Thursday, October 06, 2005

Welcome Back Hockey

Welcome back, hockey fans.

*cricket, cricket*

Well, for those of you who are still here, welcome back. The hockey season started last night in dramatic fashion, with all 30 teams playing in 15 different cities in North America. Most everyone we remember from the Old NHL is still around, but almost all of them have different addresses. The new kids are solid hockey players who are going to add a lot of depth to the league. A lot of emphasis has been put on Sydney Crosby, but you're probably going to see more production out of Alexander Ovechkin in Washington.

The rules changes have opened up the game tremendously. ESPN put up a great set of stats on Sportscenter this morning, and I wish I could find it somewhere online, because it would be great to reproduce here, but the bottom line is this: penalties are up, scoring is up. The game is just more fun than it used to be.

I was able to watch the Rangers and Flyers play on OLN last night, and I was surprised to see how strict the officiating was. Kudos to Kerry Fraiser, the game's head official and one of the best referees in the game. Frasier has never been afraid to call the game as he sees it (just look back to Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals to prove that point -- Frasier called a penalty on the trailing Flames with just over a minute left in the game).

More penalties means more power play opportunites which ultimately leads to more goals. I should point out that power play percentage is not necessarily higher than it has been -- there are just more opportunites and thus, more goals.

In every arena in the NHL, the phrase "Thank You Fans!" is pained just inside each blue line. However, the real message from the league should have been something closer to "We're sorry" or "Please, watch hockey games." The harsh reality of the situation is that the sport has taken a major hit that will take years to recover from.

The Stanley Cup remains the ultimate prize in sports. It always has been and always will be the most recognizable trophy in any sport. Now, all that remains is to make the fight for the cup respectable again.

There is a lot of difficult work ahead, but Wednesday's games were a great start.

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