'Free the game': The case for 4-on-4 hockey
'Goal totals, goal-scoring totals, have fallen radically': Dave Bidini, founder of Slapshot Diaries
This week, the NHL doubled down on its new three-on-three overtime system.
But Canadian musician and writer Dave Bidini says forget about overtime — the league should remove a player from the ice completely. He says moving to a 4-on-4 game would make hockey exciting again.
The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.
How would hockey be better with four people a side?
It's become a game played by behemoths. The dimensions of the rink can no longer hold these players, no longer hold these athletes. So you'll find when the puck is in the offensive zone, the teams play a kind of collapsed defence ... anyway, where bodies are thrown in front of the puck ... but purely the amount of body that's on the ice in those relatively small surfaces. Pucks are going off elbows, they're going off shin pads, they're going off pants. There's no clear path for the puck to the net, simply because there's just too much meat on the ice. So my idea is to remove a body. And some have suggested it as a radical measure, but goal totals, goal-scoring totals, have fallen radically. The height of goaltenders has increased radically. Save percentage has increased for goaltenders ... something has to be done to free the game.
In your story, you highlight the steady decline of goals per game since the early 1980s. But I'm wondering, is goals per game really the best measure of quality of play?
I think you can have great 2-2, 3-3 games, great 4-4 games.... Unfortunately, it's mostly 1-0, 2-1, and 1 all. It's a chronic shortage of goals. Sidney Crosby has three this year.
But doesn't that say more about Sidney Crosby than about the NHL right now?
No, I think it's a little bit of both. Stats can only tell us so much. I think you have to eyeball the game ... watch a team move into the offensive zone and watch the way the play evolves. It's played to the boards, it's played behind the net. There's very few shots scored off the rush anymore, just because the offensive zone, the hot zones are crowded with enormous men waving blades... There's a sort of white noise, a physical white noise that's happening in the game, and we did see with 4-on-4 overtime — it was anodyne. As soon as a player was taken off the ice, the game was freed. It became the kind of beautiful game that hockey can become. Now it's — I think in the piece I call it "shin pad pong" because a shot is always ricocheting off a pad into a corner, and really kind of muddying the game.
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