NHL worth some looks in my book

The National Football League’s 2010 season is underway, and the National Basketball Association recently started its season as well.

But while these two professional leagues get the most airtime, there is a third that has its new season in full swing, too: the National Hockey League.

But how many people in the Indianapolis area actually care? How many people in the United States actually care?

The NHL has action worth watching and it’s proving to be a far better viewing option than the NFL or NBA.

The fast-paced action, excitement and drama are factors that put the NHL over the top in comparison with the other professional leagues.

Plus the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball have flaws that the NHL doesn’t have to deal with.

Looking first at the NFL, its hard-hits are now considered old school and inhumane. Heavy fines and suspensions are now being handed out for hits that are considered too violent.

Something that has been, and still is, a key element of football is being restricted and essentially taken away.

Plus, casual fans only get to watch their favorite team play one game per week. That one game is usually bogged down by commercials, played after kickoffs, punts, touchdowns, field goals, injury timeouts, regular timeouts and the time between quarters.

The NBA is another story. I find it odd that anyone could find an NBA game in its entirety more entertaining than an NHL game.

NBA games are boring, aside from the final two minutes of the game. There is nothing to break up the back and forth dribbling of the ball.

It’s also worth noting that the playoff card is filled with several of the same teams each season.

The back-breaker for the NBA might be that most sports fans have only seen and heard about one person during the most recent basketball offseason: Lebron James.

It certainly doesn’t help the image of the NBA when the man who had his own one-hour television show to announce where he’d play this year is one of the faces of the league.

Last up is MLB. While MLB is probably the least flawed of the three NHL alternatives, it still has its issues. The season is strenuous for players and fans alike, with 162 games per season. There are few breaks during the schedule and only one is longer than one day.

Steroids have also reared their ugly heads over and over in baseball, and it is putting a damper on the sport that has been called America’s pastime for decades.

What makes the NHL so superior? Why should sports fans who are sick of the above sports give hockey a try? The NHL, like the NFL, has its share of hard hitting. The NHL, however, has taken a much better approach to dealing with hits that are deemed too violent or dirty.

Generally, the only hits that are viewed negatively in the NHL are shots to the head. If one of these occurs, the guilty player could be ejected from the game and will usually serve a suspension somewhere in the neighborhood of three games.

The NHL isn’t looking to eliminate something that players can’t control like the NFL. Hard hitting is still a part of hockey and players aren’t afraid to hit their opponents, like NFL athletes are. If an NHL athlete doesn’t like a hit their teammate took, they can always settle it by dropping their gloves. The NFL’s impending lockout following this season will not be a problem for the NHL.

After hockey’s lockout in 2004, the league has made changes to prevent another lockout from occuring any time soon.

Commercials aren’t a major issue for NHL games either, as most games don’t take place on national networks. However, ESPN and the NHL may be in contract negotiations to get a game or two per week on the most recognizable sports channel around.

This will give the NHL more exposure and make it even more accessible to the casual sports fan.

The quick-paced action is one thing that makes the NHL unique. There is constant back and forth play that can include impressive footwork and stick-work, along with the occasional fight.

The five-minute overtime and shootout are also very exciting ways for fans to see a game conclude when it would have otherwise finished as a tie. The schedule for an NHL team, especially one that makes a deep run in the playoffs, can be a long one, running from October to as late as early June. Still, back-to-back games are not common in a team’s 82-game schedule and the constant breaks of more than 24 hours between games leaves fans wanting more.

Hockey may seem like a sport that can only be enjoyed by those in the northern United States and Canada, but there is great fun to be had for fans watching the games and fewer problems in the NHL than in other professional sports organizations.

For any sports fan, the NHL is definitely worth a try.