Inside the NHL: We love this league and it drives us nuts - The Buffalo News

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Inside the NHL: We love this league and it drives us nuts

Is there any league that drives its fans crazier than the NHL? Sometimes you have to wonder why we love this league so much because it doesn't reciprocate the feeling.

This corner routinely invokes Mario Lemieux's infamous 1992 quote calling the NHL a "garage league." It's sure felt that way in the last week. Over and over again, the NHL can't get out of its own way. It's hard to believe some of the things we've seen and heard the last few days.

I'm tired of hearing about the general managers' meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. What a waste of time for a bunch of guys who have too much power determining the rules of the league who are simply protecting their own jobs and not thinking about the fans at all. They should all get sent to Winnipeg for three days in March to work on what's really broken in this league.

At one point in the meetings, Montreal's Marc Bergevin strode through the lobby holding a large potted plant in front of him to evade the media. There has to be some symbolism there. Some of these guys have about as much vision for the game as a potted plant, yet it was the GMs who were broken into groups to discuss their vision of the game 5-10 years from now. Can't wait to hear these ideas.

Here are some of the points about the current state of the NHL, especially in the last week, that have me riled:

Offside challenges

The worst rule change in the history of the sport -- and maybe the history of any sport -- was left alone by the GMs. Nothing to see here, it's working great. Even though every single fan you talk to absolutely hates it. But we have to get it right, we can't lose a game on an offside call. (Reminder: We only have this rule because the Canadiens lost a playoff game in overtime to Tampa two years ago on an offside goal. So because Montreal got burned once, we ruin the game forever. Think they'd change the rule if, say, Columbus had lost? Or if the Lightning had been burned?).

At the very least, the GMs could have tweaked it to allow goals to be scored when players have their skate in their air as they get to the blue line. But no, let's leave it alone and let's continue to spook linesmen into whistling plays down that are fine because they don't want to deal with replay, or let's continue to show how many they technically miss by the length of a toenail.

So let's continue to make offside the most important rule in the game, and not worry if the play before a goal was, say, 30 seconds earlier when the defensive team has had five chances to clear the zone. But don't discuss cracking down on hooking, holding and interference. And by all means, let's not worry when Jack Eichel is breaking toward the goal in overtime and Victor Hedman throws a stick at him and tackles him. That's not the kind of call we should pressure the referees to be making.

If any of these GMs think they don't want referees deciding games by making calls, they're crazy. They're absolutely deciding games by not making calls.

Expansion draft

Why is the NFL a 365-day-a-year enterprise? Because they make themselves that way. The NHL would rather operate in secrecy, like it did in smoke-filled hotel ballrooms in the 1960s and 70s. They're the first league going into Las Vegas and it seems like they don't want anybody to follow the expansion draft.

GMs reportedly decided at their meeting that the teams will be keeping their protected lists secret for the Golden Knights' selections. Don't want to hurt any players' feelings, the poor fragile multi-millionaires. (NHL Hockey Operations Director Colin Campbell reportedly said later in the week the lists may be released).

So let's not give fans weeks to discuss hockey, even about teams that don't make the playoffs. Let's not let them go online and have real information to play with for their draft simulators. And let's certainly not let new fans in Las Vegas try to draw up their new team.

The selection process for the Golden Knights should be a draft-week, made-for-TV show. The entire hockey world would watch. But remember, this is a league with a commissioner who said salary information is something only the media cares about and isn't anything fans need to be provided with. So how exactly have all these salary cap Web sites prospered?

Playoff format

It's really hard to believe this didn't come up at the GMs meetings at all. They actually think this is a good thing?

By eliminating the 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 matchups, we're guaranteeing the early elimination of some potentially 100-point teams. We're sure to have that happen in the Metropolitan Division, where the Capitals, Blue Jackets and Penguins are battling for the top three spots.

The Rangers entered Saturday just two points behind Pittsburgh for third but it would likely behoove New York to finish fourth so it would have easier matchups with Atlantic Division clubs like Montreal or Ottawa. And any format that encourages losing should be tossed.

In the second round, we could be looking at Caps-Penguins and Wild-Blackhawks. How is it good for fans -- and by extension NBC -- to have two top teams gone halfway through the playoffs? Gary Bettman came from the NBA and it's hard to believe the NHL doesn't follow its model. The NBA playoffs build the drama to the final. The NHL loses steam as it goes along because it's knocking out too many good teams too soon.

And don't even get me started on the points system. It's mind-boggling that a regulation win still counts the same as a shootout win. When are we getting three points for regulation wins in this sport?

Television deal

NBC and the NBC Sports Network are just flat-out laughable.

The production quality continues to be college-level at times, with recent Sabres games showing a graphic picturing Cal O'Reilly instead of Ryan O'Reilly and listing Cody McCormick as a scratch when he's been retired for more than a year.

The studio show is the worst of the four major sports by far. NBC leadership clearly thinks the world of Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick, while fans think both are just over their heads. I have no idea what Roenick was talking about last week when he said to give a team no points for an overtime loss but one point for a shootout loss. Yo, Jeremy: No one would attack in overtime that way. They would just try to get to the shootout to protect their point!

The game talent is much better. Love Doc Emrick and Gord Miller on play by play and they're two of the most respected media people in the game. The likes of Kenny Albert and John Forslund come in and also do solid jobs.

There are those who think Pierre McGuire is too self-indulgent for their tastes and I get that. And we could use far less references to guys' junior, high school and college days. But there's just no arguing his knowledge of the game, nor the respect he gets from players and coaches. If Pierre is in the house, it's a big game.

But the practice of "national" games using home announcers from the league's Comcast connection has to stop. Especially on the road. There is no excuse -- none -- for a national telecast of a Flyers-Sabres game in Buffalo to simply pick up the Philadelphia broadcast. Sabres fans and the national audience were subjected to Flyers announcers (thankfully, Jim Jackson and Keith Jones do a good job), as well as ads for suites and season tickets in Philadelphia.

It's embarrassing. NBC should not be allowed to claim exclusivity in the home market for a telecast like that. That game should still be on MSG, for instance. But obviously, NBC would thus get no Buffalo ratings. Then pony up and send a national crew here. Would the NBA ever allow TNT or ESPN to put such a sham product on the air? No chance. The NHL shouldn't either.

Can't wait for all those playoff games to come on CNBC and other channels we can't find. Still can't believe this league can't get back involved with ESPN.

Speaking of TV

I'm not going to judge former Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters for what he did or didn't do during that recent Jr. Sabres brawl in HarborCenter. The video is grainy and no charges have been filed. I think Peters got a raw deal in some early television reports that went over the top.

That said, the optics were obviously not good and Peters' suspension from coaching by Academy of Hockey Director Kevyn Adams was certainly justified. And it was downright goofy the Sabres didn't take him off the air on "The Instigators" simulcast on WGR Radio and MSG for at least a few days while the situation was being reviewed. Folks at WGR certainly thought he didn't deserve to be on the air with "The Bulldog" taking a strong stance during his show.

Still, Instigators is run by the Sabres and not the radio station. Their call. But putting Peters on the actual game broadcast Friday night from Columbus with Brad May unavailable was an incredibly tone-deaf move by the Sabres and Pegula Sports and Entertainment executives.

For now at least, Peters is tarnished. It's far too close to the incident for him to suddenly pop up on game broadcasts. Just a bad, bad decision.

As for his actual work, Peters did a solid job and it's clear the Sabres feel he has potential in that area. "The Instigators" has really matured as a show that deals in reality and isn't state-run media, unlike the often-embarrssing Bills-produced simulcast that runs immediately after it on WGR and MSG.

Former Sabres captain Craig Rivet has an excellent voice for radio and TV, works very well bantering with Peters and really should be doing a lot more broadcast work. Fellow former Sabres Martin Biron and Matt Ellis do a fine job as well during their regular appearances. If Peters wants to continue to grow in this field, he can't have any more incidents to tarnish his reputation.

Kudos to Parker for questioning keeping Peters on the air Monday

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