The ’05-’06 NHL season: what to expect
In my previous hockey article, I think I estimated that there were about 12 fans on campus. After the ridiculous NHL lockout that cancelled the entire 2004-2005 hockey season, I believe that number has probably been halved.
But, for you six loyal fans, the looming NHL season is sure to be as exciting as being a substitute pre-school teacher if you’re Michael Jackson. Well, at least I know I’m that excited, and besides, he did Thriller, so, that removes MJ from any guilt in my mind.
Nevertheless, I digress. The last time I watched hockey, it was game seven of the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Finals that pitted Tampa Bay against Calgary. In case you forgot, Tampa Bay won, further proving that God hates Canadians, in a manner of speaking.
The last Canadian team to hoist the Cup was the Montreal Canadians in 1993, and, I guess, since they’re from Montreal and don’t want to be part of Canada anyway, it doesn’t count. But since that last game played in 2004, a lot has changed; this is no longer the hockey that the seven of us grew up with.
Realizing that Americans don’t like low-scoring contests that can end in ties, the NHL has changed some rules that alleviate these problems. Think about it; soccer has never caught on in the U.S. of A., so, other than the allure of fighting during games, hockey had limited appeal in the States with low scoring and the possibility of ties. Here are some of the changes that the league has enacted in hopes of exciting the fan base about the fastest game on ice once again:
Limited Contact: Referees are going to be much more stringent when calling penalties this year. This change will lead to two outcomes that will both increase scoring. The first is that players will be able to skate more freely without worrying about being decked. The second outcome is that there will be more penalties, leading to more power plays, which lead to more goals.
Increased ‘Flow’ Rules: First of all, two line passes have been eliminated altogether. This rule previously caused a stoppage in play and prevented long, breakaway-causing passes. Next, offsides will be enforced with a ‘tag up’ rule where the offsides player can skate into the neutral zone, ‘tag up’ and then go attack on offense.
Icing: Teams that ice the puck used this option to get the puck out of their zone, stop the play and switch lines. However, this year, the team that ices the puck will not be able to switch lines, making icing a less attractive incentive and increasing the continuity of game play.
Shootouts: Americans love the concept of winners and losers; USA vs. the Nazis, USA vs. the Russians, American Idol, etc. This is probably the most exciting rule change for me as I would always feel very unfulfilled when hockey games used to end in ties. The overtime structure is as follows: teams will play a five-minute 4-on-4 sudden death overtime period at the end of regulation. If no one scores, each team will pick three skaters to take two shots each in a shootout. If the score is still tied after this, there will be a sudden death shootout in which the first goal ends the game. Imagine watching a shootout in game seven of a playoff series; you can bet you’ll see a lot more fans wearing Depends in the stands if you really looked that closely.
In addition to the on-ice rule changes, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has also changed drastically since we last saw NHL action.
Salary Cap: This was the biggest problem the Player’s Association had with the new CBA, and it’s no wonder. Most players had to take significant pay cuts in order to be able to play this year. As it stands for this season, the CBA dictates a minimum team salary of $21.5 million and a maximum of $39 million. This floor and ceiling salary cap structure was designed to increase parity between teams and, hence, even the playing field for ‘less fortunate’ teams.
Already, in the first few weeks of the new CBA, there has been significant player movement due to teams not being able to resign their players from before the lockout. Here are some formerly crappy teams that may actually be pretty good this year.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The past few months has been a Penguins fans’ own personal Fantasy Island. The Pens not only won the Sidney Crosby lottery, they were also able to sign marquee free agents John LeClair, Sergei Gonchar, Zigmund Palffy and acquire goalie Jocelyn Thibault by trade. And let’s not forget they still have that guy named Mario Lemieux playing for them.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have lost players like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier over the years due to lack of finances. Now that has all changed. The Oilers went out and snatched Chris Pronger out from St. Louis and defensive forward extraordinaire Michael Peca from the Islanders. This Oilers team, along with that ridonkulously huge mall they got up there, should make Edmonton an exciting city-for the very first time!
Chicago Blackhawks: Most Chicagoans probably forgot they even had a hockey team, what with the resurgence of the Bulls, Steve Bartman, and the overachieving White Sox. That should quickly change this year though. The Blackhawks went out and signed premier netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, defender Adrian Aucoin and forward Martin Lapointe. For everybody’s sanity, let’s hope the Blackhawks are good this year so we don’t have to hear about how lousy the Bears are or how the Cubs can never catch a break.
Well, that’s it, my little tribute to the sport that comes from the country whose sole purpose is to keep the USA from crashing into the North Pole. Hockey season begins on October 5th, and last I checked, there aren’t any Steven Seagal movies premiering on that night, so I know I have no excuse not to watch. And neither do you.
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