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Bigger nets, more playoffs miss cut
By TOM JONES
Published July 24, 2005
No red line. Smaller goalie equipment. Shootouts.
The NHL certainly made good on the promise to shake up the game for the upcoming season.
But it wasn't the cannonball splash the league could have made. The NHL stopped just short of that by shooting down two rules that were under serious consideration.
The first was bigger nets. Of course, purists would have howled and the NHL's old guard probably nipped this one in the bud. But adding a couple of inches to each side of the net would have guaranteed more goals - more than any other new rule.
The other rule that almost made it but didn't was adding four teams to the postseason. The way it would have worked is Seeds 1 through 6 in each conference would have had a first-round bye while 7 through 10 played a best-of-three wild-card series. True, having 20 of 30 teams make the playoffs seems like a lot, but the wild card added spice to baseball and probably would have added some excitement in the final weeks of the season.
Plus, sports fans seem to agree there aren't many things more exciting than the Stanley Cup playoffs. What could be wrong with adding another 8-12 postseason games?
OFF BALANCE: One of the NHL's new rules some fans won't care for is the unbalanced schedule.
Teams will play the other four teams in their division eight times and the other 10 teams in their conference four times. That leaves only 10 games against the other conference.
This season, the Lightning and the other teams in the Southeast Division will play home games against the Central Division (Detroit, St. Louis, Columbus, Nashville and Chicago) and road games against the Pacific (Dallas, San Jose, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Anaheim).
That means players you won't see at the St. Pete Times Forum this season include Vancouver's Markus Naslund, Colorado's Joe Sakic and Calgary's Jarome Iginla. In fact, a rematch of the 2004 final between the Lightning and Flames won't happen at all - until the Stanley Cup final. But yippee! The Hurricanes come to town four times.
WHAT CHANNEL? Although labor peace finally has been achieved, the NHL's work is not done. Next on the agenda is securing a cable television contract in the United States.
ESPN walked away during the lockout, but there is some hope the two will work out a new deal, especially because ESPN executives hinted they might be willing to talk again.
But it must have been disappointing for the NHL that none of the stations in the ESPN empire picked up full coverage of Friday's news conferences to announce the CBA and the draft lottery.
However, commissioner Gary Bettman sounded confident when asked about a U.S. cable deal. He said he expects something to happen "very soon."
USA Today columnist Michael Hiestand had a neat idea: put the games on HBO and mike the players, expletives and all.
"That's intriguing," HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg told Hiestand. "The only issues would be how much (money) they'd want and the games' significance. I'm not sure regular-season games would have the heat we'd need. But if they gave us an open book, we'd fill the pages."
Serious possibilities include the USA Network, TNT and Outdoor Life Network.
SID THE KID: The NHL will never admit it, but it surely breathed a sigh of relief when the Penguins won the draft lottery and the right to select highly regarded junior prospect Sidney Crosby. It's not that the NHL wanted Pittsburgh to get the pick, but it could not have wanted a Western team to get it. That nearly happened. Anaheim was the runnerup.
The last thing the NHL wanted was its newest star starting most of his games after 10 p.m. Eastern time.
Still, Jeremy Roenick had a good idea: The NHL should have thrown the lottery out and given the pick to the Rangers. The NHL is always more interesting when the Leafs, Canadiens and, especially, the Rangers are good.
WHO'S NEXT: Everyone knows Crosby is the top prospect, but who's next?
Benoit Pouliot, a left wing from Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League, is ranked second by the NHL's Central Scouting. But don't be surprised if Anaheim takes Minnesota high schooler Jack Johnson, an offensive defenseman who has drawn comparisons to Brian Leetch.
In its mock draft, Canada's TSN has the Lightning taking Ondrej Pavelec, a goalie from the Czech Republic, with the 30th pick. Fox Sports guessed the Lightning will select Finnish defenseman Risto Korhonen.