The four pages we devote to Martin Kane's story of the Stanley Cup windup in this issue, beginning on page 38, probably will be the last we will give to hockey until summer is done. But they bring to a total of 33 full pages the amount of space our magazine has allotted to the coverage of this fast-paced sport during the National Hockey League season of 1965-66. This is more than twice the space we have given to hockey in any previous season—and it won't stop there. As the National Hockey League expands during the season of 1967-68 from its present eastern six-city setup into a coast-to-coast network of 12 cities with an aggregate population of 50 million people (two and a half times that of Canada), this once largely Canadian sport is sure to take its place alongside major league baseball, football and basketball as a top American professional team sport.
The increasing importance of professional hockey recently led our editors to produce a private critical memorandum on the sport. It struck me as highly interesting, and I asked them for clearance to make it public here. Parts of it follow:
"It has long seemed to us that pro hockey is too good a game to be limited to one corner of the continent. It may even be that expansion and a new audience, culled not only from the fans in the 12 NHL cities but from a nationwide TV pool as well, will make pro hockey an even better game. The near monopoly that the two Canada-based clubs now have over potential player talent has caused an imbalance in the six-team NHL. To provide players for 12 teams will mean a dilution of present talent, but if the sharing is done, as it must be done, in such a way as to insure a fair level of competition among all 12 teams, hockey in general will benefit. Much of the future success of the new, wider league depends on what draft rules league officials come up with at their meeting in June.
"Another aspect of hockey that may well benefit from expansion is the conduct of the game itself. It seems highly doubtful that hockey's new TV fans will keep their sets tuned to a game that suddenly comes to a dead stop while players peel off their gloves and jerseys to engage in school-recess brawls while second-balcony fans toss rotten eggs and hot pennies on the ice.
"Seen close up on the living room screen, hockey's fights are pitilessly revealed for what they are—pretty pallid affairs in which nobody is apt to get hurt—and dead air has never been welcomed by advertisers. TV's boredom might well prompt hockey to draw up new rules to make a clean distinction between unnecessary roughness in the course of play (i.e., cross-checking, tripping, boarding) and a deliberate effort to start a brawl. The latter should in every case incur dismissal from the ice for the duration of the game. True hockey fans like to watch hockey."
To which I can only say amen. Let the fight fans go to the fights; they can use a boost, too.