February 10, 2004

Save the NHL : Bring Back Rover

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Congratulations, Atlanta!

You’ll be hosting next year’s NHL All-Star game! When you start planning the weekend’s festivities, don’t forget about all the celebrities like Kurt Russell, screaming fans (maybe you can bus some in from Georgia Tech), and be sure to set up a PA system so Jeremy Roenick can apologize again. Oh wait, you won’t need that last one — Roenick won’t be there.

Or any other NHL players for that matter.


You didn’t know that the NHL will probably be in a lockout this time next year? You’re wondering who you’re gonna get to be in the skills competition? Who’s going to repeat Roenick’s four-for-four showing in the accuracy competition? I’d do it, but I have an intramural game that day.

OK, let’s be serious for a second. You know a labor situation is bad when they’re talking about a lockout two years away from the CBA (collective bargaining agreement for you non-ILRies) expiration date. Reading about the impending labor crisis in the Fall 2002 Hockey News yearbook, I could only laugh, and say “Holy Sh!$, they’re blowing this out of proportion. They have two whole years to work this thing out!” Well, now there are only seven months to go ’til the NHL goes the way of the dinosaur.

The NHL Players Association is telling its members to prepare for a two-year lockout. Oh, and I forgot to mention that, so far, there has been zero negotiation. None. Nada. Zilch.

The real reason? NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman ’74 went to Cornell and NHLPA head Bob Goodenow went to Harvard. They hate each other (of course) and they hate each other’s schools.

OK, so that last sentence was completely false, but it might as well be the reason, because it makes no sense to me why these two weren’t at the bargaining table months ago.

(On a different note, this weekend, Bettman proposed rule changes that would increase the offensive output in the league. Looking back at the level of scoring in recent years, I would have to agree with him. When my friend first told me that Wayne Gretzky scored 215 points in a season, I laughed and laughed and laughed. In fact, I’m still laughing. Markus Nasland, the current point leader this season is on pace for just under 100 points.

But that just leads to another problem with hockey. I’ll bet half of you reading this column don’t even know who Markus Nasland is. I blame this solely on the league’s marketing office. Instead of promoting the league’s stars, it instead churns out horrific commercials explaining the rules of hockey. Now, if you’re watching a hockey game on TV in the first place, the odds are you probably know what’s going on during the game. You don’t need Shania Twain or Jim Belushi telling you that there are five skaters per team. I could write an entire column about how bad these commercials are, but I’ve aleady gone way too far off topic.)

I’m not going to claim that I have the answer to the labor situation, because I am neither a professional hockey player nor a labor lawyer. However, I will claim that a lockout will be bad for hockey. There, I said it. The sad thing is, the players and owners don’t seem to care at all. They’re perfectly content with a two-year shutdown. The players can go off to Europe or play in the new World Hockey Association, and the owners can sit on their mountains of stockpiled money. Meanwhile, all the hockey fans out there will be forced to watch Slam Ball, or bowling or — god forbid — Arena Football.

(Did you know Jon Bon Jovi owns an Arena Football team? If you’re anything like me, that fact makes you want to watch arena football like knowing that you can check 400 books out of the library at one time makes you want to rush to Uris. Let’s be honest. You’ll probably never do either.)

Actually, I take that back, I am going to claim I have the answer to the CBA debacle, and here it is: bring back the rover.

What is the rover, you ask? Back in the early days of hockey, there were six skaters per team: three forwards, the point, the cover point (the equivalent of modern defensemen), and the rover. The rover could go anywhere on the ice, and was usually the team’s best player. Sadly, this position got tossed to the curb as the game evolved. But, if the rover has a chance of saving hockey — a chance — then I think we owe to hockey to try it out again.

As a hockey fan, I feel it’s my duty to increase knowledge of the game to the average sports fan, so I’m going to end this column with a fun matching game. Match the following five players with the teams they play for, and win a prize!* (What? There’s an NHL team in Columbus? When did this happen!?)

A) Rick Nash 1) Atlanta Thrashers

B) Ilya Kovalchuk 2) Ottawa Senators

C) Tomas Vokoun 3) Columbus Blue Jackets

D) Dwayne Roloson 4) Nashville Predators

E) Marian Hossa 5) Minnesota Wild

*Winners will receive their prize the first week of the next NHL season.

Archived article by Jonathan Auerbach