The NHL’s new safety nets

I wanted to give this a few games before talking about it, to see how people adjusted to the new nets.

(for those who aren’t hockey fans, last season in Columbus, a girl was hit by a puck leaving the ice, and died a few days later. The NHL has mandated all arenas to add safety netting around the ends of the rink to prevent the most dangerous pucks, those shot at the goalie (at speeds of up to 105MPH) from entering the stands at full speed)

My personal feeling is that the safety nets are long overdue. They’re already in use in many minor league rinks and much of europe, but the NHL has a long history of avoiding safety issues until something really stupid happens.

The death of the fan was a horrible thing, but if it were only one death, this wouldn’t be necessary. The reality is, though, that fan injuries at NHL arenas are fairly common. I know a couple of people at San Jose who’ve been injured (pucks to the mouth, scalp cuts). Laurie and I sit three rows off the glass, in a relatively safe area — and we get a couple of pucks a year. In our years watching hockey, I’ve been bruised twice, and Laurie three or four. Laurie’s had the woman sitting next to her have her collarbone broken. In the tunnel next to our seats, they had a puck come through a photo hole and hit a photographer for 7 stitches. We generally get to about 35 games at San Jose every season, and I’d say at 10 of them we see someone taken out of the arena to be treated because of a puck injury.

It’s a different era in hockey — the days of chicken wire or 2′ glass are long gone. today, it’s 100MPH slapshots, and I simply don’t think it’s fair to blame a fan for not being able to duck one of those. So better protection of the fans is long overdue.

Unfortunately, the current netting system the NHL has adopted is a mixed blessing. It solves the basic safety problem, but it creates a new problem with vision. The current nets impact the fans vision, in some cases seriously. Our first game in San Jose, I did a pre-game inspection from the stands, and I felt the visibility loss was unacceptable in the lower bowl from about row 8 to about row 16 or 17. Most of the people I know sitting in those areas agreed, and now a few home games later, most still feel that way.

The general feel I’ve gotten from talking to people in San Jose is that the nets aren’t acceptable. A significant number of high-quality (and pricey) seats have been screwed up by them, and the fans sitting in them are not “going to get used to it”.

that seems to be what I’m hearing around the league, too. my friends in toronto and vancouver and calgary are very unhappy. It looks like in those cities it’s starting to cost teams ticket sales, as I know fans who simply won’t buy obstructed seats now.

In philly, the screaming has been enough for the flyers to try plan b (white nets). Unfortunately, gotten negative reviews. From a post on our sharks list by Melissa (our resident Devil’s fan):

The Devils’ game was the first use and according to Doc what was up then is going to be replaced as it “glows” too much with the “glow” making the view very blurry. Sounded like the newer version is on order. The netting that was used was actually altered a bit during that day to improve it as much as possible.

so I think we need plan C. whatever that is. One thought I’ve mulled over is maybe changing the mesh so that it slows a puck down instead of requiring it to stop pucks might be a reasonable compromise. The problem isn’t pucks, it’s fast pucks. so maybe some kind of mesh that might slow a puck as it goes through might give a better compromise between visibility and safety.

I think we have to understand that there will be a compromise here. To make things safer, they’re going ot have to do something involving netting or some other device. And that’s going to impact viewing. The question is where to make that compromise. The current nets aren’t it.

Unfortunately, one thing I worried about in this seems to be coming true. According to Mike Bass, also on our sharks list, the Sharks staffer he’s talked to is indicating that because they’ve already spent all this money, fans are going to have to get used to it. To quote Mike:

Andy Fisk was the one who I spoke to several times at the start of the season. I suggest we all revisit him on this because I’m still of the belief they can come up with something better than their knee jerk solution. When I heard from Andy how much they spent and how if they did find another solution it would probably not be implemented until after *next* season, what I really heard is ‘we spent a lot of money on this compliance solution, and we’re going to avoid spending any more if we can get away with it, until we get some return on our current investment.’ And that sounds like it includes taking the initiative looking for a better solution, as opposed to just playing follow the leader with the rest of the league.

BTW, he also suggested we also communicate our angst to the league directly.

If that really is the Sharks position, they need to reconsider. The current solution doesn’t work. In case folks haven’t noticed, the Sharks aren’t selling out this season. it’s only a couple of hundred seats a game, but even the Rangers game this Monday, normally a tough ticket because of all the Rangers fans in this area, had tickets available as of Saturday. The last thing the Sharks can afford to do now is NOT spend money fixing this solution, because while fixing it will cost money, empty seats cost even more. And it’s clear from my discussions with people that’s what they’ll have. Maybe not this season since so many seats are already pre-sold to season ticket holders, but I’ve already heard from half a dozen in my limited group of people I know who won’t renew if the nets aren’t fixed.

I wanted to give the nets a fair shot. I think we (as fans) have. And it’s clear the answer is — they suck. fix it. Any team that doesn’t is risking a backlash, and here in San Jose with the weak economy, the Sharks can’t really afford to piss off fans and give them reasons to not come to the game.

We’re lucky. We’re below the nets. But there’s a huge swath of fans who suddenly have badly obstructed views, and “we’re sorry, you’ll get used to it” isn’t an acceptable answer.