Last week when we at Defending Big D along with the rest of the network of hockey blogs around SB Nation started doing this series of ways we as bloggers and fans of this great game would improve the experience for fans, it took me a while to actually think of what could be done to enhance the enjoyment I get out of a game that quite honestly I already obsess over more than what should be considered healthy - even for a Canadian. But I started to think that as a Dallas Stars fan living in the city of Edmonton, it would be so very nice to have one section of every NHL rink set aside for fans of the visiting team, only to see that Travis Hughes over at Broad Street Hockey already expanded on that idea and probably put it into better words than I could.
So with that option take away, my mind focused to the one other aspect of the game I'd like to see changed: The shootout.
More specificilly, the fact the players still wear their helmets when taking part in the shootout.
It's something I've never quite figured out. Players around the league (such as Mike Ribeiro in the picture) will go helmet-less in the pre-game skate. A pre-game skate consists of pretty much all 40 players from both teams dressed for the upcoming game on the ice all at once skating in circles with about 40 pucks at their disposal to pass around, whip at boards and shoot on goalies with.
I know I can't claim to know what it's like being on the ice for a pro level pre-game skate, but if it's anything close to what it's like to be taking part in a beer league pre-game skate, lets just say that personally once the pre-game skate is over I feel a lot safer knowing there are three times fewer players on the ice and only one puck to worry about.
And yet come time for the shootout, everyone has a lid. The one point in the entire night where a player doesn't have to worry about being decked by anyone coming from a blind side, not have to worry about the puck hitting them in the face - because if the puck hits you the shooter in the face during the shootout chance, you've probably done it wrong - and there they are with brain buckets on and usually a visor on top of that like some robotic gladiator.
I know safety in the game is a concern especially when it comes to head injuries but c'mon, these guys are pros so the chances of them fouling up so badly that their head hits the ice or boards in a shootout attempt are less than that of an errant puck flying off a post during the pregame skate and striking them upside the noggin.
You want a cheap and easy way to market the game NHL? Get these guys (just the shooters of course, goalies would be welcome to partake as well, but lets not get too crazy) to take their helmets off during the shootout. Most of the players in the league today are pretty good looking.. err... so I have been told by my girlfriend and various other female friends. And with HDTVs (especially Samsung HDTVs.. see what I did there?) being as sharp and clear as they are, the fans at home especially get to see the looks on these players faces from the moment they focus before they take their shot to the expression on their face when they score or are stopped cold.
Hockey fans dig seeing players faces - even the ugly ones - so leave the helmets on the bench and give the fans an enhanced visual in the shootout! Just, not too much of an enhanced visual experience like the Tampa Bay Lightning had... We wanna keep this product rated PG after all.