When three of the four major North American sports leagues opt to pursue a given path, it is perhaps inevitable that the lone holdout goes with the flow.  So, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the NHL has opted to follow the consensus and adopt an official social media policy that restricts when players can use sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Key quote from the CBC article:

The National Hockey League has joined other major sports leagues by drafting a social media policy for the upcoming 2011-12 season.

Highlights of the policy include a social media blackout window before, during and after games, as well as during practice and any other team obligations. Any use of social media applications such as Twitter or Facebook in violation of these rules may be subject to an undisclosed punishment.

As I mentioned earlier, this doesn’t come as a shock.  This new policy will bring the NHL into line with other leagues.  By blacking out a particular window, the NHL allows itself to walk a middle line between enjoying the attention generated by hockey players on Twitter while at the same time preventing players from doing controversial things like taking shots at their opponents from the press box.

After all, there are plenty of good reasons to prevent that sort of thing from happening.  Snarky comments from injured players add to the rivalry between given teams… uh, well at least this will help prevent players from sharing information with fans and media that teams might not like…

What this comes down to is the NHL safeguarding the ability of teams to protect their information and maintain near-total control of their communications strategy.  This comes at the cost of allowing fans a slightly closer look at players, and giving the media something to talk about when a player makes a controversial statement from the press box.

This isn’t a move that is going to seriously limit players, who can still offer their take via social media outside of this blackout window.  Still, it is a shame to see the NHL take the cautious road and limit an avenue that’s been so interesting for fans.  Players like Paul Bissonnette (pictured above) have helped to bring attention to the game, and comments by people like him are far more intriguing for both fans and media than enforced message discipline can possibly be.