U.S. vs Them
Let's start with the old decisions. The past two Winter Olympics, 2014 and 2010, hockey as a sport saw a surge in popularity and ratings. In 2010 this lasted all of a few days, and it's too soon to tell how long, if any, ratings will increase. So what is the NHL doing wrong that they are turning off this new audience? It's the style of play. The NHL and it's most rabid fanbase will state time and time again that fighting will ALWAYS be a part of "American style" hockey. European hockey and the Olympics do not allow fisticuffs, downplay checking, and force a more technical, more athletic, and higher skill level kind of hockey. This is obviously what the general public wants to watch, and not a "goon squad" going out and punishing the opposing line physically while barely attempting to shoot the puck.
Fighting the future
Of course the excuse is always the same, they want to protect the integrity of the game. This is of course a meaningless statement that serves no purpose other than to give them an excuse to keep it within the rules. Now I love a good hockey fight, it gets me excited and yelling, and will liven up both players and fans that may be slipping into boredom or losing interest in a losing game; but I can see the big picture here. New fans don't want to see untalented thugs skating around looking to start a boxing match, they want to see athletes preforming in a skillful way. The best example of this is the NFL. Throughout the 90's they were nicknamed the "No Fun League" for instituting rules that limited or banned certain post-touchdown celebrations. They were also criticized for the rules that "protected" receivers and quarterbacks, making many of the high-impact, bone crushing hits fans loved all but a thing of the past. A lot of their fans threatened to stop watching, and cried that the game they loved has changed too much, and it lost it's "integrity". But what happened? The Super Bowl sets new ratings records every year, and profits continue to steadily grow as new fans in cities without a home team are acquired. sure some of the more stubborn fans left, but they were replaced 2 or 3 times over, and will probably give in and return after a few weeks, months, or possibly years.
Every 4 years
Now on top of that, the NHL has decided to end it's Olympic hiatus, and will not cooperate anymore. Sure, this makes good business sense as they were losing 2+ weeks out of their season due to the Olympic break; not to mention the fact that all their top talent were off playing where they could potentially get hurt and miss playing time for their full-time team. Again, this is the best business decision they could make, and looks really good on paper. The problem is the human factor. The top talent in the NHL is almost exclusively from outside the United States. More-so than most any other sport. These are players that are making hundreds, or even millions, in the NHL; but could possibly be willing to pay any fines or endure other punishments handed down in order to represent their country in a style of game that they grew up playing.
Hot and cold
Finally, what the NHL must realize is that they are a regional sport. Try as hard as they want, but those southern states that rarely see snow will always have a hard time finding sustaining support in that area. Sure, winners will always get more fans, but the years that teams in California, Florida, Arizona, or other southern states suffer a losing season, they show little to no profit and are sustained only by the collective bargaining agreement. Stick to the northeast, the upper mid-west, and Canada... that's were you'll always have a better chance of gaining new, long-term fans.
Here's hoping the next NHL Commissioner will look that supposed "integrity", see these flaws for exactly what they are, and take the necessary steps to correct them and grow this brand to it's full potential.