Book Review: SAVING THE GAME

Mark Moore’s SAVING THE GAME came out in 2006 and I managed to avoid hearing anything about it until late 2008. I was watching HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA and someone off-handedly asked Dominic Moore about his brother’s book. I did some research and found out about SAVING THE GAME.

Mark Moore played in the Penguins organization, not making it up to the NHL before a concussion ended his career. This book is his ideas on how to improve hockey and make it a viable sport, both quickly and longterm.

Other than being a former professional defenseman, Moore was Harvard educated, so the theory is you’re getting a bit more than the check-addled musings of an ex-jock. And Moore is definitely a bright guy. But Moore positions the book as a cross between Ken Dryden’s classic THE GAME and Bruce Dowbiggin’s MONEY PLAYERS (the hockey version of Michael Lewis’s MONEYBALL). Unfortunately, SAVING THE GAME lacks the elegant simplicity of THE GAME and the analytical precision of MONEY PLAYERS.

Moore spends the majority of the book outlining some practical ways to change and improve hockey, leaning hard on the idea of making the game four-on-four. He also recommends a zero-tolerance officiating policy, where every infraction is called. Another big suggestion is using softer equipment, which will protect players on both ends of the armor. None of these are bad ideas, but they don’t lend themselves to a book-length treatise. Also, Moore wrote the book without the benefit of seeing all of the four-on-four overtimes that followed the lockout, so it doesn’t seem fair to criticize his faith in the idea.

SAVING THE GAME is at its most interesting and provocative at the end, though, once all of Moore’s practical ideas are out of the way. His more interesting ideas include government intervention in sports to protect the rights of fans and a collective bargaining agreement that allows teams to pay players based upon performance. I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the ideas raised toward the end of the book, but they’re interestingly presented, and more importantly, presented in the context of the place of sports in modern North American society. Moore really hits his stride when he gets away from the mundane and allows himself to explore the conceptual.

I wouldn’t call SAVING THE GAME essential, but if you like to imagine how the NHL would be different if you were commissioner (or if you really enjoyed Puck Daddy’s 5 Ways I’d Change the NHL series), you’ll enjoy this. Moore is an intelligent man who often manages to capture and synthesize the desires of fans, business, and players. He’s obviously spent a lot of time thinking this stuff out.

On that note, if you’d like to check out SAVING THE GAME, send me an email (I’m steve at this domain) with your address and I’ll mail my review copy to the first person requesting it (minus the dust jacket, which I religiously remove from books). U.S.-only, please.