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The Cold Thaw

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's legacy among owners might be solid as a rock due to getting a salary cap in 2005 but his legacy with the product on the ice has virtually thawed the ice since the 2005-2006 season.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, I became privy to some information about the league's demands to break the union and how they were going to win the fans over by coming back with an on-ice product that would re-energize arenas across the league.

During this time, I was a blogger for Hockeybuzz, owned by Dwayne "Eklund" Klessel and for as much criticism that has been lobbed towards Dwayne, his site's rise was a direct result of the NHL's goal to win the public relations game.

Considering the state of the game right now, pretty funny to think how the NHL just over a decade ago "cared" about the perception of the sport by leaking information about the discussions with the NHLPA and actually entertained the musings of one fan on CBA design and how to fix the game on the ice.

It got so ridiculous with the NHL trying to destroy the NHLPA, even an AHL executive told me he was concerned where this could go based on fans getting information before players even saw the offer.

The reason was simple.

Bettman's team of lawyers knew they couldn't negotiate a victory on a level playing field, so breaking the union was their only choice.

The only way the NHL could survive such a tactic was to employ an unconventional approach to winning the 'hearts and minds' of not only the players but most importantly, league sponsors and fans.

Bettman and Daly had their marching orders from the Board of Governors, status quo wasn't acceptable.

So off went Bettman and Daly to develop a public relations campaign.

That's where Hockeybuzz came in handy because the league couldn't possibly put their names on the record or the source about how they were going to destroy the union so badly it would force the players to fire Bob Goodenow.

Bettman's only victory against the diehard owners (Jeremy Jacobs and Ed Snider) or team executives (Brian Burke and Lou Lamoriello) was during this time as he convinced those hardliners that in order to win the hearts and minds, they had to fix the game on the ice. It wasn't going to be enough to come back with just a salary cap, they had to score goals and entertain the fans.

Financially, the excitement would line their pockets with new revenues from advertisers, increase their television ratings, and grow their sponsorships.

The result was the appearance of a new NHL.

2005-2006 saw the game back to being the greatest game on Earth.

16... let me re-emphasize this.... SIXTEEN teams scored 3 or more goals per game that season.

Even better than that, every team had over 400 power plays.

Last season, Detroit had the most opportunities with just 294 and New Jersey the least with 212 chances. Just three teams had averaged over 3 goals per game.

How did a league go from being dead to getting lucky with Sidney Crosby to this?

Again, it was quite simple.

The old guard didn't want the game it saw in 2005-2006 because the old boys network worried the transition to "soft" perimeter types could take away from the history of the English speaking Canadian boy from the sod farm that could skate a north-south game and hit like a linebacker.

While the league shares plenty of blame as they've orchestrated this cold thaw on the scoring sheets, let's not absolve the players.

They've done a bang up job themselves at the NHLPA after Goodenow was forced to resign.

After Goodenow, you had Ted Saskin broker what appeared to be a good relationship between the league and players but then he got all Richard Nixon on the players by spying on their emails. That led to Paul Kelly taking over in 2007 and because of in-fighting, lack of trust among the players and those who were helping guide the union, he was fired in 2009.

That led to the current Director Donald Fehr.

It was thought Fehr would return to the approach taken by Goodenow, which was to break the owners and no longer have a salary cap.

That didn't happen and though after a 3-month lockout gave the appearance that Fehr was up to his old tricks, all that has happened is a salary cap structure that has stagnated because the league's revenues were no longer growing at the rate once expected after the 2005-2006 season.

Where has Fehr been on protecting players with the new information about head injuries?

Where is Fehr as the earning power has stagnated like the product on the ice?

How can the league ever return to that glorious 2005-2006 product with so many stubborn men controling the league and an NHL office that doesn't care about the sport's product on the ice.

Firing Bettman is pointless to discuss because he's got annual salary over $20 million, which we know cheap owners like Jacobs and Sniders aren't about to see the league offer a buyout package.

Money talks

The league has little choice but to fix the game on the ice because it wants ESPN as a partner.

ESPN is dipping a toe in the NHL again with the World Cup next year but for them to jump into the hot tub, the action on the ice needs to heat up and quickly.

While talk has been simmering on low, I believe finances is why Toronto Head Coach Mike Babcock spoke out about the size of the nets.

Money is why General Managers are finally coming back to the table with ideas.

Money is something the owners can understand and with a giant like ESPN forcing their hand, changes on the ice could be around the corner.

Change for sake of Change will fail

Before we see the extreme idea of increasing the nets by two inches wide and two inches higher, other rules should be put in place or re-emphasized.

1. There's a rulebook, enforce it. Many of these same referees in 2005-2006 enforced a standard that should be demanded, those who can't handle the responsibility will find a new job. The game is already unwatchable, so I don't want to hear complaints about adding 2-3 power plays per game.

2. Form fitted goaltender equipment must be developed and required. The castle like structures popping up on the shoulders of goalies like Henrik Lundqvist must be gone. The bulk of the chest protector like Ryan Miller is laughable. Then there's the size of the glove... I think we can hide a newborn baby in those things.

3. All penalty time must be served allowing a team to score as many goals as it can during the power play. It is a penalty, make them serve the time.

4. Pucks shot or deflected into the protective netting are no longer considered out of play. Goalies are getting good with blocking the pucks out of play and anything to eliminate stoppages in play is a win in my book.

5. Any skater who drops to the ice to attempt to block a shot or pass will be penalized for blocking. Teams will face a fine of $100,000 for a 10th penalty within one season. Each successive penalty will result in $100,00 fine. In 2005-2006, Carolina lead in blocked shots with 1,259 while last season's leader, Calgary had 1,557.

6. Penalty-kill is allowed one free icing per 2-minute minor or two icing per 5-minute major. The second icing on a minor results in a free play setup for the power play with one skater to have the puck at the blue line and penalty kill lined up on the goal line with other skaters allowed to setup anywhere above the faceoff dots.No player can move prior to the free play puck handler shoots or passes puck. Power play movement results in faceoff, penalty kill movement results in delay of game penalty.

7. A third or more even-strength icing within a single period or overtime will result in a delay of game penalty.

I can hear it already, "I don't like 6-5 hockey games."

Guess what, we're going to see more 4-3 games than your extreme retort.

Or this, "I'd rather win 2-1 than lose 7-6."

No team gives up just 1 goal per game, so yeah, that argument needs to take a hike with the rest of the men ruining the league.

If you like watching the public discourse in hidden messages, get to your favorite couch and sit down with popcorn because the ice is starting to form across the league's bank accounts and we know one thing about these owners, they'll want to thaw out before things get too cold off the ice.