Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Real Problem

-There was no suspension given to Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins for the enormous and frightening hit he doled out to Montreal's Max Pacioretty earlier this week. Pacioretty is the beneficiary of a severe concussion and cracked vertebra as a result of the violence.

As I see it the game has changed to the point where these kinds of violent occurrences will be more and more frequent. It is amazing to me that pro hockey hasn't seen someone lose their life or use of their arms and legs in recent years. The sport has changed dramatically in the last couple of decades.

In effect, you have people the size of football linemen and linebackers skating around dishing out colossal punishment to one another. It's no wonder the Blues and many other teams are dealing with scads of crippling injuries, and having to make excuses for them, on a regular basis. Watch a video of games played as recently as the 80's. Notice how much open ice there was for players to maneuver. It's all gone. The players now are all so huge, and so fast, that just getting around on the ice is like trying to park a semi in a bathroom. The only thing that will bring a level of safety, and I might add entertainment, back to this wonderful sport is changing the size of the playing surface.

I believe a movement toward instituting the Olympic-size ice sheet in all NHL buildings is way overdue. I tend to believe that most of the NHL owners and general managers know it. The problem is they can't make it happen without costing themselves tons of money. State-of-the-art buildings in North America would suddenly not be that anymore if the larger surface were adopted. Retrofitting existing buildings would be an engineering and logistical nightmare in most cases. So, guess what? It ain't gonna happen.

In '09 when I was invited to do the PA at the Blues-RedWings games in Stockholm, the ice surface at the Globe Arena had to be downsized to accommodate the NHL ice sheet. Looking at all that extra space outside the rink there was pretty amazing. They had stages set up for concerts. They had sets with couches and chairs for between-periods TV interviews. That's where the extra skating room would be if we adopted the international playing surface. That's where exciting scoring plays would develop. That's where injuries such as Pacioretty's likely wouldn't happen because there would be more room to maneuver. But that's also where all the "big bucks" tickets are in our North American buildings.

Every year the players get bigger, stronger and faster in the NHL. But the playing conditions and confines of the rink are largely the same as when 6 feet, 180 pounds was considered a big guy.