When fans talk about the Big Four leagues, they’ll often bring up several complaints about how the respective sport is run. The NBA incentivizes tanking with its broken lottery system. The NFL can’t figure out how to make an effective overtime. Major League Baseball has inconsistent replay rules. The NHL has bizarre playoff seedings where teams play others in their division instead of their conference. And, keep in mind, there are many more complaints for all of these leagues than the ones mentioned.
But there’s one sports league that’s actually proactively trying to address these issues and evolve its game. It’s the NHL.
Hockey today is a completely different game than 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or even five years ago. The league has dealt with issues facing the sport head-on and dramatically improved the quality of play.
In the mid-2000s, it changed rules to increase competitiveness and increase scoring by eliminating the two-line pass and restricting where goalies could play the puck. It also changed overtime rules to eliminate ties (looking at you, NFL!) by instituting a shootout. Two years ago, it changed the overtime rules so that teams played three-on-three to increase the chances of game-winners and making extra time far more exciting.
The NHL has even addressed issues that other leagues receive criticism about constantly.
While many complain the NBA and MLB replay rules are too limited, this season the NHL expanded its replay system to include both league reviews and coach challenges.
NBA fans argued about whether star players should be allowed to rest and sit out games. Meanwhile, this year the NHL introduced a one-week bye for every team to give players extra rest during the season.
The NFL has failed to adequately respond to its concussion crisis, with rules such as limiting helmet-to-helmet hits and creating a medical protocol producing mixed results. The NHL, on the other-hand, has made player safety a huge focus for the league and frequently punishes players for illegal hits that lead to injuries, and it has discouraged fighting. Not only have these changes made the sport safer, they’ve also made it faster and more exciting.
So why has the NHL been so quick to change its sport? Well, the short answer is popularity. Of the Big Four, hockey is the least popular. Fans give them more room to experiment with rules in hopes of growing the game. The NFL doesn’t need to address concussions and the NBA doesn’t deal with tanking because their sports are insanely popular.
Hockey is getting better with every rule change and evolution of the sport. The game is faster and more dynamic than ever.
So when the inevitable news stories come out over the next few years about why the NBA or NFL ratings aren’t growing anymore, you can believe the NHL will know why.
Photo credit: Creative Commons