Talking Hockey with Paul Kelly and Eric Lindros

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lindros.jpgNHL Players AssociationPaul KellyEric Lindros

\ Kelly and Lindros talked about all sorts of issues with the game, and since the story was more of a feature on the two of them trying to help the NHLPA regroup, there was not room for their views on a lot of important topics. So here is some what we talked about. It is a lot to digest, but there is some pretty good stuff in here.\

\ ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE GAME\

\ KELLY: We like the game played at a high rate of speed. We like to see good, close games whether they are 2-1, 3-2 or 8-7. I don’t know that the volume of goals is really the issue. We want to see good, clean, competitive, fast play.\

\ We think there are too many coaches on the benches and up in the box. I’m a coach myself, but with all of the coaches on the bench and in the box talking on headsets, when a player comes off, they start preaching defense, defense, defense. That does impact the game and coaches adapt to playing a more defensive style of game. Frankly, I prefer a more wide-open, rock \0x2018em, sock \0x2018em kind of game.\

\ LINDROS: I think the players are happy with most of the rules, but some of them need to be tweaked a bit. Some are of the feeling that the physical aspect is leaving. The rough-and-tumble, battle-it-out in front of the net, the grind it out in the corners, that aspect is evaporating. It is no-touch hockey to a certain degree. But these are things that can be fixed.\

\ The true essence of hockey isn’t necessarily a 6-5 game. That is a lot of goals. There can also be the purity of a good 3-2 battle.\

\ All of the coaches that are coming from the junior ranks, the only reason they are coming in is if they were winning. Yeah, you have to win to play great defense, but what is it doing to the sport? Is it putting a lid on people’s desire or imagination and their skill level? There is a coaching aspect to this and there is the trend of what wins. Are we helping the game, or are we helping ourselves get into the National Hockey League as a coach?\

\ ON BETTER MARKETING\

\ KELLY: I think the key word is players. They are not marketing the players. They are trying to market “the game.” People don’t always go to watch a sport because of the game or a logo or a building \0x2013 unless it is Fenway Park or Wrigley [Field]. They go to watch the players.\

\ Whether it is in connection with the telecast or in connection with the print media, the electronic media, advertising or just physical appearances \0x2013 we’ve got to connect better with the community. The Capitals are an example of a team that is always available and ready and willing to go out there and meet the public or meet with the media, but not every team is like that.\

\ You’ve got to give them a reason to come to the building. The reason they come is to watch guys like Alex Ovechkin or [Sidney] Crosby or [Anze] Kopitar. If they know him, they’ll identify with him, families will take their kids and they’ll put his poster on the wall. That is marketing and that is what we have to do a better job of.\

\ We need to drive the revenues of this sport. That means driving attendance figures, better television and more creative television. Frankly, I think every game should be available on High-Def, I think we should try new innovative ways to cover the sport with new camera angles and more cameras.\

\ ON DANGEROUS HITS\

\ KELLY: Speaking for the Players Association, we want to see respect on the ice between and among the players. They’ve got to know when to pull up and not hit a guy from behind or hit a guy who is in a defenseless position. Guys that play know that. They’ve avoid hits to the head when they can, whether it is with a stick, or an elbow or a shoulder. When guys are forgetting that and doing that and causing serious injury to some of their fellow competitors that is something we as an association have to start addressing. We have to watch to see if rule changes are necessary to keep our guys protected.\

\ LINDROS: Guys are coming in at such a high rate of speed and we have got to figure out a way to keep guys protected a little better. We’re representing not only the guy person who is going in to do the hit, but the person who is receiving the hit as well.\

\ Moving forward, do we have something in there that maybe gives them the ability to widen the rink or extend the rink to enlarge the ice surface and give guys more space? Do we tweak the rules within the competition committee? These are all things we have to address and talk with the players as we move forward.\

\ ON THE INSTITGATOR RULE\

\ KELLY: Guys have said they think deterrence is a key. If there is a guy who is a third-line player or fourth-line player who is trying to stay on the team and he thinks the way to do that is to come crashing through the neutral zone and slam somebody into the back boards. If a guy comes over the boards on the next shift and drops the gloves and pummels him a little bit, then he will think twice about doing that again. The instigator rule prevents that type of self-policing. I understand the NHL is trying to curtail the whole fighting issue.\

\ There is a code to playing this game, and guys who played for years know the code. But the instigator rule affects the code and it removes a critical element of the code. The code has worked for decades, and I think people really need to give some consideration to whether or not the instigator rule has accomplished what they wanted to accomplish, or has it had a negative effect.\

\ LINDROS: We might not have as many fights [if the instigator rule is removed], and the result might be that injuries would be down. I don’t think it takes away from the purity of the game, in my estimation anyway. It all depends on what the players think.\

\ It doesn’t have to be something that is fired right in at our level. Maybe it is something that we can be tried out in the minor league level. Let’s have a look at it and see what it does. Maybe they can do the same thing with some jerseys and other things like that. Maybe try some things out before they start bringing them up [in the NHL]. There are a number of ways to go about it.\

\ ON THE SALARY CAP\

\ KELLY: I think in a perfect world, no professional sports association would need a cap. The whole point of a cap is place fiscal restrictions. It is really to contain the owners because they can’t contain themselves. Big market teams spend more, and small market teams don’t spend what they should spend. If we could do without it, we would do without it, but we have it now. It is in the agreement and we have to live by it. We still have a couple of years under this CBA to sit back and evaluate it. I think in some respects it has worked better than some people anticipated and in other respects it hasn’t done what people have anticipated. The small market teams are still struggling. It hasn’t brought the Nashville or Phoenix or Florida up to the point where they can compete on a regular basis with the big market clubs.\

\ If the revenues of the sport continue to go up \0x2013 attendance, television, marketing, etc. \0x2013 then I think the cap will work. If the revenues level off or take a downturn in some respect, then I think the cap is a real problem. It is a problem for the owners and a problem for the players.\

\ They asked me on Hockey Night in Canada if I think we are stuck with cap forever and I said I think it is too hard to predict the future. Once you play under a cap system, it is hard to remove a cap system. That is just a reality. I think it is still early for me to say we are stuck with it, but I don’t think people should anticipate there is going a radical change. We can change the construct a little bit. We can tweak things here or there to make it work better, but my sense is we are going to have some system that involves a cap for better or for worse.\

\ ON HOW THE NEXT CBA NEGOTITAIONS WILL BE DIFFERENT\

\ KELLY: We’re not going to wait until the last inning before we make a decision about what we are going to do. If we see issues on the horizon we want to try to resolve them before it reaches that point. If they are tough issues, then we are going to get to work on them.\

\ We are going to act as business partners, because that’s what we are under the new CBA. We’re going to make sure they fulfill their responsibility and make us an equal partner and include us on important decisions, and then we are going to reciprocate.\

\ It remains to be seen if we can work it out in a harmonious way, but that will be our attitude going in. We’ll have to be tough on certain issues, but we can do it and do it in a way that helps grow the game.\

\ Yeah, there are some things that we hope to improve on. I think generally so long as we are treated as equal partners by the owners and they respect our role and consult with us on important issues, I think any issues I have with certain paragraphs of the CBA will ultimately take care of themselves.\

\ LINDROS: As this unfolds, everyone is going to have a much better line of communication. I think with communication, knowledge is power and we need to keep everyone informed of the issues. When something comes up we will get a feel for the pulse from the 700+ guys and go from there.\

\ — Corey Masisak

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