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How the NHL Hurts Its Own Brand

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    NEWSLETTERS

    "Where people throw ducks at balloons and nothing is the way it seems." -Homer Simpson

    That was how Homer described the carnival game he and Bart would invent if they had a booth. But if you thought this is how the NHL came to decisions on how its game was played, you wouldn't be incorrect.

    Over the past couple days, we've had an excellent exhibition on just how clueless the powers-that-be are, and how they've turned their game into a goofy, niche sport that they can't get to the masses.

    First the minor inconvenience of a shootout. As you've probably guessed, most core hockey fans hate it. As well they should. It's a gimmick that pretty much nullifies what went on for the previous 65 minutes. The execs will point to the arenas standing as a whole and Sportscenter-ready highlights they can create.

    To the first point, of course in the building it's exciting. It's also exciting when The Rock hits triple H with a chair in wrestling, that doesn't make it worth incorporating. It's fake excitement. Produced. Not real. And if that's the argument, everyone is on their feet during a fight too, so why is that slowly being phased out?

    The highlight argument doesn't really work when it's stuffed into the end of Sportscenter (as it always will be as long as ESPN doesn't carry hockey) and treated with the same sense of seriousness as the Gorilla in Phoenix dunking off a trampoline.

    The NHL has already stripped the shootout of credibility when it opted to not count them in tiebreakers when teams are tied on points at the end of the season. They've basically admitted it's a gimmick. They had pretty much already done that when they didn't have the tires to just go with a Win-Loss standings system and do away with a points system. They couldn't bring themselves to count it as a real win and a real loss, so we get this netherworld.

    Even Major League Soccer, a league as desperate for the casual fan, has no problem with a tie. This notion that every fan needs closure or a definite emotion of success or disappointment makes the sports fan out to be a drooling petri dish. We can see gray, we don't need white and black. And now that apparently the rules don't apply to it and it's basically a dunk competition, they've rendered it even sillier.

    But a much larger indictment of the league is their disciplinary system. You had two hits the past two night worthy of suspension. If you haven't seen Zdeno Chara's hit on Max Pacioretty, you may want to buckle up and take a gander.

    You can argue this all sorts of ways. But Chara and Pacioretty have a history of being angry at each other, it was with seconds left in a game already decided between two bitter rivals, and it was reckless. And Pacioretty now has a broken neck. Whether Chara meant to drive him into that turnbuckle (I don't know if he did but I know he meant to make his mark) is immaterial, because it was a dangerous, thoughtless hit. And Pacioretty may never play again.

    Chara got no suspension. But the police may intervene. How can a league let something go that the actual cops may deem worthy of a sentence? It's farcical.

    Last night, you get Pavel Kubina simply taking a swing with his elbow at the back of Dave Bolland's head. This is the exact type of intent-to-injure silliness that the NHL is claiming it's trying to eradicate. But there was no penalty. Thankfully, after the fact they suspended Kubina three games for his act of gutlessness. But why don't those refs receive any discipline for missing something that marks the biggest story in hockey this year, head injuries? Maybe if they were fined or suspended a game, they won't swallow their whistle the next time a player walks so far out of line. But is Kubina's hit that much worse than Chara's? Who could argue that?

    And people wonder why the NHL can't get out of its way...

    Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .