I really can't stand that garden gnome Gary Bettman. There are so many reasons to dislike him I won't bother to mention them all. Just looking at his smug face while he hands out the Cup with his dumb speeches is enough. Talk of wanting to increase goalscoring by messing with the size of the nets and the goalie's equipment is awful. The situation in Phoenix is ridiculous. So, while I was thinking of how great it would be to get rid of Bettman, I was thinking, what would I do if I had the job?
I figure I'd do a couple of things right away.
First, I'd institute a rule of territorial player protection. Every team benefits by having a hometown boy in the lineup. Fans come out to see the local kid, they relate to him and he's great for promotion of the game in the community. Unfortunately, because of the draft system, the chances of a mid-range team like the Habs being able to land a really good local guy are slim. So I would allow each team to protect one player from a pre-determined territory around the team's city before the draft. Then, when the teams declare their protected players, the draft would continue as usual. This would instantly benefit the Habs who would be able to choose from any number of promising young Quebec-born players. It would help them regain their identity as the team of Quebec, and it would be nice for the young players who yearn to play for the team they cheered for as kids. It would also help improve the mid-level talent currently in the system because of mid-level draft positions in recent years. All the other teams in strong hockey markets would benefit from this rule too.
Of course, the instant argument will be that that rule would be unfair for teams like the Coyotes or the Hurricanes, which don't have a talent-rich local hockey pool to choose from. My counter argument would be that the rule would create a great deal of incentive for NHL teams to invest in their local minor hockey systems and help with the development of young local players. Greater involvement by the NHL would be great in helping encourage growth of the game in those markets. In the meantime though, perhaps those teams could have territorial rights to protect a player from a hockey-rich area in which they have historical ties. Phoenix could possibly have rights in the Winnipeg area, and the 'Canes in Connecticut.
The second thing I would do is tweak the salary cap rules so that the cap would be the take-home pay of players, after taxes. In other words, the team would be allowed to go over the cap to the limit of local tax levels, basically covering taxes for the players. Right now, if Massachusetts has a 5.3% income tax rate, and Quebec has a 37.4% federal/provincial rate for salaries over 150-thousand dollars, it gives the Bruins an unfair advantage. If they offer a player a five-million dollar annual salary, the player pays 265-thousand in tax. If the Habs offer him the same five-million dollar salary, he'll pay 1.87 million bucks to the government. (For argument's sake, we'll ignore the fact that players probably have ways to hide their money for tax purposes because the fact that they need to hide more of it in Montreal still makes the point relevant.) There's no way on earth most players would even think about Montreal in those circumstances. And as long as the tax inequity exists, the salary cap is a joke. The teams with higher local taxes are automatically handicapped.
To counter the automatic argument that some teams have a tough time even reaching the cap floor right now, and that some owners would be reluctant to pay the tax over and above the cap, I should stress that this would be an option for owners, not a requirement. Right now, they can choose whether to spend to the cap or not. This would give them the option to spend to the cap...as it compares to less-deeply taxed jurisdictions. So, if the Habs' ownership is willing to spend six and a half million on a player to make sure he actually earns the five another team is offering after taxes, they should have the right to do that without being penalized.
There are other things I'd do too, like fix some penalties. I'd allow penalties on video replay in cases where a player is hurt and the refs didn't see the infraction. That would eliminate at least some of the vigilante justice we see when players try to get even on behalf of a wronged teammate. I'd also eliminate the stupid delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass, and just make it the same as icing, with no change allowed and the faceoff in the offending team's end. I'd automatically penalize hits to the head.
That's some of what I'd do if I were the NHL commissioner. What about you?