A modest proposal for taking the helmets off hockey players – Chicago Tribune (blog)
The marketing-driven rule change I’m about to suggest did not stem from the Blackhawks shootout win over the Panthers on Tuesday night, but it seems timely:
Allow skaters to take off their helmets and shields during shootouts.
Boom. Personality comes to a sport that needs to sell exactly that.
You only have to go back to last year’s All-Star Game to see how stumbling, bumbling NHL wonks tried to squash personality and fun.
The league recently announced the “John Scott Rule” for All-Star voting because it doesn’t want to endure a spectacular, popular storyline for its most useless event the way it did last season when fans voted the former Hawks enforcer one of the four captains and then ended up winning the game’s MVP award.
The NHL tried to run Scott out of the All-Star Game, tried to buy him off, tried to shame him into skipping it. The league is lucky that Scott is stronger and smarter than Gary Bettman’s clown college.
So, I’m not optimistic that the idea I’m bringing forth will be adopted, but it would be a unique move, a cool change, and the shootout is the perfect venue for it.
The shootout is contact-free, thus mitigating the need for helmets and shields. I mean, if a player is vulnerable to a concussion during a shootout, then maybe the coach chose the wrong guy to shoot, eh?
Consider the benefits:
Fans would love it because TV would love it, and if TV loves it, Bettman and his clown college should love it.
I think players would love it, too, from the tuque-wearing, pond-hockey feeling many of them knew as kids to whatever personal endorsements the unobstructed look might invite.
Most importantly from the league’s standpoint, this would get publicity while getting the faces of the league before the public.
“SportsCenter’’ would have a reason to show hockey video, and look, there would be Artemi Panarin’s face as he dekes Roberto Luongo into tweeting about finding his jock strap.
And look, there would be Connor McDavid’s face and Auston Matthews’ face and Patrik Laine’s face.
Heck, the Ducks and Islanders required a 14-round shootout recently. There would be everybody’s face.
I wish I could take credit for the idea. But this came to me from Steven Kunreuther via local sports personality, producer and Borsch Belt escapee Mike Leiderman.
If this has been suggested before, then I missed it. If this has been suggested before, then it also deserves to be reconsidered.
I wish this idea had come up before the league adopted three-on-three overtime, which has reduced the number of shootouts, but some games still require the mano-a-mano finish, such as Hawks-Panthers, so why not add some personality to it?
It used to be that way, kids. For decades, nobody wore helmets. Then Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita popularized it in the 1960s and the league mandated it a couple decades later. It all made sense from a safety standpoint, if not a marketing angle.
Before that, you saw how the Bobby Hull’s golden locks, store-bought or actual, helped the legend of the “Golden Jet” as he rocketed up ice. Same deal with Guy LaFleur, one of the last men to play without headgear. Phil Esposito, meanwhile, had such a full, lush head of black hair that you could comfortably seat a family of four.
There was something about hockey players without helmets that radiated and resonated. I understand why helmets and shields are necessary during play, but it’s obvious what a hindrance they are in selling the people who play the game.
The NHL has tried many things to highlight the wondrous talent required to play the sport, from vigorously enforcing impeding rules to removing the red line. The NHL’s changes have given the game more of the pond-hockey feel known by every tuque-wearing kid who threw his stick in the middle of some frozen patch of the neighborhood to choose up sides.
And then the league moved the games to frozen patches of football and baseball stadiums, making a big deal out of every kid’s earliest hockey memory, complete with tuques during some warmup skates.
So why not bring the end of a tie game back to that same kind of uncapped imagination when we all believed we were Hull or Howe or Orr moving in alone on Plante, Sawchuk or Hall?