Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Beyond the bye: Five more concepts the NHL could steal from the NFL

You may have noticed something unusual about the NHL schedule in recent weeks: Certain teams have disappeared, taking up to a week off at a time. That's thanks to the new bye weeks, a concept negotiated between the league and NHLPA last year that kicked in for the first time this month.

The bye weeks – which are actually five days long, not a full week – are meant to give players on each team one league-mandated midseason break to rest and recharge. The idea borrows heavily from the NFL, which gives each team one week off during its 17-week schedule. But not everyone is a fan, with Toronto coach Mike Babcock calling the idea "100 percent wrong for player safety."

So sure, the jury's still out on this one. But that doesn't mean the league shouldn't be thinking ahead to the next inspiration they could draw from the competition. So to give them a boost, here are five more ideas the league could steal borrow from the NFL.

1. Trading coaches

The big trade rumor in NFL circles these days doesn't involve a star player. Instead, it's a coach – New Orleans Saints' boss Sean Payton, who reportedly could be headed to the Rams.

That's not all that rare in the NFL, where more than a few big-name coaches have been traded over the years, including Bill Parcells, Jon Gruden and Bill Belichick. It happens in the NBA and MLB as well – Blue Jays fans may remember the deal that sent John Farrell to the Red Sox a few years ago.

The concept isn't completely unheard of in the NHL, but it's only happened once. That was in 1987, when the Nordiques sent Michel Bergeron to the Rangers for a first round pick. That deal didn't really work out for New York; Bergeron only lasted two seasons, never making the playoffs, and the deal ended up costing them the fifth overall pick.

Maybe that's why we haven't seen a similar move since (aside from the forced draft pick compensation the league briefly implemented and then abandoned a few years ago). But it would be fun to see it come back. Jon Cooper for Claude Julien, WHO SAYS NO?

2. Acknowledging referee mistakes

Referees make mistakes. It happens. In fact, if you got fans of various sports together in a room, it probably wouldn't be long before they were arguing over whose officials were worse. It's the nature of fandom – we always think the guys in stripes have found a way to screw things up.

But in the NFL, the league doesn't pretend that it never happens. The league reviews each game, and admits when the officials blew it. The league's head of officiating is also on Twitter, engaging fans with explanations of close or controversial plays. And if the refs miss one, someone explains what went wrong.

It's certainly not a perfect system. Obviously, those admissions come too late to change the results, and are of little comfort to teams victimized by blown calls. (Some players aren't shy about expressing that sentiment.) And there's no doubt that some officials would prefer the league stayed silent, rather than hanging them out to dry.

But the approach has one major benefit: credibility. When the time comes for the NFL to defend a call, they can at least point to other cases where they took the lumps. That creates at least a little bit of credibility in the eyes of fans, who don't assume that the league will just take a knee-jerk stance of defending everything.

Compare that to the NHL approach, where everything is fine, and the league has virtually never seen a mistake that they've publicly acknowledged. That just creates an atmosphere where everyone thinks every close call that went against them was missed, and that every hare-brained conspiracy has some basis in reality. The NHL can't defend its officials effectively, because it never acknowledges when they do screw up.

Nobody's perfect, and nobody should expect perfection from officials. But a little honesty from the league itself isn't too much to ask.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

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