It's obvious at this point that the very nature of NHL Hockey is a threat to the best players in the game. If there is a collective desire to continue to see the best hockey players perform on centre stage night after night, we need to make some changes to ensure the long term health of the game and players we love.
As well, any parent who scrutinizes their children's TV viewing habits knows that an NHL hockey game is dicey family viewing at best. It's pretty tough to explain why everything we teach our kids on a daily basis (i.e., non-violence, respect for authority, respect for others) can be thrown out the window when it comes to an NHL hockey game. Physical violence and fighting that causes concussions aside, hockey is one of very few professional sports where verbal abuse of a referee is "part of the game". If you watch the NHL as a family, I guess you make your best pitch and then keep your fingers crossed that your child doesn't bully or swear at an adult just because they feel like it...
We are selling ourselves and this game short to maintain the status quo. This great game stands on its own merits. No one would argue the quality of The World Junior and Olympic tournaments that are void of the cultural issues outlined above. So what can be done to save this great Canadian game?
Hockey is in desperate need of new leadership. I understand that the Don Cherry's of the world have earned their place in Hockey History. But in any other industry, this man would have received his walking papers when he insulted Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson for linking the issue of fighting in hockey to possible addiction and/or emotional problems later in life. (Afterall, these men are heros in my mind for admitting their demons.) It's time for a new Hockey Night in Canada spokesperson, and for the owners to realize that getting one would result in more people watching the game.
I also believe that it's time for some NHL players to take a leadership role. Think of how Sydney Crosby is idolized in the NHL. I'm astounded at that this young man who is possibly at risk of losing his hockey career (aka his life). Why is he not taking the opportunity to say loud and clear that something needs to change about the rules of the game?
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that true leaders - spokespeople, coaches and players alike - will step up to the plate. The minute they do, I'll start watching the NHL and I think many others will do the same. Then more money and fame (which ironically NHL players and owners feel are at risk if the game is changed) will follow.