Opinion | Hockey Needs to Change

By Jameson Keebler, Staff Columnist

Like anything else in popular culture, sports go through different trends. Growing up, I always thought the main four sports were football, baseball, basketball and hockey, but even just a few years later, perceptions are changing. As hockey viewership falls in America, soccer is rising to take its place as a popular American pastime. 

Hockey is still a great sport with massive amounts of potential for the next generation, as shown by young stars who are already making names for themselves. The NHL needs to advance with these new players and audiences instead of staying in the past. 

There are a few reasons why hockey viewership is down. One is that streaming deals make sports increasingly difficult to watch, but that is not an issue that is unique to hockey. The current state of streaming services makes it impossible to watch all of the games you want access to with just a basic cable subscription. Platforms like ESPN+ are heavily advertised as a new and innovative way of live sports, but local blackouts make it less than ideal for many sports fans. The blackouts make it impossible to watch your local team’s entire season, so even though ESPN+ has a wide variety, it won’t satisfy the common viewer. There can also be problems with quality — streams with many viewers are likely to crash or experience other issues with the broadcast. 

Also, the NHL preventing players from participating in the Olympics kills the sport’s popularity. It hurts the level of competition, as the best players in the world play in the NHL and therefore can’t compete in the Olympics. This undermines the entire point of the hockey competition in the Olympics. 

In 2022, NHL players could not compete in the Beijing Olympics. A statement released by the NHL said COVID-19 concerns were the reason that the NHL would not be taking a break in the season for the Olympics. The NHL also stopped their players from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, due to disagreements regarding the costs covered by the International Olympics Committee (IOC). In the 1998 Olympics, the IOC agreed to cover the insurance costs for NHL athletes going to the games, but they haven’t agreed to the deal since because it doesn’t exist for any other sport. The Olympics can put a strain on the NHL because they need to take a three week gap in the season to accommodate the athletes participating. There is also a possibility that some of the best players will get injured while playing in the Olympics, cutting their NHL season short. 

Despite these issues, the Olympics are important to hockey viewership because they bring new support to the sport every four years. Whenever the Olympics come around, everyone rallies behind their national team. Especially for children, the Olympics give them athletes to look up to. For example, sports like gymnastics and swimming gain large audiences during the Olympics. Fans also become invested in the athletes, which results in them following their careers even after the Olympics are over. We see this with athletes like Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky.

The Olympics are especially interesting for sports like hockey where NHL teams are made up of players from all over the world. The best of the best players who go to the Olympics will be playing against their closest teammates and alongside their biggest rivals. Personality is something that people love to see in athletes, but some think that it distracts them from the game. 

While the All-Star Game did see an increase in viewership, many hockey fans see it as an unnecessary break in the season. There is an opportunity for the All-Star Game to capitalize on a younger audience. Instead of focusing on the exhibition game, the league should embrace the personalities that fans love and make the event centered around the players. 

The All-Star Game should embrace the portions that show off the players’ unique talents and let them have fun with the game. One of the best examples of this is the breakaway challenge, where the players choreograph their own little routines that let them bring their own personalities to the ice. While some will complain that it is a waste and doesn’t have anything to do with hockey, it is undeniably entertaining. Will Jack Hughes doing a magic trick on the ice while dressed in a full magician costume ever help the Devils in a game? No, but it will get plenty of fans to watch an otherwise boring All-Star weekend. 

There are still old school hockey diehards who miss the violence of the game before stricter regulations on fighting and hits. They think that the new era of hockey is too flashy and full of showmanship, but if that is what gets people to appreciate the sport, then why stop it? Hockey retribution fights aren’t going to bring as much attention to the sport as Trevor Zegras’s lacrosse style goal

Hockey shouldn’t deny the more personal and showy aspects of professional sport because of its obsession with toughness and masculinity. Today, athletes are celebrities and hockey should let their athletes share their personalities with the audience. 

Hockey is an exciting game with rules that aren’t difficult for any viewer to pick up. Now is a better time than ever to start watching with the Stanley Cup playoff games happening every day. There is a lot of hope for hockey, so now is the best time to get invested. The sport will keep shifting, but that isn’t a bad thing if it keeps people loving the game. 

Jameson Keebler writes primarily about pop culture and current events. Write to her at [email protected].