October 24, 2008
There is perhaps no better measurement of the NHL's complete slavery to ticket revenue than its stubborn refusal to expand the playing surface of its rinks.
The idea that had support from players, executive and media less than five years ago. The rules changes coming out of the lockout, that were intended to juice scoring, have tabled the notion of increasing the ice surface.
Now, NHL power brokers are much more content to tweak or revise every single facet of defensive play in the game rather than remove a few rows in the lower bowl. And that leads us down the road to silly ideas like widening the nets rather than substantial changes that could positively affect the flow of the game -- like widening the ice.
Yesterday in Chicago, there were a few rules changes debated by the general managers. One was that major change to delayed penalty calls in which the penalized team needs to gain control of the puck and clear the zone. The other two speak directly to defensive player advantages in their own zone: Legal hand-passes and shot-blocking.
ESPN's Pierre LeBrun has the summary of both, beginning with hand-passes:
Right now, players are allowed hand passes in the defensive zone, but nowhere else. The idea being discussed is to not allow it anymore in the defensive zone, just like the rest of the ice. Personally, I highly doubt this will happen. Blowing the whistle every time there's a hand pass in the defensive zone would simply create more stoppages in play. Not what we're looking for in the game right now.
The shot-blocking rule revision came from someone who knows a thing or two about defense, Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey. From ESPN:
He proposes that players in the defensive zone have to have at least one skate on the ice when blocking shots. So, instead of having players collapse all over the ice an sliding all over the place, Gainey believes this would allow for more pucks to get through from the point and, hence, create more scoring chances. Great idea by Gainey, although it really puts the onus on the referees.
Which is never a good thing.
These rules change ideas have their benefits, but more so their drawbacks.
With hand-passes, it's difficult not to agree with the rule change in principle: Hand passes are illegal everywhere else except by the defensive team in the defensive zone, which seems a little silly.
LeBrun's argument that this rule "would simply create more stoppages in play" is rather moot when you consider that a two-minute minor would be a deterrent; hence, the number of defensive-zone hand passes would dramatically decrease.
But this comes down to an issue of fairness: If a defensive player loses his stick, should he be allowed to play the puck with his hand? Rather than having to morph into Freddie Adu on skates to try and kick the puck out of the zone?
The shot-blocking rule is an interesting one, because as you can see from the image at the top, it's possible to block a shot with a skate on the ice.
But like LeBrun said, it's going to put yet another arbitrary call into the hands of officials, which is never a good thing. Can't wait for the first replay challenge regarding a dude's skate on the ice during a blocked shot ...
Think about it. The advances in equipment have changed the game. It used to hurt to block shots - now, it doesn't hurt nearly as often as it used to.
Clearly, the safest and most effective way to block a shot is to lay down in front of it. Even stars like Evgeni Malkin and Martin St. Louis, when the chips are down in the playoffs, have been seen diving in front of shots.
So what if, by forcing a player to kneel down, or stay on his feet to block a shot, players risked greater injury? Would they block fewer shots? Would more pucks get through to the goalie?
"How do you encourage more shots? Clearly our system is discouraging offence," said Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough. "At the end of the day it is always easier to improve your team defensively, than it is offensively. It's based on encouraging defence. What we're trying to think of are ways to not discourage offence."
That's right: Jacques Lemaire's boss wants to encourage offense ...
Shot-blocking is, to us, an exciting part of the game and has its inherent risks; both physically and by putting a defensive player out of position on, say, a power play. This rule seems to add a layer of complication to what is supposed to be a rather simple game.
One more thing, from Sportsnet:
Or how about this crazy idea that was raised Thursday? What if teams switched benches every period, so as always to have the bench that is further from its own goal?
Why is that so crazy?