The NHL heads into its offseason on the heels of a thrilling playoff run that saw its brightest star, Sidney Crosby, add even more hardware to his trophy case as the Penguins put together a dominant run that ended a recent string of disappointing finishes.
While the players recuperate and prep for the World Cup of Hockey, let's look at some of the key issues the league must address this offseason. If you think we missed anything, or just want to speak your mind about the ones we called out, head over to the Sports Fan Coalition Facebook page to weigh in.
Like football, the physicality of hockey puts its players at risk for severe head injuries. And over the past few years, we've seen the tragic results — in particular, the case of "enforcer" Derek Boogaard, chronicled in excruciating detail by the New York Times a few years ago. More recently, we've seen a lawsuit filed against the NHL by 100+ former players, along with a growing chorus of fans — including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — calling for the league to take bolder action.
As a result of the players' lawsuit, a bunch of internal league emails were unsealed, showing that NHL officials have been well aware of the risks posed by concussions. But will the league do anything about it? What's their solution, beyond trying to more strictly enforce rules against headshots? Do current hockey helmets protect players sufficiently?
We know fans care about their favorite teams and the players who make those teams great. That’s why we’re working on this issue. Hopefully we'll start to get some answers this summer.
The big news in recent weeks was the NHL's decision to award Las Vegas an expansion franchise. This move will have major implications for the city of Las Vegas, other NHL teams (via the upcoming expansion draft), and other markets like Seattle and Quebec City that are also vying for an NHL team of their own.
Fans will be watching closely as the league navigates these issues. How will the expansion draft play out? What will the team be called? Will Las Vegas prove to be a thriving hockey market or the dud that some are predicting? And will the Las Vegas bid serve as a model for future expansions and relocations in other leagues, given the 13,000 season ticket deposits it secured and the full private funding of the team's new arena?
Some of these questions will be answered this offseason. Some may take years to fully understand. Either way, it'll be fascinating to watch it all unfold — and important for fans to stay on top of.
3. Owner Greed
Stop us if you've heard this one before:
NHL games are becoming more and more expensive — and many fans are being priced out. Why are tickets and concessions so expensive when the majority of teams are profitable, some earning upwards of $70 million? The average cost for a family of four to attend an NHL game in 2015 was more than $360 — far more than many fans can afford.
Can the league — which is still in desperate need for new fans, especially in certain markets — ensure its product is accessible to the average fan? Will teams follow the example of the Atlanta Falcons and cap their concession prices?
Let's hope so.
4. Rule changes
With scoring rates continuing to sag, the NHL is exploring rule changes to boost offense, which it (along with many observers) believes will make the game more appealing to more fans.
This summer, the buzz surrounds the idea of shrinking goalie equipment, which has become larger and larger even as goaltenders have grown bigger and more athletic.
We don't yet know what the exact rule changes will look like, but the big question is: Will the NHL get this right — in a way that achieves the desired effect on scoring while keeping goalies safe and happy? And are there other ways to juice up scoring that haven't been debated yet?
We'll find out this summer.
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