With a new season fast approaching, the NHL, like all of the teams in it, has been working to prepare itself for 2,542 regular season games as well as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One of the ways in which the league has done that is the institution of a few new penalties in the rule book. The most recent penalizes team for losing a Coach’s Challenge. But when one thinks about the new penalties and rules in place, as well as the NHL’s stagnate ratings at times in the past year or so, the question of whether the new penalties are for the overall safety of the players or to increase viewer ratings comes into play.
When it comes to safety, it’s relatively easy to see how and why the new infractions were implemented. The NHL has made it clear that game officials will be cracking down on slashing penalties this season, and as the first few games of the preseason have shown, the NHL means business. While it isn’t the most common penalty called during a game, there have been a few notable slashing calls that have injured players recently that nay have prompted the NHL to take such action (Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby’s slash last season that took a piece of an opposing player’s finger off is a prime example). Avoiding injuries such as this or possibly worse is arguably the main reason why the league has decided it must be called more often.
On the other hand, the NHL has been attempting to increase scoring around the league for the last few seasons by implementing regulations on goaltender equipment to changing the format of overtime to 3-on-3 play. But despite these attempts, the scoring around the NHL over the last few seasons hasn’t increased in the dramatic fashion the league perhaps hoped it would. In each of the last three seasons, teams have scored a combined 6,810, 6,660, and 6,720 goals, respectively. Between 2014-15 (6,720 goals) to 2016-17 (6,810), scoring increased by just 90 goals and from 2015-16 (6,660 goals) to 2016-17, a slightly better 150. By implementing harsher penalties and rules such as the slashing or faceoff violation infractions (which was an existing penalty that was never enforced), the NHL may be hoping to “give” teams more scoring opportunities in the hopes that it will result in more offense league-wide.
There is also the possibility of the league hoping that more offense will lead to more viewers and revenue. While last season’s Stanley Cup Final did relatively well in terms of viewer ratings, the 2017 NHL Winter Classic was the newest least-viewed Classic in the past three seasons, down 21% and 26% from the Capitals-Chicago Blackhawks game at Nationals Park two three seasons ago. The Stadium Series games are also among the league’s least-watched contests, as the Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers game at Heinz Field last season was the third-lowest rated game (1.2) for a primetime game on NBC. One of the reasons fans of any sport, particularly hockey, enjoy watching is when their favorite team scores. When one takes this into consideration, the enforcement of these rules and penalties may be the NHL’s way of creating more chances for teams to score.
Whatever the reason for the sudden crackdown on these new and existing penalties, it’s clear that games around the NHL will be called much more strictly than in the past. Players. coaches, and fans alike will have to adjust to these new implementations and the positives (if any) and negatives that come with them. Only time will tell if these new penalties and rules will lead to increased offense and/or more viewer ratings, and with Opening Night right around the corner, the wait won’t be too much longer.
By Michael Fleetwood