I expect almost unanimous agreement on my second proposal, grudging agreement for my first, and wild cackles of disapproval for my last. But now that an NHL season is a reality, I think implementing all three would make the league a better place. Why? Let's go.
Item #1 - Close the Loophole
At the end of June 2012, the free agency nightmare of every Ducks fan became a reality. Justin Schultz, a player who was expected to be a cornerstone of our defensive corps for years to come, decided to leave us for the Edmonton Oilers. As we all know, this was his right. As I explained in an essay that I wrote for AC back in July 2012, I wish Schultz well. I don't plan to boo him when he comes to Anaheim, and I would discourage Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry from taking runs at him. I've been able to see Schultz play in person (with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons), and I think he's the real deal - a smooth skater and offensively creative (even if he is prone to periodic defensive lapses).
But Schultz became an Oiler by exploiting a loophole in the previous CBA. This loophole allowed unsigned college players to become free agents four years after their draft year. It will probably be too late for Gary Bettman to address this if it hasn't been closed in the brand new CBA, but it is an issue that the NHL should be concerned about. While I respect players' ability to choose their own destiny, I am first and foremost a fan of the Anaheim Ducks. And by closing this loophole, teams will be able to protect their assets, and reap the rewards of the draft. If players are truly unhappy, they will be able to leave after their Entry-Level Contract expires.
Item #2 - Get Rid of the Shootout
This is another issue that probably can't be resolved until the next CBA is negotiated, but it also deserves a look by the league. Ironically, the shootout is a product of the previous round of CBA negotiations, and was implemented in the 2005-06 season. I am not the type of hockey fan who gets irate at the mere mention of the shootout, but I do question its usefulness. The NHL is using a skills competition to decide the outcome of a game. Thus, it is easy to get into situation where being the better team during regulation doesn't translate into a win. I understand the desire to declare a "winner" at all costs, especially when playoff seeding is at stake. But the shootout is a showcase of the individual, not the team. Here's a solution : have a 5 minute sudden death period. If no one scores, declare the game a tie.
Item #3 - Get Rid of Enforcers
Great enforcers often begin as fan favorites, and can eventually become legends. We saw this trend with players like Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard. Some, including many prominent NHL players, believe that enforcers need to exist in order to protect star players from being targeted. Staged fights between enforcers on opposing teams have also been used to set the tone of a game. But with all the information that we know about head injuries and hockey - both Probert and Boogaard were posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) - it is irresponsible to have a guy on your team who is just there to fight. Furthermore, some enforcers (i.e., John Scott) add nothing to the play on the ice, and can even be liabilities.
Fans need to realize that hockey players are also sons, boyfriends, fathers, and husbands who will live many decades after their careers are over. And to those concerned that getting rid of enforcers will lead to the 'wussification' of hockey - there will still be hitting, and unfortunately, people will still suffer concussions. But in 2013 - the 'new' NHL, if you will - the game is about speed and skill, not goonery.
And as a bonus, Commissioner Bettman, could you give me John Gibson's eternal love? That would really be awesome.