Monday, February 14, 2011

Touch-up icing versus no-touch icing

As the years tick by in the sports world, things change. We've seen the digital age spill over into professional sports with the use of video replays to help determine that the correct call is made. There's also the steroid era, most notably in baseball. And in a lot of sports, either by nature or enhancing drugs, athletes are getting bigger and stronger.

Change is a part of life, so sports are no exceptions.

Examining whether certain rules need adjusting is a big talking point among analysts and the casual fan. As the saying goes, "there's always room for improvement."

Can't touch this
I want to dive in to the debate between touch-up icing and no-touch icing in hockey. The high school level has no-touch icing, while the NHL does not. I'm in favor of changing the rules in the NHL to institute the no-touch rule.

The No. 1 and obvious reason why? Injuries. Just ask former Wild player Kurtis Foster and Houston Aeros' player Tyler Cuma, who tore his ACL over the weekend after a nasty collision with the end boards. Foster broke his leg and was out of commission with the Wild for 11 months. He got hurt after being hit against the boards while chasing the puck in a game in San Jose.

So the question to ask: Is it really worth risking serious injury to players just for a race at full speed to a puck in hopes of getting to it first to make a play or for a well-positioned faceoff?

Not in my opinion.

Injuries always a threat, still...
Now, I know injuries can happen at any time during games, or even warm ups. Heck, players can be forced to sit out after seemingly harmless things like cutting his finger on a suitcase zipper. (See former Twins pitcher Rick Reed in 2002).

But sometimes there are precautions you can take to help minimize the number of injuries, and I think the icing versus no-touch icing falls into that category.

I mean, how many times does a player actually get back in time to touch the puck first so there is no icing call? It happens, but I'd say more often than not, it's touched up for the icing call. So if icing is the case most of the time anyway, than why not just have the no-touch rule to save on some potential injuries.

Just don't take the risk
Players chasing down the puck with an opponent, and then colliding with each other on the end boards at a high rate of speed isn't a great combination. The play happens so quickly that incidental and dangerous contact is hard to avoid.

Instituting no-touch icing might result in a couple more faceoffs, and it will give teams a few more seconds on the power play (which can be good or bad, depending on which side you're on at the time), but so what? Why risk it when there is so much at stake.

If it can work at the high school level, it should also be fine at the professional level. It'll eliminate a lot of problems and headaches - or worse - for teams all across the league.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Let's do away with All-Star games

All-Star games. Is it time to do away with the concept of gathering professional sports' best stars and actually playing a game? Yes, I think so. The games are just turning into laughable affairs, or at least games that don't really represent competitiveness.

I watched the NHL All-Star game last weekend. Of course, I went into it knowing what to expect - an offensive outburst of breakaways and goals. On a recent entry I joked about a 15-12 game. I was a little high; the final score ended up being 11-10 in favor of Team Lidstrom, part of the new format for the NHL contest.

It actually might have been one of the better games in recent history; at least it was close at the end. Early on though, it didn't look too good when Team Lidstrom got down 4-0 to Team Staal in the first period. As expected, there were numerous breakaways, and not just 2-on-1s either. We're talking 3 or even 4-on-1 advantages.

The results were pretty, highlight-reel goals. Those were made possible by a style of play that included little defense and pretty much no physicality. If you like checks, hits and fights, the All-Star game is not for you; it's more like a women's hockey game.

Wild boys
Brent Burns and Martin Havlat were the representatives for the Minnesota Wild, and they were both drafted by Team Lidstrom. It's a good thing too, because then I knew who to cheer for in the non-competitive game.

I didn't think Burns was anything special during the game; he seemed to make a few mistakes once in awhile. Havlat had three assists and Burns had one. It really would have been cool to see one of the two score a goal, since those were flowing so freely during the game for other players. Oh well.

New format is... alright
As far as the new format goes, where two chosen team captains draft players at random regardless of conference, I was sort of indifferent. I always like to cheer for guys from "my" team in All-Star games, so as I said, I'm glad Havlat and Burns ended up on the same side.

If they had been split up, I don't know how I would have liked it. I guess I would just have to treat it like the exhibition contest that it really is and admire the pretty goal scoring. Heck, the Sedin twins from Vancouver were split up, so things were definitely jumbled.

Oh, and how about Phil Kessel getting a brand new car because he was the last guy picked in the draft? Somehow I don't think that's how it works when kids are playing a pick-up game at the local rink. Sorry, nobody wanted you, so here's a car.

Stop the games
But back to my thought about why All-Star games should cease. The NFL Pro Bowl was later that same night. I didn't watch any of that game, but I heard it was pretty ridiculous. The NFC was running away with the game, making it a huge laugher. And just like there is no checking in hockey, apparently tackling was non-existent at the Pro Bowl.

So stop going through the formality of actually playing these games. It has no real representation of the players and what they can really do because they are not giving 100 percent, competitive effort. One obvious reason is because no one wants to send a player back to his team with an injury. I get that, but there is always an injury risk during games, no matter how you play.

A way to fix the MLB All-Star game
The MLB All-Star game is the only one that's semi-decent in quality. It has dominant pitching shutting down some of the best hitters in the game. And for the past few years, the game's result has consequences: The winning league earns homefield advantage for the World Series.

Now, if we do away with All-Star games as I suggest, how would this advantage get decided, you ask? It's really very simple. We go back to the way it was before that infamous 7-7 tie from 2002 and just award homefield to the different league every other year. I never had an issue with that and it keeps things fair, especially since most of the players playing in the All-Star game won't get to enjoy that advantage in the Series that they played for.

Meet in the middle
I'm not saying the concept of All Stars should go away altogether; I just think the games should stop. You can still elect a group of All Stars based on their outstanding performance during the season. You can still choose a city to host a bunch of festivities associated with the big game so fans can come and have a good time and the athletes could do something to put on a show for the fans.

Or, I'd also be fine with simply naming a team and giving the league a break for a few days; the players like their vacations anyway. Whatever you do, just don't bother with the game.

Home run derby is losing luster
I'm also including the Home Run Derby in my list of things to cut. It can be a fun and exciting contest for the fans to watch, but the selection of participants is becoming a joke. By the time you have your hitters in the box, there have been a lot of candidates asked to participate who have declined. You're getting third and fourth choices up there swinging for the fences.

A big reason for the no's? Fear of injury or messing up one's swing for the rest of the season. Whether it's legitimate or not, it's just another reason to do away with it. If players are so concerned about getting injured, then fine. Don't try to put on some second-rate game where everyone is playing it safe.

Just end all of the All-Star hoopla, take a short break, so we can get on with the rest of the season.