Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Fixing Hockey

There are lots of reasons for the comparative lack of interest in NHL hockey. For my own part, until recently, I just assumed that as I got old(er) I didn't care nearly so much about watching sports with a lot of fighting and heavy body contact. Way back in time, when I was in high school, we used to enjoy going to minor league hockey games and cheering wildly for the fights, yet I'm downright repulsed by them now. So the fights are one reason I don't much like NHL hockey these days, but I figure that's just me, not the market as a whole.

At the same time, it isn't much fun to watch games that are really low-scoring. I know that some commentators refer to such events as great defensive battles, but I don't like them for two reasons. (1) when it's really hard to score, the goals that are scored are too often the result of random factors, not skill differentials, and (2) low-scoring games are boring.

Clearly I'm not the only one who feels this way. There is serious discussion underway to change the rules to make the game more attractive. [digression: curling has been quite successful with it's rule changes over the past decade - watch for it to grow]. One possibility receiving consideration is to reduce the allowable size of goalies' pads and thus permit more scoring.

When I first heard this proposed rule change, I thought it was a good idea. Actually, I still do, but I think doing something to open up play might be even better. Opening up the play would have the effect of both generating more scoring and deterring fighting. If the play is more wide open, then better passing, skating and shooting will become comparatively more valuable, at the margin, relative to fighting and "enforcing", with the result that there will be incentive changes and the tone of the game will change, too.

If I'm right, then the question is, "How can/should the NHL make play more wide open?" One possibility is to require that arenas rip out a row or two of seats if necessary and make the ice surfaces bigger. Another possibility is to require that players actually serve off-setting minors, so there would be more four-on-four hockey, which leads to more scoring. Yet another possibility is to go to straight
four-on-four hockey all the time.

I'm not sure I like the idea of going to four-on-four hockey, but it would have some salutory effects. In addition to leading to more scoring and less fighting, it would also help the owners (if they need help) financially by reducing their labour costs. If all the NHL teams went to four-on-four hockey, they probably would carry fewer players, thus reducing the demand for labour, and these effects would lower their labour costs.

I doubt if the NHL will move to four-on-four hockey, but they might do well to consider having players serve all their penalties.

They might also do well to consider requiring ice-size changes over time.
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