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Please, Mr. Bettman

My wish list for making the NHL more fan-friendly

Posted: Monday January 1, 2007 1:18PM; Updated: Thursday January 4, 2007 2:59PM
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A fan has to work hard to find his favorite team on the airwaves these days.
A fan has to work hard to find his favorite team on the airwaves these days.
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As the NHL floats the idea of cutting its six divisions down to four to save on team travel costs and juice TV ratings by keeping broadcasts in the same time zone as often as possible, here are my wishes for making the game more fan-friendly in new years to come.

1. Show me the games

It's nice that the league wants to boost its ratings, but have you tried to find a hockey game on the tube lately? Don't bother if you pitch your tent on the road like I often do.

The NHL has to go back to ESPN. With the success of the new rules and the shoot-out, Gary Bettman's refusal to bite the bullet with ESPN has been a marketing disaster. The surface area of ESPN alone is worth the few million bucks each team would likely have to cough up to get back on THE CHANNEL. The fan in waiting whose delayed flight allows him to catch the Penguins - Rangers tilt will be grateful. Furthermore, the game that doesn't translate on TV needs HD.

2. Hear me the games

In Los Angeles, the Kings can't be found on either sports talk radio station. Search for 20 minutes and you'll find Nick Nickson broadcasting their games on the Air America station. Let's hope the NHL doesn't share AA's fate, but all teams at least deserve high-profile, sports-oriented homes on the airwaves with strong, clear signals that can reach the faithful in outlying areas.

3. Show me the stars

I will not be able to go see Alexander Ovechkin this season because the Caps don't play the Kings in Los Angeles. What is that? The unbalanced schedule. Thanks. The league is blessed to have a crop of exciting young stars, and arguably the biggest newbie doesn't get a chance to play in the America's second-biggest market. Give me more East-West games and forget realigning the divisions. Transplants, homers, (and box office), rejoice!

4. Give me cheap(er) seats

As a young fan in the 80's, I could scrounge up enough quarters to score a nosebleed on a Wednesday night. Those were the days before corporate boxes and a $500 tab for bringing the family to a game. I can appreciate "economic reality," but with attendance down, it might be time to again embrace the "little guy." Make the cheap seats cheaper. And how about letting fans move down after the first period to empty loge, or even rink-side, seating? (Not that we would have ever considered such actions back in the day, Mr. McNall.)

Sure, it might PO a CEO, but it would garner some much-needed love and bring more intensity to the game by allowing the leather-lunged to come down from the rafters. At the very least, it will create the appearance of a fuller house when the camera pans the lower reaches of the stands.

5. Give me the games . . . earlier

The wife won't let me, the father of two delicious monkeys, to drag the fam to a 7:30 p.m. puck-drop on week nights. That would entail a home ETA of 11ish and she doesn't want the inevitable day-after call from our daughter's kindergarten teacher. Give me five games each season with a 6:00 p.m. start and you'll get more family love. Call them Kid Nights and give all those empty colonnade seats to local school children. They'll sow more seeds for the next generation of fans.

6. Lose the trapezoid

The new rules are working, but lose the goalie trap. I miss the wannabe Hextalls of the world dancing in the corners. Skating, stick-handling and poise are skills that should apply to goalies, too.

7. Lose the new uniforms

The word on the grapevine is that the new streamlined unis the NHL plans to unveil at the All-Star Game in Dallas are so spandex tight that they make players eyes bulge. That is a scary vision considering that the new threads will, in some cases, be covered by eyesore crests and unreadable color schemes like the Blue Jackets already sport. I'm sure the traditionalist who has already lost his beloved fighting to the shootout will be thrilled, and more than a few newcomers may be doubled over with laughter, unless they like Olympic speedskating.

8. Give me a goalie

The Kings' goaltending has been hard to take. Mathieu Garon has been hurt and Dan Cloutier's only highlight was going ballistic on the Predators while down 6-0 in the third period on December 23. The fact that Cloutier -- that's him crawling out of the pile in the photo above -- had to make the statement is subject for another day, but the fact remains: we need a solid goalie! I will be holding the BRING BACK KELLY HRUDEY sign at every January home game. Rogie Vachon is, after all, over the hill. Then again, as one reader points out:

"You mention the state of the LA Kings goaltending. It's because of crazy  rules that require players to clear waivers when being called up to the NHL. Jason LaBarbera is stuck at the Kings' minor league affiliate in Manchester, NH. The goalie was on the Kings roster last season and must now clear waivers to be called up. How stupid is that?"

Plenty, But on a sunny note, my son just told me he's writing a book about Wayne Gretzky. The kid just turned 7 and he's got three pages done already! Here's a taste:

Theyr wus wunce a hokey playr who was grate in hokey. His name wus Wain Greske. He did grate ussts.

From the dropped-glove graveyard known as Five For Fighting, may all your hockey wishes come true in '07 and may your new year be GRATE!

Musician John Ondrasik is the creative force and voice of the platinum award-winning band Five for Fighting. His SI.com column will appear each month during the NHL season.