The NHL is contemplating changing the size of goal

For years, hockey players have complained that with the added height to the current crop of goaltenders in the NHL and the amount of equipment they wear in a game, it leaves them little net space to place an accurate shot on goal. League management recently unveiled a prototype goal in Toronto for a puck-shooting demonstration and intimated that it could be used in a game by next season. This has brought a continuous debate back to the front burner again in hockey: should the NHL increase the size and dimension of the goal net to increase scoring in the league?

Many believe that increase scoring in the league will generate more fan interest in hockey. The last discussion of a possible net change was in 2007, and that involved changing the size to a “soccer-styled” net. This was a ploy by the NHLPA to decrease the size of the goaltender’s equipment, which was changed the following off-season.

The proposed goal will still stand six feet wide and four feet high, but the noticeable change will be replacing the circular post with an oval-shaped design that will have a flatter, longer crossbar on the inside of the goal. The hope is that shots on net will have a better chance of ricocheting in for a goal instead of bounding off into the corner.

The initial results from the demonstration were that the pucks were indeed going into the net after hitting the crossbar on a shot attempt. Shots on the short side post were also going into the net, but fewer shots were going into the net off the far post. Those attempts still tended to go into the corner.

Hockey purists will argue that changing the size of the goal net would be committing a mortal sin in the sport. Its equivalent would be shortening the field of play by 10 yards in the NFL or increasing the rim size in the NBA. They’ll argue that hockey isn’t all about scoring goals.

Entertaining hockey can be defined by good offensive flow with back and forth scoring opportunities from each team. The main problem in the NHL is clogged neutral zone play, as larger, non-athletic players deliberately slow down the more skilled, faster players with a forecheck at center ice. Coaches have implemented a more defensive-minded system to prevent big offensive games from the talented players in the league.

Every change in hockey has tried to add more offense to the game. Scorers cannot always hit their target and making the net larger will give them a little more margin for error. Instead of changing the net, perhaps widening the ice surface would allow for better offensive flow. Ultimately, it will come down to what the players want.

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NHL players elect not to re-open collective bargaining agreement

The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) announced during the All-Star Game weekend celebration in Montreal that the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the players and owners would be extended for another two years. This will ensure content with the current labor system in the sport through the start of the 2011-12 season.

NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly stated that the players’ unanimously wanted to stay focused on continuing to help grow the game’s popularity in North America. Throw in the current economic climate, and no one in the NHLPA felt it was the appropriate time for the players to enter a complex labor negotiation with management.

Under the current labor agreement, the players have reaped the benefit of being able to become an unrestricted free agent at an earlier age. The average salary per player has risen from $1.8 million in the first post-lockout season to a projected average of over $2 million for this season, and the salary cap has also risen in the same span going from $39 million to almost $57 million this season. The NHL is projecting a marginal revenue growth for the upcoming 2009-10 season.

All the teams in the league breathe a sigh of relief with this announcement, as it will allow them to move forward in their development process by knowing the current labor agreement will be in place for at least two more seasons.

And finally, the biggest winners of all were the fans. They don’t need to worry about the possibility of the league closing its doors again for yet another work stoppage at the end of this season.

Four early season storylines in the NHL

The opening of the NHL season will take place overseas this weekend, and there are a few key storylines to keep an eye on during the first week of the season:

NHL invasion of Europe
A year ago, the Anaheim Ducks opened the season against the Los Angeles Kings in London, England. This season, four teams are kicking off the 2008-09 season in Europe: the Ottawa Senators will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm, and the Tampa Bay Lightning open their season against the New York Rangers in Praque. The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) President Paul Kelly announced that the number of teams opening the season in Europe could double next year, as multiple European cities have expressed interest in hosting NHL games next season.

Selanne resigns with the Ducks
Forward Teemu Selanne signed a two-year contract worth $5.25 million with the Ducks after the club traded defenseman Mathieu Schneider to the Atlanta Thrashers to free up the necessary cap space. Selanne didn’t want to miss time in training camp like last season when he was contemplating retirement from the sport. With a two-year commitment to the team, Selanne is committed to getting the Ducks back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Possible trades due to salary cap restrictions
Rumors have been circulating that a number of teams are looking to deal players due to salary cap restrictions. The Chicago Blackhawks have solved their salary cap problem by putting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin on waivers this week. The writing was on the wall that his days were numbered in Chicago when the team signed free agent goalie Cristobal Huet to a four-year deal worth $22.5 million in July. The San Jose Sharks are looking to trade defenseman Kyle McLaren and his 2.5 million dollar contract to avoid starting the season $225,000 over the salary cap. McLaren became expendable after the team added Dan Boyle and Rob Blake to the backline in the offseason.

Inventive marketing plan on the West Coast
In an unusual joint venture, the Ducks and Kings announced a ticket-sales package for games that will be played Oct. 14 in Anaheim and Nov. 16 in Los Angeles. The package will be called the “Freeway Face-Off” and $60 will get fans tickets to both games.

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