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Jamming The Crease

My reactions to this week's notable news stories

Posted: Friday November 30, 2007 6:56PM; Updated: Friday November 30, 2007 6:56PM
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Despite changes to the NHL schedule, most Western Conference teams will still have to wait two years to watch Sidney Crosby.
Despite changes to the NHL schedule, most Western Conference teams will still have to wait two years to watch Sidney Crosby.
Lou Capozzola/SI
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NHL Board of Governors announces new schedule format

Reaction: Alright, it's something, and for that we should be thankful. But after suffering through three seasons of a failed approach to scheduling, this half-measure solution proves that the BOG wasn't listening all that closely to the fans.

They did get something right by reducing the number of games against divisional opponents -- someone remind me why we bother with divisions when the playoffs are conference-based -- but cutting the wait time between inter-conference visits from three years to two simply is hardly an adequate solution.

And while the need for regular visits has been downplayed by some who think the cry for change was predicated on Western teams wanting to see Sidney Crosby more often, there's more to it than that. It's about variety and the fact that the league can sell the brand names of franchises as well as its stars to ticket buyers who are obviously weary of the bland diet they've been force-fed since the lockout. The palpable excitement in Dallas and Phoenix last week for the first visit in four years by the Maple Leafs is just one example of why the NHL should have gone for the home-and-home inter-conference option offered by the 84-game schedule that was championed in this space last year, and later by the Red Wings -- a team that fans in the East would surely like to see more than once every other year.

So yeah, it was a step. But you can bet that the fight for a better schedule didn't end yesterday in Pebble Beach.

Philly's Scott Hartnell gets two games for hit on Boston's Andrew Alberts

Reaction: Everyone loves Hartnell. The guy's a gamer, the sort of player who any club wants in the lineup because of the accountability he demands from his opponents as well as teammates. But the vicious hit he laid on an utterly defenseless Alberts on Monday night went way beyond merely finishing a check. It was a clear example of crossing the line between tough hockey and reckless endangerment of a fellow athlete.

Based on where Alberts' head was at the time, Hartnell had ample opportunity to raise his arms and avoid driving it into the dasher. That he failed to do so showed an appalling lack of judgment.

But just as inexcusable as the hit was the slap on the wrist suspension issued by Colin Campbell. There's plenty of talk from the league -- and from the players themselves -- about eliminating head shots from the game. Obviously, that's just lip service when a flagrant elbow thrown to the head of a vulnerable player is "punished" so lightly.

The message is clear: keep your heads up, boys. With reprimands like this, and the instigator penalty still in place, it's every man for himself out there.

Panthers and Capitals need 11 shootout rounds to decide contest

Reaction: Memo to self-proclaimed old schoolers: it's time to drop the rhetoric that the shootout is just a gimmick. Some nights, it's the most compelling part of the program. That certainly was the case on Wednesday, when Tomas Vokoun of the Panthers outdueled Washington's Olaf Kolzig to gain a critical extra point for Florida. With seven goals scored on those 22 shots, there was an enthralling mix of creativity and goaltending that left the hometown fans satisfied even in defeat.

Recognizing the entertainment value of this showdown, and the impact these points have on the standings -- the situation in Toronto would not look quite as dire if the Leafs actually won these shootouts on occasion -- only reinforces my belief that the league needs to extend the format from three to five shooters.

Can't imagine that paying customers would have a problem with that concept.

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