was public’s perception about ties. The shootout was initially thought of progression and a step forward for the sport.

However, more games have ended in the shootout and it wore out its welcome for a lot of fans, calling it a ‘skills competition’.

This year, the NHL has agreed to use 3-on-3 overtime format in order to have more games end during the overtime period. The point system will be the same.

Early pre-season results have been what was expected. The NHL hopes the trend will continue, but I’m not as optimistic.

When the NHL instituted 4-on-4 overtime, it was lauded the same way. Shootouts were originally down and fans loved on the faster pace and open ice. But as time went by, more games ended in the shootout. Once coaches got used to and saw the differences, the appeal was sucked out of it. Even though it may take longer, I feel that may be the case here.

We are already seeing it in Washington. Head Coach Barry Trotz is regarded as one of the best technically sound defensive coaches in the league. The biggest acquisition for the Capitals this season was shootout master TJ Oshie. While many coaches are getting a feel for the overtime using a center-wing-defensemen combination, Trotz has been utilizing more of a center-defense-defense unit, not taking chances, and then going to a shootout. Sure, it’s very early, but I can’t say I blame him. If you have a trump card in Oshie, why take a ton of risks in overtime and negate the advantage in the shootout?

I do agree the new overtime format will be a lot of fun to watch. The NHL is deeper than ever before with skill players and this will put them front and center. But I will argue it isn’t ‘more of a hockey’ way to settle things.

Overtime will now be rush after rush. Players will have to be more mindful of when changes take place. But how many times have you seen 3-on-3 during the course of a hockey game? I’ve only seen it a couple of times. But a penalty shot? I’ve seen that much more. Overtime will be an odd-man rush skills competition instead of a shooter versus goalie skills competition.

I don’t think hockey needs it to become a mainstream sport. In June of 1994, Sports Illustrated ran a story about how the NHL is on an upswing while the NBA is stumbling from an image perspective. While the article itself still had all the raw numbers in favor of the NBA, the important factor was the NHL didn’t capitalize on this momentum, but instead canceled half a season.

This was in a time where ties were prevalent. It didn’t require any overtime gimmicks. As entertaining as 3-on-3 will be, don’t be mistaken; it’s still a gimmick.

I realize we are far enough down the rabbit hole after drinking the ‘no ties’ kool-aid, but I don’t understand why ties are the big enemy. Look at the most popular sport in the world. Ties are commonplace. Soccer is gaining steam in the United States and English Premiership League (EPL) is getting more and airtime on U.S. soil.

What’s the big difference? In the EPL, the risk is worth the reward. Three points are awarded to the winner and each team gets a point in a tie. That extra point makes it more enticing for teams to take chances during the game without the gimmicks.

The problem with changing the point structure comes from the team marketing as the season winds down. The illusion of being only a few points out of a playoff spot but many teams to jump over. Teams can be only three points out of a spot, but six teams fighting for two spots. It creates the illusion of being closer to the playoffs, which can put fans in the seats.

The illusion is also troublesome when it comes to the trade deadline. Past few years have seen way too many buyers than sellers at the trade deadline because more teams think they are in the race. Last trade deadline only had a few teams actively selling. That drives up the price of players and makes it harder for trades to happen under a salary cap. Big trades at the deadline don’t happen anymore because of illusion more teams can make a push for the playoffs. Encouraging more teams to win in regulation with the incentive of that extra point would lead to better games and no ‘playing for a tie’.

If the NHL wants to continue with shootouts, three points for a regulation win would be the best for the league.

The NCHC has also agreed to expand overtime to include a five-minute 3-on-3 for all conference matches. Tie games after regulation will have the normal 5-on-5 overtime for five minutes. If still tied, it will be recorded as a tie as far as the Pairwise goes. However, the 3-on-3 and shootout will determine extra points in the conference.

Looks like the NCHC is doing everything it can to mimic the professional game, which coaches and players have reacted very positively.  College hockey is divided in how to handle overtime and it can make things very confusing to some fans. For instance, the state of Minnesota has teams in three different conferences, all of which has different rules in how to handle overtimes. It has gotten to the point where fans need a flow chart to see how games at the same level are decided and which ones count in the big picture. Hockey is a niche sport and we shouldn’t make things harder for potential new fans to understand.

One-Timers:

-It was officially announced that Madison Square Garden will host a college hockey game featuring the University of North Dakota and Boston College.

-Michigan State originally painted the blue lines green at Munn Arena, but the NCAA didn’t take kindly to that and killed the idea. I’m a little bummed about it, because I felt like it was one step closer to painting the ice light blue like NHL ’94.

Once all rosters are added to collegehockeystats.net, look at each of the teams and give you a run-down of who is returning and freshman coming in. Shift over.

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Cost of Attendance: New Price of College Hockey

Recently, the NCAA determined Division I athletes can receive additional athletic scholarships to help student-athletes pay for the full cost of attending college. This was originally only approved for the ‘Power 5’ conferences (Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC), but has recently been approved for other Division I sports and schools starting this season.

It isn’t a surprise that all that the bigger schools in the Big Ten have all said they will give hockey players this offer. The question has always been what teams in the NCHC and WCHA will do. Not offering this scholarship boost to elite players may be the difference in that player picking one school over the other. With hockey programs being able to give out 18 scholarships per season, it can be quite the investment for the school.

Most NCHC schools, most recently Minnesota Duluth, have come out saying some sort of cost of attendance stipend will be given. (Granted, no announcements have been made in regard to the grainy production of Minnesota Duluth’s television broadcast, so I guess we will still be watching in standard definition. The days of watching hockey in 480p is still the norm on the Iron Range.) North Dakota, Miami, Colorado College, Western Michigan all said they will. I haven’t heard anything from Nebraska Omaha.

I haven’t heard either yes or no from many WCHA schools. I have heard Bowling Green and Michigan Tech will offer cost of attendance. If you know of others, please let me know.

However, some in the NCHC are holding out regarding cost of attendance. Denver University has recently stated Denver will not be offering it and, according the Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald, St. Cloud State hasn’t committed to doing it yet either.

As a St. Cloud State graduate, I can’t imagine SCSU deciding not to offer the stipend. It is no secret the SCSU athletic department hasn’t been in the best shape financially (just look at the half-renovated arena and still inaudible sound system). The Huskies’ football team was nearly cut back in 2010 due to budget retains (the students eventually voted to raise activity fee to keep the team on the field). Even though the product on the ice has been arguably better than it was in the early 2000’s, attendance has dropped significantly and the success on the ice hasn’t directly translated to money in the pocket.

But this situation reminds me of when the NCHC was formed and SCSU was originally left out of the conference. SCSU came out and said how they were sticking to WCHA and wouldn’t change conferences even if they were invited. SCSU quickly backtracked from that statement, and of course, we know how that ended. Basically, I feel that hockey at SCSU is a staple and will do everything they can to put the best product on the ice, including offering cost of attendance stipends.

Denver, however, I feel is a different situation. Former Denver coach George Gwozdecky was regarded as one of the best coaches in college hockey (19 seasons and two championships) when he was let go due to a contract dispute. The athletic department hired a cheaper replacement and hasn’t shown the same dedication to hockey. I don’t see Denver shelling out more money for recruits when they decided let go of Gwozdecky. Also, with Denver being Division I in more than just a couple sports (like Colorado College or Minnesota Duluth, for example), Denver doesn’t have a big revenue sport to support the higher cost in scholarships and no way to pick which sport to pursue.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how it shakes out and how this affects college hockey going forward.

One-Timers:

NHL and Adidas announced a partnership for jerseys starting in 2017-2018. Rumors are swirling that ads on jerseys will follow, although the NHL Commissioner recently said that isn’t the case. Granted, sometimes what he says should be taken with a grain of salt (Atlanta comes to mind).

CBS Sports Network recently announced the NCHC schedule for the upcoming season. Each team has at least two games on the national stage. Also, it is interesting to note that Notre Dame has two games on the television schedule. With reports that Notre Dame isn’t happy in Hockey East and Arizona State looking for a home next year, let the conspiracy theories begin.

Conference previews are in the works, but that’s all for now. Shifts over.

World Cup of Hockey Fever! Catch it, I Guess?

In a press conference held jointly with the NHL and NHLPA (working together for the first time I can remember), more details were released about the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.

You can read the full release, complete with dates and match-ups. Here are the groups:

Group A                      Group B

Canada                       Finland

USA                             Sweden

Czech Republic          Russia

Team Europe             Team North America

 

Obviously, the biggest difference from this competition and other international tournaments is the collaboration teams. Team Europe will be comprised of European countries not specifically listed (Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia for Anze Kopitar, etc.). Team North America will consist of NHL players from United States and Canada that are 23 and under as of Oct. 1, 2016.

Make no mistake, the NHL and the NHLPA is bringing back the World Cup of Hockey after 12 years for a money grab (as they would split the profits) and a way for the NHL players to complete in a best-on-best tournament and not shut down part of a season like they have to during the Olympics.

It’s no secret the players love competing for national pride. However, the NHL and IIHF still haven’t talked regarding the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Is this a quid-pro-quo for the NHLPA (we will do a World Cup of Hockey if you give us the Olympics) or the NHL saying the only way you can play for your country is under our rules (and we get the profits).

I see both sides. For one, the NHL is the only league that shuts down part of a season to let players in the Olympics. Taking a two-week break in the later part of the season and letting its best players play for no monetary reason is a big sacrifice for the league. Owners don’t believe in a ‘ratings bump’ after the Olympics and any evidence suggests if there is one, it is short lived. Not to mention instances like John Tavares, where injuries in glorified exhibition games can shut down Stanley Cup chances (more on that below).

The other side is how much the players have fought for the ability to play for their country. Ever since these players were in their adolescent years, they played international competition. (Ivan Hlinka, World Junior, etc.) It was something they were grown up doing.

Side note: I can see both sides, but I hate it when NHL GM’s pick both. Islanders GM Garth Snow announced his displeasure when Kyle Okposo was left off team USA in Sochi, but quickly changed his tune when Tavares went down and called the IOC and IIHF a joke. Can’t have it both ways.

Back to the teams, the six big countries were easy to pick. The two other teams are what are making some people really question if this is a best-on-best tournament. Simply put, the remaining teams simply don’t have the numbers. Switzerland and Slovakia were the most represented countries in the NHL last season that weren’t included in the tournament, but both only had 13 players each. Germany has eight and no other had three. Some of the league’s biggest stars, such as Kopitar, would be left out. It is unknown at this time if non-NHL players will be used to fill out some of these teams.

A much more controversial decision is the inclusion of the North America team. This team includes the best players from USA and Canada that are 23 and under. Also, it was revealed that this team will trump the others when it comes to young players. For instance, Connor McDavid will not be selected for Canada, but to Team North America instead. So it really isn’t a best-on-best tournament if USA or Canada can’t select the best players, just the best players at least 24.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman picked these teams because he stated this team would be more competitive than any other country. This may be true, but there is one place this team will be severely behind all other teams.

Goaltending.

Sure, the opportunity of the North American team having McDavid and Jack Eichel centering first and second lines tickles my hockey insides like no other, it doesn’t mean a lot if the puck can’t be stopped. Only John Gibson (23 games) and Calvin Pickard (16 games) played significant time during last season that would be eligible for this team. I don’t think the young team has a chance, despite talks of trying to ‘make names for themselves’ or any other worthless narrative. (Robin Lehner will be 24 by the time the tournament starts).

That isn’t the only concern I have about the tournament. One is the big four-letter network: ESPN.

The press conference was partly emceed by Steve Levy. I miss him talking hockey. I also miss Gary Thorne doing play by play. I know people have their feelings about John Buccigross, but you can’t deny his passion for the game. That isn’t what I’m worried about. I’m more worried about the coverage surrounding the tournament.

NBC has done a fantastic job and improved year after year in regard to quality of NHL games. Pregame and postgame shows offer good inside and opinions (whether I agree with them or not) and the production has come a long way since the days on OLN.

But on ESPN? I’m not so sure. I can’t imagine the same network that canned NHL 2night and has barely said anything about hockey since the rights changed hands. The ESPN product itself has become so watered down than actual news. I’m thinking ESPN only shows the USA games and nothing more. Possibly the remaining games on ESPN3. Nothing ESPN has done has made me think that network would treat hockey otherwise. And if you look at it from ESPN’s points of view, why should they? Hockey doesn’t get the ratings and even if you knock it out of the park, all you would be doing is pushing potential hockey fans to another network.

Lastly, I’m worried about the point of the season the games are being played. The tournament will be before the season starts. In what shape will the players be in? Will this be treated like a bunch of All-Star games? Will it take some time to skate the rust off or the chemistry of the teams be a hindrance on quality? It’s not for sure how seriously the players will take this, but if this is used as a replacement for the Olympics, it’s not going to go over nearly as well.

Yet strangely, I’m more excited for the World Cup of Hockey than I was when it was announced. I think it has potential if taken seriously and all the games should be relatively competitive. I still hope the NHL is able to agree to send players to the Olympics, but some of the best players competing on a big stage is always exciting.

One-Timers:

Colorado Avalanche third jersey was leaked. I really like it as a nod to the old Colorado Rockies. I’ve always liked the Avalanche’s logo and colors, but the jerseys have always been a mess. This is an upgrade.

Planning on previewing the Big Ten, NCHC, and WCHA over the next three weeks leading up to the college hockey season. Stay tuned for that.

 

That’s the end of my shift.