Hockey purest continue to deny changes are necessary, but reality dictates otherwise. The NHL needs needs to stop looking in the wrong places to improve (see: enlarged nets) and listen to these recommendations.
1. Bigger Ice Surface. It doesn't require much analysis to decipher why this would make the NHL game better. As the sun has shrank over the last few decades so has the relative size of the NHL ice surface with the increasingly larger men playing the game. Opening up the rink even fractionally will increase the defensive players' ability to move the puck up to the forwards (the most critical transition pass in hockey), in addition to providing skill players more room to negotiate down low, in the offensive corners. Expanding the rink hurts only the owners who must forfeit the revenue currently generated from the first few rows of pricey seating -- fortunately, most can afford it when adjusted for the greater good.
2. Balance the Schedule. Yet another shortsighted rule that has limited fan interest in the post-lockout era. The unbalanced schedule designed to create inter-divisional rivalries, in spite of those inter-conference, has depriving NHL fans of formerly more passionate and historical match-ups. At a time when the whole planet is expanding and embracing globalism, the NHL is foolishly isolating and disconnecting from it's fan base. To rectify, evenly distribute inter-conference contests amongst all 16 clubs and ensure each team in the NHL meets one another at least once per season.
3. Determine playoff seedings by raw point total within your conference. No more of this horrendous divisional non-sense. Once the schedule is balanced as per above, this initiative should be promptly inked into the rule book since teams are (now) playing inter-conference games in equal abundance, thus eliminating the any rationale in allowing divisional winners to steal the top three conference seeds. This will avoid mis-matches throughout the playoffs which often spoils some of the more competitive series prematurely.
4. Stop awarding points for LOSING. Why does the NHL insist on being the only professional sports league to award the loser points – it's like a participation ribbon: lame and ineffective? It skews the standings by inflating the points awarded to average teams who are good in specialized situations, like OT and the shootout. This was an unfortunate consequence of the New NHL which can instantly be repaired by rewarding three points for wins (while keeping all other things equal). Increasing the incentive to win will award aggressiveness at the games' conclusion rather than the passivity the league endorses presently. In turn, the fans are treated with clearly enhanced entertainment value.
5. Make like International Hockey. Replace the Conference Finals with League-wide semifinals by mandating a crossover when only four teams remain. The Top Western team plays the low-seed Eastern team and vice versa. Doing so will ensure the utmost competition in the final stages of the Stanley Cup Finals – utopia given the talent disparity between conferences (a phenomena that spoiled the NBA championships this year past). The League-wide Semi Finals could see season-long rivals, or traditional match-ups (like original 6 teams) that cannot manifest under the current playoffs structure.
6. Allow GM's to compensate trades with CASH. The salary cap has created an era with restrictive and often unfeasible constraints when negotiating moves in player personnel. In other words, trades are now very difficult to execute, which has decreased the ability for fringe teams to acquire star power or depth for a playoff push Were teams allowed to share a portion of Player X's contract following a transaction, the GM's would have more than enough freedom to be active and improve their respective team. Creating this degree of freedom will also help reduce the frequency of these well-extended, often front-loaded contracts that have become emerged as a byproduct of this CBA.
7. Drop the Instigator Rule. With powerplay proficiency a make or break characteristic in the New NHL, we mustn't penalize enforcers who protect the (often entertaining) skill players. Removing the Instigator Rule will likely reduce the cheap-shots and poor conduct observed in recent memory, while ultimately creating fewer serious injuries. Not only are these changes in the interest of players and their safety, but they also benefit the fans. Say what you will about violence in sport, and I'll say this so you don't forget it: fighting is good for hockey. This rule is much like the stringent regulation on celebration in the NFL -- they penalize players for performing an act in which 90%+ of the fans actually WANT to see! Why diminish the entertainment value of sport in need of exactly that?
8. Contraction. The excess of teams in the NHL has diluted the talent pool initiating a decline in the quality. By contracting the league and reducing the number of teams in the NHL to 26, the NHL can effectively concentrate talent and improve the overall quality of the game. Think of the impact that 12 top-liners would have on leagues remaining clubs by imagining what it would be like to add Eric Stall up front. (Yes, hint: Carolina, Tampa, Atlanta, Florida should get axed.)