The NHL is finally gone for the year (I think). One last round of talks with Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky trying to play Super Negotiators ended with the season being washed out completely.

Chris Burke

I’ll be honest — I don’t know how to fix the NHL. It’s a disaster right now. There are too many teams, not enough fans and a bunch of people in charge who claim that the season wasn’t canceled over money issues but admit the biggest sticking point was a salary cap.

But I do know one thing — the sport of hockey did not need this story to trickle across the Associated Press wire yesterday: “Hockey coach suspended for offering bounty on rival player.”

Seriously. And what makes the situation even better is that it happened in the great state of Michigan. Turns out Steve Shannon, the coach of the UHL’s Motor City Mechanics (now home to several out-of-work Red Wings) offered $200 to the first player on his team to “take out” a member of the Flint Generals.

Not since Coach Jack Riley told his players to “finish” Adam Banks in “The Mighty Ducks” has the sport of hockey seen such an over-the-top tactic.

Hmmmm … on second thought, maybe this is exactly the type of crazy maniac stunt that this sport needs to save it.

People watch NASCAR waiting for a crash. They watch football hoping to see a huge hit. Same for boxing or wrestling.

More people than you’d think like to see other people get hurt.

And so let me offer up my one and only suggestion to the NHL owners and players as they try to win the fans back for next season: No penalties.

Let’s take a page out of Shannon’s book and really give the public what they want to see: blood and violence.

The NHL has taken so many steps to ensure that its game is safe and as non violent as possible that it’s become boring. Games that end 1-0 with no fights are not going to attract major television audiences.

Let’s stroll just a little ways from the Mechanics’ home in Fraser to Detroit and look at the Red Wings.

Sure it’s been great to see Detroit take home three Stanley Cups in the last decade. But, how excited were people to watch a Detroit-Carolina final round? They weren’t. And you know why? Because there was absolutely no chance that these two teams were going to drop the gloves and start hating each other.

But when Detroit and Colorado get together, it’s a whole different atmosphere. It all started when Claude Lemieux smashed Kris Draper’s face into the boards during the 1996 playoffs. After that, the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry took off — solid TV ratings, sold out crowds, lead stories on “SportsCenter.” And the players responded by engaging in two Royal Rumble-style brawls on the ice.

There was nothing better than watching a Detroit-Colorado game because you would see some great hockey but, more importantly, you’d see two teams that just wanted to wail the crap out of each other.

Which brings me back to Shannon and his stunt with the Mechanics.

OK, putting out hits on opposing players is crossing the line. Obviously, I have about as much of a chance of making an NHL roster as I do getting a “No Penalties” clause inserted into the next bargaining agreement.

In all honesty, I’m a hockey fan. I like the game. I love the playoffs. I watch the Red Wings on a regular basis.

But when people say that the game has gotten too boring, too defensive-minded and too — well — safe, I can see where they’re coming from.

The NHL would be well suited to recognize those complaints, too. The NHL used to be exciting because games were regularly finishing 6-5, and fighting and big hits were condoned. College hockey is exciting because it’s up-tempo and high-scoring. And the UHL is exciting because, apparently, offering money to take out players is happening.

Granted, that last one is pretty far out there. Too far out there.

But when I tell you that the Mechanics play Flint again on Friday, you’d be lying if you weren’t a little interested to hear what happens to Kevin Kerr, the Flint General who Shannon offered the bounty on.

And no matter how ridiculous that is, it’d be ignorant for the NHL to come back in late 2005 without addressing the things that fans want to see.


Chris Burke does not endorse bounties on anyone, unless it involves Boba Fett from Star Wars. He also misses Detroit thugs Bob Probert and Stu Grimson and wishes they’d come back and kick the crap out of someone. He can be reached at chrisbur@umich.edu.

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