Adrian the Canadian fixes hockey

Being Canadian, Adrian has a lot to say about hockey. I’ll let him take it away:

In August, the NHL held its (now annual) Research, Development, and Orientation (RDO) Camp. The RDO Camp is an interesting idea — it gives NHL teams a chance to evaluate top prospects and serves as a venue to experiment with potential rule changes. This year, they evaluated over two dozen rule variations, from the mundane (thinner nets) to the radical (line changes only permitted on the fly, 3-on-3 overtime). While I often complain about the NHL’s rules, especially in regard to player safety, the RDO camp is a great idea more leagues should implement. Moreover, it shows a surprising open-mindedness and willingness to change by the conservative NHL establishment. So, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly at the last RDO. 

The Power Play

Three of the best ideas at the RDO are discussed by NHL.com’s EJ Hradek. I’ll let his article stand for itself, but he’s right that the verification line, shallower nets, and curved class near the benches are long overdue innovations. Also, while no-touch icing looks to be a no-go with GMs, I think a hybrid icing rule could do much to improve player safety. More controversial are a variety of proposals to open up the power play. The first proposal is to remove the rule allowing the short-handed team to ice the puck during the power play. The intuition is that this will make it much more difficult for the short-handed side to clear the zone and will open up scoring. The second option is to make it so that the offending team must clear the zone with possession of the puck before the officials call the delayed penalty. The third is to make all penalties go their full duration regardless of whether the team on the power play scores a goal.

It seems to me that the first proposal is the best one. Ideally, rules should be consistent across all facets of play — specialized rules are confusing to fans and tend to be controversial. Allowing the short-handed team to ice the puck during a power play represents a deviation from the normal rules of hockey. It is a remedial rule imposed because power plays offered too much of an advantage to the team with an extra man. Now, with power play scoring down, such a remedy seems unnecessary. Removing the rule represents an easy, intuitive fix that closely addresses the problem at hand. Neither of the other proposals directly addresses the problem of low potency power plays. The second proposal deals with the period before the penalty is called and seems unlikely to yield more scoring. Also, hockey during a delayed penalty is often a bit stunted, sloppy, and confusing for a fan. No need for more of it. Finally, allowing the offending team to score multiple goals on the power play doesn’t improve the chances that a team will score on the power play. It does little to improve the balance between offense and defense and, at best, gives teams already good at the power play a greater advantage.

Strengthening the power play is important. Not only will it increase the number of goals scored per power play, but it should decrease the number of penalties and open up the game. Now, teams with a strong penalty kill have little reason to fear the power play. During even strength play, those teams can be more aggressive and risk more penalties, slowing up the game and decreasing scoring. A rule change like the first one will help to improve even strength hockey. However, the result of such a change may not be an uptick in scoring. If teams commit far fewer penalties there will be fewer power plays and maybe even fewer goals. This is fine — an improvement in the quality of even strength hockey is good for fans and good for the league.

The Bear Hug Rule

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Bryan Burke has long been a proponent of something called the “Bear Hug Rule,“ which continues to be a topic of discussion during the NHL’s RDO camps. In brief, the “Bear Hug Rule” looks to improve player safety by allowing a potential player to grab a player making a hard pivot instead of driving him into the boards. While the spirit of the rule is a good one, critics charge that such a rule makes little sense — if the defender has time to “bear hug” the puck carrier, he surely has time to avoid the check altogether. If he has time to stop and refuses, there should be a boarding penalty. While the focus on player safety is a good one, the NHL appears to want to improve player safety while still allowing potentially reckless play that may stymie offensive production. By putting the onus on the defender to avoid contact, and making him play under control along the boards, the NHL could open up the game and improve player safety. I think hockey’s old guard would likely protest such a move. That attitude is going to take a lot more than an RDO camp to change.

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3 responses to “Adrian the Canadian fixes hockey

  1. Re. Powerplay

    I don’t find any of the three proposals pleasing. Removing the penalty killer’s ability to ice the puck may be a logical and consistent rule change, but all it does is increase the odds that a short-handed team fatigues during the penalty kill. The rule does not encourage or reward improved skill or strategy.
    My proposal, and the NHL has discussed this at RDO in the past as well, is to increase the size of the blue line. This does two things: (1) It increases the size of the neutral zone; and (2) It does so without decreasing the size of the offensive zone (and could in fact increase its size).
    A larger neutral zone will increase the ability of the powerplay to gain the offensive zone. Since this is often the greatest hurdle a powerplay has to overcome, making it easier to enter the offensive zone and “set-up” should increase the scoring percentage of powerplays on every team. Meanwhile, by maintaining or expanding the size of the offensive zone, more space is created for skilled players to manoeuvre and for powerplay tactics to unfold.
    A related change would be increasing the size of the ice surface. I wouldn’t suggest going all the way to Olympic size. Canadian football is played on a larger field, but it was surpassed in popularity by the smaller-sized American football.
    (A bit of tangent – I wonder how people can criticize NHL rule changes as “altering” the game. Players today are better coached, many times faster, stronger, and larger than players in the 1930s, yet the game is still played on the same-sized ice surface. How similar would NHL hockey today be to NHL hockey then, even if none of the rules were changed?)

  2. Re Bear Hug

    I don’t think there is a need for a “bear hug” rule. Players are already allowed to “pin” another player for one or two seconds against the boards.

    I think the better solution to this problem is to change the hitting from behind rule. Make it less acceptable for a checker to hit another player when his back is turned. This would slow the pursuit of a checker. The rule as it stands now is so lenient that a checker can almost totally disregard the body position of his target. If the rule was tightened up and allowed for minor penalties to be called, then a forechecker probably has to use a little more caution and a little less reckless abandon in his pursuit. The only time I could accept a player hitting another in the back, is if the offensive player turns and presses himself against the boards to brace for the hit. If he’s rammed by someone who skated halfway down the ice at full speed to hit him, then the checker could be penalized for charging.

  3. Really interesting proposal about increasing the size of the blue line. Almost like you’re increasing the size of the ice without actually increasing the size of the ice. Of course, I think you’re right that the best solution is simply to actually increase the size of the ice, but the best chance for that was five or so years ago when the arenas were being rebuilt/refurbished. It’s also hard to argue for fewer seats in a gate driven league.

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