MAKICHUK: Time to put an end to Bettman's folly

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.CBC Screengrab

"Hockey is not a one-man show; it's a team effort. If you don't work as a team — even if one or two guys aren't working — you're not going to win. That's the way it is." — Guy Lafleur

Break up the NHL.

That’s right, break it up. Stop the bleeding.

Stop it now. Stop it in its tracks.

The league has too many teams — 32 squads in two conferences and four divisions.

Only the NFL has as many teams.

And Count Chocula, a.k.a commissioner Gary Bettman, wants to expand it even more!

This madness has to stop. He's destroying our game.

If anything, as my friend Bullitt Bob says, they need to chop six teams, not keep expanding.

We’re already facing a tidal wave of mediocre hockey. Must we make it, even worse?

Let hockey live where it thrives, and let hockey die where it’s on life support.

This past weekend, I watched the mighty Canucks host the visiting Maple Leafs on my big-screen.

The pace of the Canuck attack was so fierce in the first period, it made my head spin.

I could not keep track of the puck nor could the announcers.

No team on the planet earth could withstand that. So of course, the Canucks racked up a big lead.

But more to the point, I really enjoyed that hockey. It was fun to watch. The Leafs would also rally and come back to tie it.

But what I later realized, is that this quality of playoff-style hockey is quite rare.

Most NHL games are as dull as an investment seminar, just bloody awful. Yes, some teams have superstars, but most teams don’t.

Take my Red Wings, for example. A good, growing team, under Stevie Y.

And lately, a good goalie named Lyon, who is holding the fort.

In the famous words of Scotty Bowman, hockey is 40% goalie.

And if the goalie stinks, hockey is 100%.

Well, Lyon is the real deal, so far.

But even a great traditional Original Six team, like my Red Wings, are not the best entertainment money can buy.

They still have a ways to go, to be a contender. They don’t have any big stars on that team, no McDavid to dominate. Not even close.

Building up a franchise now is a major challenge. If not an impossible challenge. You make do, with what you have.

Edmonton Oilers' goalie Grant Fuhr.
Edmonton Oilers' goalie Grant Fuhr.File photo

So, what is the answer?

Well, if they're not going to chop teams, then maybe we have to look at the British Premiership example.

Perhaps it is time to have a Premier League, with the top teams and a secondary league, where teams get relegated.

Why not relegate the teams in half — the good, from the not so good.

There could be separate trophies, such as the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup in England.

They could have a Gordie Howe Cup, or a Jean Beliveau Cup.

In other words, survival of the fittest. Let the best fight against the best, and let the rest battle to get back into the Premier division.

This would give NHL fans some hope.

Where does hockey rank in the US at the moment?

Well ... in a Harris Poll, the NFL comes first, followed by baseball, US college football, auto racing and NBA and then hockey.

Imagine, even college football is more popular.

The NHL is heading for a cliff, a very steep and deep cliff — young people are tuning out. The times are a-changing.

Young people are more interested in their cellphones, their video games and TikTok, than spending three hours of their life watching two teams playing dump and chase against the glass.

Or two guys beating the crap out of each other.

Part of the NHL’s decline could also be the lack of a national broadcast deal in the US — that definitely does not help — and the late game times.

But it might also be the watered-down play of many teams, who don’t have a chance in hell, let alone drawing flies to their arenas.

Another factor is the saturation of live sports on television. The NHL might be getting lost in the shuffle because sports fans have so many options.

I myself have started to watch more NBA, finding the action exciting and players giving their absolute all — not guys trying to kill each other.

Shock of all shock, it's not unusual to see opposing NBA players hugging after a game. That would never happen in the NHL.

And by the way, I think it's hilarious an NHL player gets a 41 game suspension for making a bet, while a player trying to remove someone's head, gets three games. Talk about Medieval justice!

It also may be time for new leadership at the top. Is it time for Mr. Bettman to step aside after 30 years at the helm?

Gordie Howe vs. Terry Sawchuk.
Gordie Howe vs. Terry Sawchuk.File photo

Dear God, sweet Jesus ... has the man not angered and alienated enough fans after three decades?

Can we not consider a new direction at this juncture?

Assuming the NHL pool is deep enough, there’s talk of Salt Lake City, Houston, San Diego and even Atlanta again, coming on board.

Just what we need — four more US teams. Just to piss off every Canadian hockey fan and torpedo viewership even more.

In 1967, my Dad took me to my first NHL hockey game at the Olympia, on a cold snowy evening in Motown.

The Red Wings had a terrible season, but the Maple Leafs still had a chance and they had Terry Sawchuk in net.

Unfortunately, it was a sellout and we had to settle for a pair of $3 standing room only tickets.

We had to stand for the entire game, looking for a view of the ice, but it mattered not, I was awed by it all.

The sound and the rumble, the brightly lit ice surface, the cool souvenirs, the food, the fans! Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon! I soaked it all in.

I watched as Howe broke in on Sawchuk in the first minutes, flipping it into the net, as if it was child’s play. The place went nuts.

The Leafs would win the game and go on to win the Cup that year. But it will remain the most incredible NHL game I ever witnessed.

In the dying minutes I rushed down to the red carpet, to see my hockey heroes walk by me into the dressing room — gladiators draped in sweat.

Gordie gave me a wink — at least, I think he did, as he went by.

I feel sorry for the kids of today, watching over-paid, over-hyped, over-pampered, mediocre talent skate like maniacs for 30 seconds at a time and goalies with oversized pads.

Pads that would stop a cruise missile.

C'mon ... goalies don’t make saves anymore ... they block! They're on their knees, as soon as the puck is in the zone.

Yes, the shots are harder and faster and the game is faster but give me Grant Fuhr flying and flopping all over the place any day. It was worth the price of admission.

It's not rocket science folks, if you run a chicken through a deflavorizer, there's no taste.

And speaking of no taste, Bettman has to go.

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