Embracing a Tradition of Innovation

By Jason Menard

Good for the NHL for embracing its tradition by taking a serious look at implementing radical changes to the way the game of hockey is played – ironically, much to the chagrin of self-professed traditionalists.

Those who look to reign in change choose to call themselves traditionalists. But, in all truth, they’re revisionists, preferring to look at the game as it was in their youth as the golden age of the sport.

It’s a hue and cry that’s no different than the person who turns on the radio and – channeling the ghosts of generations past – cries out, “What is that infernal caterwauling! Back in my day music was music…” It’s in our nature to believe our memories are the best, and that anything that comes before or after has to be inferior.

You really want to call yourself a traditionalist? Then get up on your puck pulpit and start promoting the return of the rover! How about a throwback to the days where forward passing was prohibited? Why not advocate getting rid of that infernal contraption, added in 1900, that’s done nothing but plague the game ever since – the goal net? Or maybe it’s time that we all recognize what the true tradition of the NHL actually is – a tradition of change.

Since the founding of the league and its precursors, professional hockey has always embraced the idea of change. In fact, during the first half of the 20 th century, significant changes to the way the game was played and officiated came on a regular basis. It was just in the latter half of the century that this movement towards respecting some ephemeral sanctity of the game came to the fore.

The fact of the matter is that the NHL rules are not sacrosanct. Nowhere are they etched in stone. They are like the game is at its best – fluid and dynamic.

For a significant period of the game’s history, its leadership actually worked diligently to make the game better. They understood the need for competitive balance between offence and defence. When penalizing goalies for holding onto a puck stopped making sense, they changed the rules! When they realized that hockey wasn’t rugby on ice and could be a more fast-paced and exciting game, they allowed forward passing.

They revolutionized the game on a regular basis, understanding that doing something “because that’s the way it’s always been done” wasn’t good enough. Yet, during our recent history, we’ve paralyzed the game’s growth with the mentality that hockey’s rules are scripture – only to be interpreted, never modified.

And now, thanks to a mass fan exodus caused by the lockout, that attitude seems to be changing. Understanding that fans are angry and need to be wooed back to the rink when this labour stoppage (or whatever the euphemism of the day is) is over, the NHL’s brain trust is making serious inroads towards revamping the game with its three-day research and development camp.

Larger nets, smaller pads, no red line, wider blue lines – it’s all up for grabs! Even the radical idea that a game should actually result in a winner is being embraced. Yet the traditionalists – sorry, revisionists – are already starting with the idea that a shootout disrespects the history of the game. The hypocrisy of the argument that shootouts turn a team game into a contest of individuals should be exposed when we look at the fact that these same self-professed traditionalists are trying to find ways to curb the trap and limit defence – two shining examples of teamwork at its best.

Today’s coaching is better than ever before. Today’s athletes are in better condition and are more educated about their athletic potential. Yesterday’s rules aren’t adequate on their own. The players and coaches have evolved, yet they game’s rules are being exposed for being antiquated – and they’re weighing down the game’s ability to reach its potential.

The NHL is showing that it’s serious about making significant changes to the game. And while the revisionists can sit back in their chairs and grumble about how much things were better in “the day,” the rest of us can applaud as hockey’s true tradition of innovation is once again coming to the fore – and the idea of change for the betterment of the game is no longer blasphemy.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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