Tag Archives: lockout

Fans Will Be Back Because the NHL is Home

By Jason Menard

Will NHL fans come flocking back to the league? Absolutely — it’s part of who we are and it’s part of what makes us a community.

I was asked this question yesterday by an old friend Scott Kitching on Blackburn Radio and I replied honestly: some fans may want to play hard ball, but once they start seeing the previous night’s highlights on TV, hearing the fans banter on sports talk radio, or overhearing the annual debates around the watercooler, they’ll want to be part of the action again.

Being an NHL fan isn’t just a choice — it’s a feeling.

And while I said and believed it yesterday; today I felt it for the first time in a long time. Continue reading

NHL Fans? Relax, It’s Just Business

By Jason Menard,

It’s a day of mixed emotions for many NHL fans — they’re thrilled the league has resolved its differences and brought the lockout to an end, but they’re equally angry at both the owners and the players for depriving them of their game — and they don’t know how to react.

The answer? Fans just have to remember, this wasn’t personal — it’s just business. Continue reading

Posties’ Problem? They’re Wearing the Wrong Type of Uniform

By Jason Menard

The problem with Canada Post? They don’t throw deliveries through a hoop into your mailbox or have to feint past a postal opponent to shoot your mail into a community box. If they had, supporters would have welcomed them back with open arms – a case we’ve seen repeated over and over in the sporting world.

The postal lock-out has now been over for a week, thanks to back-to-work legislation from the federal government. Despite the filibustering efforts of the NDP, the Conservatives finally got their chance to use a majority – and they did. Continue reading

Fortune or Foresight? The NHL’s Winning Formula

By Jason Menard

The NHL not only managed to slip its head out of its self-imposed noose, but the league appears to have found a winning lottery ticket on the way down the ladder.

All the public hand-wringing and doomsday scenarios cooked up by the pundits have been put on ice, as the National Hockey League has rebounded nicely from its lockout to boast improved attendance numbers, a better product, and a future that’s so bright Gary Bettman’s gotta wear shades.

The league released its attendance figures, clocking in a 91.7 per cent capacity over the year, league-wide. Now, some may snicker at that number considering that some of those 20,854,169 reported attendees arrived dressed as empty seats. But regardless of how many fans walked through the turnstiles, a 2.4 per cent increase in tickets sold is nothing to sneeze at – especially in light of the potential damage the lockout could have caused.

Luckily for the NHL, common sense combined with serendipity to provide an exciting, dynamic year that gave the fans a reason to come back.

It’s not surprising that Montreal was able to set a team record for season attendance. They were able to sell out all 41 home games in the cavernous 21,273 Bell Centre. In fact, it’s no surprise that Canadian hockey fans were ready to come back in droves – the surprise was that there was no drop-off in U.S. fan support.

Realizing the precipice upon which they were perched, the league finally listened to its legion of constructive critics and implemented a host of rule and stylistic changes designed to speed up the game, let the skill players display their talents unimpeded by lumbering goons, and add goals to the game. Most importantly, they ensured that each game would end with a winner and a loser.

Part of the joy of being a hockey fan comes from experiencing the highs and lows of the season. However, it’s hard to ride that emotional rollercoaster when it’s stuck in neutral – and that’s what happened in the past as so many teams were playing not to lose and we more than content with a tie and the point it provided. The addition of the shootout, gimmicky as some may think it is, gets the butts out of the seats, brings back the breathless anticipation that hockey is known for, and gives fans back the opportunity to experience the depth of disappointment that accompanies a loss. However, that feeling also allows them enjoy the adrenaline rush that a win brings with even more passion.

That’s what common sense brought: the knowledge that hockey was a game with untapped potential that was being impeded through clutch-and-grab tactics. Desperation is the mother of invention and to reaffirm their place in the professional sporting mosaic, the NHL had to make changes.

The serendipity came with the fact that so many teams from non-traditional markets were in contention for playoffs right down to the wire. How much was fan interest buoyed in Atlanta thanks to the fact that the Ilya Kovalchuk-led Thrashers were in it right down to the final weekend? Did the Carolina Hurricanes’ success have anything to do with their 27 per cent increase in fan support? What about Nashville’s unexpected performance? Do you think that may have helped the team improve attendance by 10 per cent? Did Joe Thornton’s arrival and subsequent sparking of the San Jose Sharks playoff drive matter to the fans? A six per cent increase says yes.

Like the increase in fan support in Montreal, NHL markets are notorious for supporting their teams win or tie. The fact that so many non-traditional market teams were playing games that mattered only gave a bigger stage to display the changes that were made on the ice.

All the talk about fan revolt dissipated when we realized that it wasn’t just the NHL that was back – it was the NHL game of our youth that was resurrected. Just as Wayne Gretzky made his return to rinks behind the Phoenix Coyotes bench, the style of game that he enjoyed in his heyday was back in fashion.

While it’s hard to say that losing a season of one’s favourite sport is ever a worthwhile venture, the bitter pill fans were forced to swallow has gone down much easier with the sweet changes made to the current game. Now fans have to hope that the league has finally cured what ails it and commits to ensuring its long-term health.

Whether it was foresight, serendipity, plain dumb luck, or a combination of all three, the NHL has stumbled across a winning formula – and it’s the fans who are the biggest beneficiaries.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

New/Old Hockey Makes the Grade

By Jason Menard

It was inevitable, of course. The whispers of discontent regarding the new version of hockey are slowly working their way up to a dull roar. But the danger is that we’re not seeing the forest for the trees – and clear-cutting the whole region is not the answer.

You put certain media types together in a confined space and the cynicism comes out. In their hypercritical, hyperbole-friendly manner of existence sports reporters – especially the bad ones – tend to go overboard in their reactions either one way or the other. That’s why it comes as no surprise that a pair of reporters covering a recent London Knights contest were trying to outdo each other in their negativity.

“So much for that crackdown on holding,” says Mr. Cynic.

“Yeah, it was just a matter of time,” replies Mr. Curmudgeon.

“Look at that – that hook would have got you two minutes at the beginning of the season,” opines Mr. Cynic.

“Yep, it’s back to the old hockey,” concurs Mr. Curmudgeon.

Now, let’s rewind to the beginning of the year when the complaints would have been like this:

“Wow, he just tapped him with the stick and it’s a penalty,” Mr. Cynic notes.

“Yep, you can’t even breathe on a guy without getting sent to the box,” Mr. Curmudgeon replies.

“How can you play defence like this? What’s next, looking at a guy’ll get you five?” retorts Mr. Cynic.

“Yep, this new hockey’s basically pond hockey with boards,” concludes Mr. Curmudgeon.

So you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But beyond the hypercritical who see every missed hook and every minor hack that gets ignored as evidence of a return to the dark ages, today’s game is better than it was just two years ago (well, for the NHL – last year for everyone else.)

After an early feeling-out period where defenders were overcompensating for the stricter enforcement of obstruction-type penalties, players, refs, and coaches alike appear to have come to terms with the new NHL. Refs may not be so quick with the whistle, but that’s in large part to the better mutual understanding of the game.

What we have is a faster-paced game, with more offence. Defence is still a part of the game, but it has to be based on intelligence and positioning, not just goons getting their big meat hooks into approaching attackers. We have games where fans know that even if their team is two or three goals down in the third period, there’s still the opportunity to come back. We have more end-to-end rushes and more counter-attacks. We have, in essence, the game for which we’ve been asking for the past few years.

So why the complaints? Why the grumbling? Simply put, fear. We’re afraid of letting the game deteriorate to the point that it was two years ago. We let the game deteriorate on our watch, and we’re wary of letting it happen again.

What’s worked? What hasn’t? It seems that listening to fans, players, and general managers paid off for the NHL brass. Shocking that those most directly involved in the game would have the most insight into how to fix it.

Simply put, the NHL has scored on most fronts: the elimination of the centre red line has opened up the flow of the game and eliminated the countless – and pointless – offside calls. The restriction on the size of goalie equipment has not turned all goalies into human sieves, nor has it unnecessarily put their lives at risk. Even the contentious no-goalie zones in the corner of the rink has worked out, reducing, but not banning goaltender involvement in puck control. Best off all, we’re enjoying a faster game without having to impact the size of the ice surface. The game got faster without the rink getting wider, so purists – and money-conscious owners – are happy.

Overall the game is faster, the skill players are showcasing their wares, and fans are being treated to a level of hockey they haven’t seen since the late 80s/early 90s. The old/new NHL is working – but it’s not time to rest on its laurels.

The league must do something about making visors mandatory. Fans pay good money and invest in their heart and souls in these players – the least they could to is protect themselves. As well, something has to be done to encourage hitting. While speed is a big part of the game’s resurgence, the body check should not be phased out as a result. Because of overzealous refs and a lack of understanding about how the rules would be enforced, many players shied away from laying the body. But that has to change.

Hockey at its best is fast-paced, hard-hitting, and intense. We’re part of the way there – it’s not time to stop now. For the first time in year’s the NHL is creating a buzz. Now they just have keep on keeping on, and not ruin the momentum.

But for a league that’s long been known to shoot itself in the foot, will reaching this successful height prove to be too dizzying? Fans everywhere are holding their breath (but not their opponent’s stick!) in anticipation.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved