The NHL's sticky situation

Bill Duke, Editor

This year's edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs has provided fans with marquee matchups (like Crosby vs. Ovechkin) titillating game sevens (like Carolina's comeback thriller over Jersey) and the usual thuggish nonsense (Donald Brashear, come on down!).

However, there are two issues that have been plaguing the sport this spring, and both can be blamed on the dreaded composite stick.

Firstly, have you noticed just how many sticks are breaking over the course of a game these days?

I know this revelation is nothing new, as much has been written about the new sticks' lack of durability since their initial introduction.

But never has the issue been more prevalent than in these playoffs. In the Flames/Blackhawks series, it seemed as though a stick was being broken on every single shift.

Perhaps they're made of plate glass rather than the fancy synthetic blend of materials the manufacturers would have us believe.

Scoring chance after scoring chance is being squandered by shattered Eastons.

And how many slashing penalties have been called for the sole reason that the victim's stick broke in half from a love tap on the shaft by the perpetrator?

The litany of broken sticks got me thinking about the astronomical expense hockey sticks must be to an NHL team.

Think about it: there are 20 players dressed for each game. I would venture a guess that at least five break a stick at some point each contest. Let's say that two or three more are broken in practice.

So for each game, NHL teams are going through 28 sticks. That's probably a conservative estimate, but bear with me.

These new-fangled sticks go for anywhere from $100-$280 a pop. I'll assume that NHL players use the high-end stuff, and I will also assume that teams get a discount for buying them in bulk.

Let's say they spend at least $150 a stick. That makes for a stick budget of $4,200 per game.

Over an 82-game season that comes to $344,400. And that figure is probably on the low side of the ledger.

The second issue is one that has been progressively developing for the last few seasons: no one can seem to hit the net with a shot anymore.

It's absurd that NHLers, especially defencemen, are so incapable of directing a shot at a four by six foot cage.

It's like the old saying goes, 'You can't score if you don't hit the net.'

Okay, I don't think that's an old saying, but it certainly should be.

It's been eternally frustrating watching "premier" blueliners like Dion Phaneuf fail repeatedly at a task that is drilled into the heads of hockey players from the time they are seven years old.

I don't know that the epidemic of misfires has anything to do with the composite twigs, but I would not be at all surprised if it does.

Having used one such stick in my beer, uhh, I mean, recreational hockey league this past winter, I can attest to the fact that the puck does rocket off them in a manner unlike the old wood models.

But I can also attest that there is virtually no feel with the new sticks; it's harder to receive a pass, make a pass, stickhandle and accurately direct a shot.

My experience was that a lot more of my shots missed high than they had in the past, and that seems to be what is going on in the NHL as well.

Until players like Phaneuf and Jonathan Cheechoo either switch back to wooden sticks or improve their accuracy, there are going to be a lot of aborted scoring opportunities.

Of course, the league could do something to solve the problem, which has trickled down to all levels of hockey and priced many youngsters out of the sport.

They could just ban the new sticks, and go back to the old models that allowed for better stickhandling and accuracy and caused fewer broken shards.

But that would require a level of common sense and analysis of which Gary Bettman and his minions have historically proven incapable.

It's a shame, because the game is at its most entertaining when passes and shots are properly executed. Unfortunately, hockey fans should get used to the sight of sticks exploding all over the ice.

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