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It’s simple: Fans will be back if the game deserves it

Jan 8, 2013, 2:47 PM EDT

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin AP

We got an email the other day asking us to write about NHL Center Ice and how the league should give it away free as an inducement to win fans back.

It wasn’t the first time we’d heard that suggested. Fans have other ideas, too. Like cheaper tickets and concessions.

And we’re fully on board with all of it. It would be a nice gesture. Who doesn’t like free or, at the very least, cheaper?

But so far as winning fans back – if fans are actually considering leaving – none of those things are nearly as important as this:

The game.

If the NHL wants to help fans forgive and forget, making the product better is what will do it. That’s what worked in 2005 when the league cut down on obstruction; it wasn’t dollar hot dogs or 50 percent off jerseys.

Luck will be a factor, too. If this year’s playoffs are compelling, the lockout will be a distant memory. If not, the league’s previous momentum won’t be so easy to regain.

A better Stanley Cup finals would go a long way for the NHL. Let’s face it, Kings-Devils was an absolute snoozer compared to Bruins-Canucks the year before.

Not that the Kings (or their fans) care, but not a single one of their series was a classic. Los Angeles only lost four games in the entire postseason. Where’s the adversity in that? Remember that Boston had to win three Game 7’s in 2011, including one against its biggest rival, Montreal. And Vancouver nearly blew a 3-0 lead in the first round against Chicago, the team that had eliminated the Canucks the previous two seasons.

The NBA got lucky last year after its lockout when Miami won it all. Love him or hate him, LeBron James is a compelling athlete and, after the Big Three were assembled, the Heat were a compelling team to follow. Having Kevin Durant in the finals was a bonus.

Baseball’s home-run chase in 1998 helped bring fans back to the ballparks after the 1994 World Series was canceled. Sure, it turned out to be steroid-fueled, but it was still great to watch.

In the long-run, it’s the game that matters. All the other stuff is just temporary.

Though free Center Ice would be nice.

  1. themajorleagueuser - Jan 8, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    Shhhh, you don’t want the NHL knowing that they can be easily forgiven, let me get a deal on NHL Center Ice.

    • iHeartHockey31 - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      Free Center Ice? How about just letting non-Comcast subscribers in Philadelphia watch their home team? The lockout may be over, the blackout will be back on!! If the NHL really wants fans they shouldn’t dictate what television programming service fans are required to purchase [at a much higher price than any alternatives] in order to watch their local home team play hockey.

      • sizzle299 - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:25 PM

        Flyers are on Verizon, in HD. Same with RCN, what do you have?

      • themajorleagueuser - Jan 10, 2013 at 3:06 PM

        Don’t even get me started on Comcast.

  2. joeyashwi - Jan 8, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    Free Center Ice. Get as many people watching the NHL as possible! It makes too much sense so it will never happen.

    • billsin20xx - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:32 PM

      Or even give us the NHL network for free for this year –

  3. hockeyflow33 - Jan 8, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    Every game will be so important this year that after a handful of games, every contest should have the feel of the playoffs, (don’t worry Leafs and Islanders, you’ll be allowed in the regular season.

  4. dcfan4life - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    You nailed it when you said playoffs. All casual NHL fans watch the playoffs because it gives us the best hockey and each year there are numerous great series. The hockey this regular season will be mediocre ot bad in a lot of cases due to the extended time off. But the playoffs can save everyones opinion. Its a wait and see scenario though. Man i hope we see another Boston Washington or Chicago Vancouver series. May make all the difference.

    • h0ckeycoach - Jan 8, 2013 at 7:39 PM

      I beg to differ with you. Every game is going to be a must win for teams aspiring to make the playoffs. It’s going to be crazy. Less traveling will equal less fatigue. Today’s players don’t depend on training camp to get back into shape. No matter how hard you practice, you cannot simulate a game. Players need games to get their game shape, so all hands on deck, no time for experimenting.p, as a coach you have to go with your aces and depend on them to deliver the mail.

      • dcfan4life - Jan 8, 2013 at 9:53 PM

        From a standings viewpoint yes every game is huge. But the product quality will suffer under that logic. Teams take up to 30 games to find their groove and in this 48 game season i wouldnt be surprised if some supposedly good teams never do. With such hockey games being played the casual fan doesnt want to watch a bad product. But when the playoffs start, and anything goes, i bet those same casual fans come back. I was always referring only to the casual fan which does make up a lot of the hockey playoff ratings.

      • h0ckeycoach - Jan 8, 2013 at 10:23 PM

        dcfan, teams take 30 games to find their grove or they pace themselves to find their grove after 30 games? is it possible they can’t sustain 82 games with the pedal to the metal? Anyway! We’ll see how things play out. For sure as a coach you need not worry about burning out the boys with a short schedule.

  5. heshutziscores - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    Meh, the game of hockey is only thing that is deserving of our attention. The owners and players don’t deserve a dime because they were the impetus for this unnecessary void left by taking the game away due to greed. I won’t step foot in an arena this year (for hockey) but will continue my fanaticism of the game of hockey from afar.

    • mp1131211 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:28 PM

      If you are only interested in the game of hockey but not in the players or the owners, perhaps you would be better off playing hockey video games? Kind of hard to have the real game without either…

      • heshutziscores - Jan 8, 2013 at 7:20 PM

        I do, and thanks for asking. Guess you missed my point.

      • mp1131211 - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:14 PM

        I don’t think you have one

    • h0ckeycoach - Jan 8, 2013 at 7:40 PM

      Amen! But, unlike you, I won’t be able to deny myself the best 48 game stretch hockey could offer. Go boys! Skate like hell, and play your guts out.

  6. Stiller43 - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    I was wondering how much they would make center ice for this season given the lockout…free is good in my book! Need to see my out of market pens!

  7. therealjr - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    Only four teams had GAA over 2.95 last year. In 2005-06 it was 18 teams. We’re right back where we started.

    It doesn’t matter why, whether it’s coaching, talent dilution, rule enforcement or whatever – successful leagues promote offense, or at the very least, do not allow the pendulum to swing too far towards defense.

    • h0ckeycoach - Jan 8, 2013 at 7:44 PM

      Hmm! Good point! But, offense will win you games, and defense will win you championships. Besides, hockey is different where defense is benefited over offense. Ex: clearing the puck down the ice when a man short, or clearing the puck down the ice when under pressure in your own zone. And, my less favorite, allowing a defensive player to play the puck with is hand in the defensive zone. These are all bad for the offensive minded players.

  8. klownboy - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    I’ll be back. I like hockey too much to turn my back on it. Not so sure for most casual fans though. Screw Bettman for this silly lockout…

  9. shortsxit34 - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:36 PM


    It absolutely matters why scoring is down. There is a difference between a 1-0 game played between the blue lines and a 1-0 game with two hot goalies.

    Scoring isn’t what makes the game exciting-scoring chances are.

    • therealjr - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:56 PM

      That may apply to any given game but over 1,230 games it is clear too many of those are not simply hot goaltenders. Don’t understand why bemoaning the lack of scoring in this league equates to a referendum to bring back the 80’s Oilers.

  10. bleed4philly - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    Free center ice!!!

  11. michiganhockey11 - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    Shoot, if I wanted cheap tickets and concessions, I’d keep going to see the Grand Rapids Griffins. $1 dogs and $1 beers on Friday nights!

  12. philly4lyfe - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    I really want to boycott on general principle, but i know once the nfl playoffs are done, I wont be able to resist.

  13. buffalomafia - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    Lets go Buffalo!

  14. buffalomafia - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:30 PM

    Flyers don’t have a goalie! Cynthia Crosby will cry to refs when he gets hit! Ovechkin still has no teeth! And the Sabres still won’t make the playoffs! Bartender! A round of drinks!

  15. hawkeyplayer - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    what a cop out.

    the game sells…. duh morons.. Thays why we’ve been pissed we’ve.been locked out!

    ain’t gunna do it for me!

    I need discounts, free center ice, or compensation some how.

    I already get North East South.and West sports.channels on my cable for free so I can watch my Hawks, Bruins, Stars, and Kings for free!!!

    plus how do we know the game will deliver? Shawn Thornton was just saying you can’t do anything to prepare yourself for the grind and bumping and bruising from the physical play of the game. so I suspect many of these guys will be drastically out of shape. Many of them even admit they haven’t played the game in almost a year, practice only counts for the conditioning aspect as you aren’t checking into each other full speed etc.

  16. malvaren18 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    At least let a Canadian team win the Stanley Cup, that could draw back a lot of fans.

  17. jhuck92 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    I don’t think the Kings-Devils series was a snoozer. The playoffs as a whole were filled with adversity. LA deserved their first cup because they won so convincingly in every series. Nobody wanted the Flyers-Penguins series to end. We saw the return of the rats in Florida. Adam Henrique the rookie scored 2 OT goals to win two series. Raffi Torres got a suspension akin to Aaron Rome’s in the finals the year before.

  18. northstars17 - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    I’ll say it right now….

    NO CENTER ICE FOR FREE will be the hill I die on.

    That’s all.

  19. nyrnashty - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    Yes, how good the game actually will actually draw people to it, but that doesn’t mean calling NBA style penalties and giving out 10 pp’s a game. This is something I’ve noticed the last couple of years and it sucks. I’m tired of all the weak penalty calls in all of the games I watch. 5 on 5 hockey is where it’s at especially in the playoffs.

  20. northstars17 - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:51 PM

    ^^nyr, I couldnt agree more.

    Last night I rewatched the 1999 Stars vs Sabres Stanley cup final Game 6…… and I couldn’t help but cringe at every single play because today it would be called a slash, tripping, hooking, interference, roughing, etc you name it!

    mind you, this was the 2nd longest game in SC Finals history, it was almost the length of 2 games, going into triple OT…. and there were only 2 minor penalties called very early in the game!

    I kept thinking, oh my, if that were today… which ever team had the power play would have won!

    and I’m not saying LA kings didn’t deserve that power play, or the cup for that matter, they most certainly did…… but look what a PP did for them!

  21. hawkeyplayer - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    Absolutely. watch any 90’s or early 00’s game and the penaltie calls have drastically effected the game. Teams are just too good these days to be a man down, especially over such minor unintentional stuff!

    It’s sad my gramps actually lost interest in Hockey over the last decade because of “Euro hockey” penalties as he calls it. He had season tickets just shy of 40 years and now he barely will tune into it on TV. he’s just too old school for today’s game I guess. Plus when your over 80 y/o I’m sure life starts to change anyways…

  22. whatthepuck2012 - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    When I pay money to the league, it’s to see my team play hockey. The same as when I pay money to a theater…it’s to see a movie. It’s entertainment. I cannot believe the number of fans taking the lockout PERSONALLY. Think about that…you think they locked out to piss you off? It’s BUSINESS. It has to be done, especially if unions are involved. I was only pissed by how long it lasted, not that it happened. (I don’t even see firefighters producing this amount of butthurt when they strike, and that’s serious sh*t.) I pay money to watch hockey, not become entangled in a relationshipwith players and owners. I bought a freakin’ ticket; we didn’t exchange VOWS. Get over yourselves and either support your team or don’t. But stop whining about how a bunch of people who never met you don’t “care” about you. Yes, without the fans there’s no league. But without the players and owners, there’s also no league. Too many fans with delusions of grandeur.

  23. billsin20xx - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    To me it’s simple, the equipment everyone wears now is just too big, it makes them fearless hitting people or diving iln front of pucks and takes away all the speed from the game. And, for gods sake cut the goalies equipment in half!
    With modern day materials if they can make kevler vests to fit under suit jackets we don’t need playrs and goalies looking like robo-cops out there.

  24. hawkeyplayer - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:20 AM

    amen billsin20xx,

    when I look at goalies its sad … remember the days they used to he the same size as players?

    that’s why I love watching old hockey… goalies like Alann Beater who are like 5’7 170lbs or so….

    nowadays the athletes are all 6’5 200lbs…. and they need enough goalie gear and equipment to support an entire little league team!!!!

  25. hawkeyplayer - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:23 AM

    its funny too because someone said to me “what about Jonathan Quick?” “I like him cause he’s a smaller guy”.

    needless to say… I told him “haha nah buddy… Quick is 6’0 200lbs as well! he just looks small or normal sized because all these guys like Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith are 6’5+ !

  26. sashe78 - Jan 13, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    With DirecTV, I usually get the first week of Center Ice for free. But I also get CSN and FSN for hockey coverage so I’m usually good anytime. I am not going to any games as my own personal protest. I was wanting NHL gear but crossed that off my “Father Christmas” list this year. The game itself is fine, it’s greed from playing a kids game that stinks.

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