Is the quality of play in the Stanley Cup Finals poor compared to previous rounds? I think that is debatable but it is the core argument made by ESPN hockey blogger Pierre LeBrun.
Save it for June: How to Reduce the Grind
LeBrun argues to reduce the physical and mental wear and tear on players the following five things should occur (albeit some are not realistic as he admits):
1. Shorten camp and play fewer preseason games, and start regular season in mid-September. Agree!
Not a bad idea. I have argued that the season goes on too long for people to keep their interest. More importantly, to keep good ice in June is difficult especially in places like Los Angeles, New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Detroit which have hosted Finals games recently. The ice deteriorates rapidly affecting the quality of the play. Ice issues in September are not as big a deal.
2. Cancel All-Star Weekend. Agree!
All-Star games do not hold the interest of the public anymore. The skills competition brought a flare for awhile, but the Winter Classic is a greater celebration of hockey as it stands. For pure competition I am in favor of bringing back the World Cup of Hockey!
3. Shorten the second round to best-of-five and keep the first, conference finals, and finals at best-of-7. Disagree
No way should this happen. It messes with the competition too greatly. Some of the best hockey occurs in the second round and it is actually a playoff round that many fans can still afford and attend the games. Playing the second round as a best-of-five reduces the margin of error in the first two games. You go down 0-2 in a best-of-five and you are toast before going to your home arena.
4. When teams have to travel more than one time zone make it a 2-3-2 series format. Disagree
Again, I do not agree with this suggestion. This messes with the integrity of the competition even more than playing a best-of-five. A higher seed should not have to play more road games in the first five games. It is unfair. Many series do not go past 5 games and losing one at home would be devastating. The World Series is a perfect example. The team that has three straight at home I believe has a big advantage. Win one on the road in the first two games and you know you can win the championship at home.
5. Reduce the regular season to 78 games instead of 82. Disagree
I partially agree in theory with LeBrun. But in reality, like he writes, it will not happen. Four games and one week off the schedule may not have the desired effect LeBrun is suggesting anyway. The physical and emotional wear and tear of the season is partially due to the length of the season, the travel, etc., but also due to the intensity and physicality of play in the playoffs. Four less games in the regular season is not going to prevent broken and bruised ankles and wrists because guys are blocking shots and taking slashes in intense Stanley Cup playoff games.
Is the quality of play suffering in the Finals? I was talking to a former Division 1 hockey player today and he thought that the level of play was at such a high level and so clean defensively that the teams were minimizing the number of mistakes and, thus, we were seeing fewer offensive chances. The quality of play in the Finals is probably as much or more due to the match-up and the injuries those teams have experienced.
What is the solution? Fans may not like it but if we are concerned that the players are exhausting themselves and the quality of play is being effected here are four recommendations:
1. Reduce the amount of travel by realigning the divisions based on geography.
2. Play more games against teams closer to you geographically.
3. Start the season in early September and end prior to the American Memorial Day holiday. This will give you better ice conditions and keep fans interested. Furthermore, shorten the preseason and give players more off days between games. This way players have more time to recover without actually reducing the 82-game schedule.
4. Consistently penalize players that slash, knee, cross check, rough, elbow, board, etc. I love the physicality of the playoffs but eliminating much of the dirty, illegal play will keep players healthier in the long run.