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The New Game: How Hockey Saved Itself

by Steve Paikin

Although author and TVOntario personality Steve Paikin clearly loves and understands the game of hockey and its history, there is little in this compact and quick read to suggest that the game ­– at the least the NHL brand of it – has actually saved itself.

Seven of the book’s 10 chapters are unrelated to the “new” game that has evolved since an owner-led lockout cancelled the 2004-05 season and led to a salary cap and several rule changes aimed at making play faster and more exciting.

The opening three chapters talk about the new game, new rules, and new economy, but from there, Paikin moves further and further from his thesis. There are chapters on goons, the increasingly international flavour of NHL rosters, expansion into the U.S. sunbelt, black players in the NHL, the parallel lives of goalies Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek (the Eagle and the Dominator, respectively), and the modesty of hockey players as media interviewees.

It’s all interesting stuff, to be sure – the story of transplanted Trinidadian goaltending guru Sudarshan Maharaj is wonderful – but hardly proof that hockey has saved itself. In fact, television ratings, as the author concedes, are still in the toilet south of the border and may always be so. Hockey is a gate-driven sport, and cancelling a season, even if it was for sound economic reasons, did nothing to endear the game to fans. Nashville and, more troubling, Chicago averaged fewer than 14,000 fans per game in the early part of the 2007-08 season.

The NHL will never be as wildly successful as the NFL or Major League Baseball, even though its head office types in New York and Toronto desperately want it to be. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining – Celine Dion sells a lot of records, but some people simply prefer the Arcade Fire.

Though a little Toronto-centric, The New Game is an informative state of the union address on the NHL. However, to stand up to hockey classics like Ken Dryden’s 1983 memoir, The Game, it could use some seasoning in the minors.