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Commissioner for a Day

Give Winnipeg team, crack down on illegals, tell truth

Posted: Thursday July 6, 2006 11:50AM; Updated: Tuesday September 12, 2006 6:34PM
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POLL
Which NHL change would you most want to see?
Put a team back in Winnipeg
Put All-Star Game in Europe on rotating basis
Fire ad agency that came up with current campaign
Scrap the form-fitting Reebok jerseys
Tell the truth about attendance
Cancel the last year on the OLN deal
Return the referees names to their jerseys
Take consistent position on illegal equipment
Mandatory visors
Cut back rivalry games
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If I were NHL commissioner for a day, I would:

1. Put a team back in Winnipeg: If it means putting Pittsburgh out of its misery or shifting laggard Atlanta, so be it. Hockey belongs in places where it's part of the fabric of daily life. In so many cities (hello, Tampa) it seems like an NHL game is a 2½-hour gathering of enthusiasts, like stamp collectors or Mercury Merkur owners. When the arena doors are flung open at the end of the night, that hockey feeling vanishes. Winnipeg, indeed all of Canada, cherishes the game, and the Manitoba capital has a sparkling new arena that, although maybe 1,500 seats too small by NHL standards, certainly would work in the new economic structure. If Quebec City builds a suitable pleasure dome, it also should get its team back. The league should play to its strengths. That means preaching to the converted in Canada.

2. Put the All-Star Game in Europe on a rotating basis: Once every, say, five years, take a six-day break and move the game to Helsinki or Prague or some other European hockey capital. For several hockey generations Euros have made the game more entertaining -- peruse the top 10 scorers for the past decade or so -- and this would be a small gesture of recognition and thanks. Charter some airplanes, fly players and their families over and make it one big hockey party. (Any increase in the NHL's popularity and licensing sales would be merely coincidental, of course.) The only drawback is that some NHL franchise and its city is going to miss the annual revenue windfall from All-Star weekend, which always is more fun than the game itself. My response: tough.

3. Fire the advertising agency that came up with the My NHL campaign and the My Stanley Cup campaign: The league takes a year off for the lockout and the best it can come up with are phony, sexist and just plain dumb commercials than use actors instead of actual players? The players, now the NHL's partners, are the game's greatest asset. Promote them, not Sun Tzu or scantily clad manservants. And as for those faux-dramatic, insulting My Stanley Cup commercials (which, mercifully, at least show actual NHL players) ... I'm going to leave a note on this desk that the guy can see when he returns tomorrow: "Dear Mr. Bettman, Denis Leary is not Jack Nicholson."

4. Scrap the form-fitting Reebok jerseys, which apparently are still a year away: Yeah, yeah, they are as sleek as a downhill racer's suit, but let the damn things stay at the Hahnenkamm. Those Reebok prototypes might be more aerodynamic and retain less perspiration (not to mention are less comfortable), but the old-fashioned hockey sweater is iconic, part of the arena landscape. You wouldn't want Frank Gehry to redesign the Stanley Cup, and you don't want Reebok screwing with this sweater tradition. Better materials, sure. Tighter fits? Not a chance.

5. Tell the truth about attendance: Announce tickets sold, not tickets distributed. Those announced (inflated) crowds, trumpeted in monthly press releases, raise more questions about the NHL's credibility than the empty seats.

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