x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

NHL enjoys some sunshine after the storm

The league can do more to phase out the fisticuffs but it has come out on top after a threatening lockout, writes Gregg Patton.

As if the game is already not physically tough, fights, such as this one between Philadelphia Flyers' Jody Shelley, left, and New York Rangers' Derek Boogaard, can cause even more traumatic head injuries. Boogaard died age 28 from an accidental drug and alcohol overdose while recovering from a concussion on May 13, 2011.
As if the game is already not physically tough, fights, such as this one between Philadelphia Flyers' Jody Shelley, left, and New York Rangers' Derek Boogaard, can cause even more traumatic head injuries. Boogaard died age 28 from an accidental drug and alcohol overdose while recovering from a concussion on May 13, 2011.

The NHL seemed close to self-destruction twice in the past nine years.

Funny how things have worked out.

Two labour stoppages later - costing the league the entire 2004/05 season and half of this one – the sport has remade itself into a more entertaining game, and one that is drawing record numbers of people.

Rule changes have opened up offences, produced more scoring chances and squelched the clutch-and-grab game that once turned the sport into Greco-Roman wrestling.

New rules have quickened the pace of the game, getting the job done well under three hours most nights.

The league has taken steps to lessen some of the gratuitous violence and continues to implement sensible safety measures.

The shoot-out has been criticised as gimmicky, but it has become a popular showcase of skills, and creates a definitive winner each night.

Off the ice, the battles between owners and players over money may have cost fans a season-and-a-half of games. But the salary cap also has given all teams a chance to add talent quickly and compete.

The league can do more to phase out the fisticuffs. And a couple of franchises are oddly misplaced in disinterested locales.

But six months after hard-headed negotiators were poised to blow up another full season, all – or most – is well.

sports@thenational.ae

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