How the NHL iced itself--Commentary

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By Mike Forster

Although nobody can blame you if you haven?t noticed, the NHL post-season is well under way.

If you happen to get the Versus channel (formerly known as the Outdoor Life channel), you may actually have watched some of the games.

I have not and I shall not. Besides the fact that I don?t have access to the channel that shows most of the games (NBC carries a few), I?ve lost interest in a sport that I followed from boyhood.

A league that was once considered one of the Big Four in American sports (along with MLB, the NFL and the NBA) has managed to turn itself into a second-tier novelty, along the lines of ultimate fighting and arena football.

How did this happen? I have some theories.

Over-expansion. The league went from an elite group of six teams to a stew of 30 squads in the span of 35 years. In the 1990s alone, the league added nine teams. No other professional sports league came close to that pace of expansion. Who could keep up? For comparison?s sake, MLB grew by 6 teams during the same 35-year period.

Required helmets for all players. Who the heck came up with this sissified rule? Probably the same nannies who came up with the laws requiring doctors at prize fights and facemasks for football helmets. Once the helmet law went into effect for motorcyclists, you knew it was coming to hockey. What?s next, turning the penalty box into a non-smoking area?

Fer?ners. It was one thing when the league was loaded with Canadians. After all, they did invent the game and at least most of them spoke English, albeit with a lot of ?eh?s? thrown in at the end of their sentences. Plus, Canada is our best pal, nation-wise.

These days, we?ve got all sorts of players from countries such as Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and (gasp!) Russia. These fellows have accents like arch-villains in the James Bond movies and have names so long that they can?t fit on the backs of their jerseys. Petteri Nokelainen might be a catchy name in Finland, but not here. Bobby Orr: Now THAT?s a hockey name.

Geographic location of franchises. Teams used to be exclusively located, logically, where it was cold: Places like Toronto and Chicago. Now there are teams playing out of San Jose, Arizona and Tampa Bay. How many kids grow up playing hockey on the frozen ponds of Tampa Bay?

Excessive playoffs. I?m not getting into the fact that the league has more than half its teams in the playoffs. What I really don?t like is that the playoff calendar extends into JUNE. If the good Lord wanted hockey in June, He?d have given us a cooler sun than the one we have. Hockey in June is about as natural a fit as Paris Hilton at a Mensa conference.

Team logos. Many of these squads wear jerseys that bear logos that seem inspired by Timothy Leary and drawn up by some escapee from the Disney Home for the Overly Fru-fru.

Lack o? television. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, Versus attracts a meager 250,000 viewers, nation-wide, for its ?NHL Game of the Week.? What in the name of Guy Lafleur is Versus doing carrying this sport? If ESPN can carry the likes of professional dominoes (seriously), can?t it find room for hockey?

The wife and I don?t receive the Versus network at our home. I don?t think we can even if we wanted to, short of buying one of those hideous house-hanging satellite dishes (otherwise known as the official state flower of Kentucky).

Sure, I miss watching the NHL. But I find its current configuration to be flat-out unappealing. Alas, what was once known as the ?greatest game on ice? is now just another game.