August 19, 2011
Perhaps the greatest misconception about the NHL Research and Development Camp, which just completed its second summer at the absurdly named MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence near Toronto, is that NHL VP Brendan Shanahan(notes) is an evil scientist.
Sure, the R&D symposium has become affectionately known as "Camp Shanny," and the new NHL discipline czar is its spokesman. But it's not as if Shanahan is scribbling down faceoff variations in some tattered notebook at 3 a.m., waking up Rob Blake(notes) with a text message that reads "WHAT ABOUT A JUMP PUCK LIKE HOOPZ?"
The rules tested at the camp are suggested from different corners of the NHL front office and its general managers. Some wanted to see different forms of the shootout; one guy in Toronto wanted to see if we could reduce boarding penalties with legalized obstruction, er, "bear hugs."
The reality is that Shanahan doesn't dig every rule tested, as the camp was quick to delete the ones from the first edition that sucked: 2-on-2 overtime and three face-off circles through the middle of the ice, making the rink look like the mutant prostitute from "Total Recall."
The point of the camp isn't to fast-track rule changes but to see what works, what doesn't, and to have that data available when trends in the NHL change; for example, the next time someone gets their body broken on an icing play, the NHL will have two years of data on variations. Shanahan'll be like, "New icing rules? Yeah, there's an app for that."
So what worked and what didn't? Coming up, our passing and failing grades for various rule changes, and a place in the comments for your own thoughts on what you'd like to see in the NHL one day.
And here … we … go.
Curved Glass Around Benches: One of the most dramatic player safety initiatives tested, if only because it changes configuration of the rink. There's no question that curved glass near the benches will save players from catastrophic Max Pacioretty(notes)-like injures near the turnbuckles. But questions linger about how the puck will react when it hits the glass — potentially putting players on the bench at risk for odd ricochets — and whether this unique curvature will even be considered in-play. Still, for player safety: PASS.
Hybrid Icing: Forget about no-touch icing, because it doesn't have traction. Hybrid icing would be the alternative to the current rule. It's the one where two players race after the puck and the linesman makes a judgment call about which one would win the race to the end boards (typically using the faceoff dot inside the zone as a guide). From a player safety perspective, it's golden. But it looks odd without there being a definitive "finish line" for the race … and asking an official to predict an outcome reads like a recipe for crap sandwiches. We'll hold out hope that players will simply not put each other in danger on icing plays. FAIL.
No Icing While Shorthanded
Like the power plays that last the full two minutes, this rule wasn't tested enough in the two-day camp to really see what the results could be on an NHL level. But as we covered on Thursday, there are legit concerns that shorthanded teams will simply take the icing calls throughout the power play, in order to earn rest and to break the momentum of the other team. It's something Pittsburgh Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma said he'd do in a game. And he's a smart dude. So with some tweaking — Disco Dan mentioned limiting the number of times the puck is iced before the shorthanded team is called for another penalty — this could work. But for now: FAIL.
Delayed Penalty Rule
Another rule that simply wasn't tested enough at the Camp but was endorsed by nearly everyone we spoke to. Essentially, coaches are fed up with differing standards regarding what earns a whistle on a delayed penalty. "Possession is a relative term," said Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau. "You shoot the puck and they blow it when it hits the goalie's pads sometimes, or it deflects off a player and they blow it." Requiring a team that's been penalized to skate the puck out or clear the zone remedies that. Great rule change that needs to happen. PASS.
No brainer. Another guide on the ice that gives the NHL's video goal reviewers some extra help in determining if the puck crossed the line. We can all get over the odd aesthetics of "two goal lines" the next time our team gets a B.S. call reversed thanks to replay. PASS.
(An aside: Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke asked why the verification line couldn't be black instead of yellow or green. And if we had told him that it's because the puck is black, he probably would have proposed making the ice black and the puck white. So we kept our yaps shut.)
New Camera and the Clear Pads
No brainer, part deux. An HD camera inside every net in the League that will actually help keep players safer by coming off the net during collisions, and a clear plastic plank at the top of the cage for better viewing from above. This could be one R&D innovation we see soon in the NHL. PASS.
After Offside, Face-Off Goes Back To Offending Team's End
Jeez, why not chop off their pinkie finger for each offside, too? A little overkill for what amounts to a timing gaffe. No thanks. FAIL.
Face-Off "Set" Puck
The NHL tested a few faceoff variations, and this was one of the more interesting ones. The linesman would place the puck on the dot. The players would come set. The ref would blow his whistle, pick up the puck and then drop it. It's a good rule as far as getting the players set and decreasing cheating; the problem was that the linesmen dropped the puck as a lower height than usual, which the centermen in the camp were complaining about. Interesting concept; moderate FAIL.
Penalty Line For Faceoffs
In case you're wondering what the hell this is, this is the hell it is:
If a player is deemed to have committed a face-off violation, he will be required to move back and keep his skates behind a "penalty line" (1' foot further back) which will cause a loss of leverage and therefore loss of strength for the ensuing face-off.
Phoenix Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett said the players on draws appreciated this rule, because it put one team at a disadvantage for attempting to cheat. Currently, the disadvantage is that one player is thrown out in favor of another player. This variation actually penalizes the current man in the circle. It worked. PASS.
The majority of hockey fans recognize now, if not when the rule was created, that restricting the abilities of a player on the ice was a mistake. Did it help the forecheck? Sure, but maybe not as much as having a goalie fumble the puck away did. Did it hinder transition offense for teams with puck-moving goalies? Yes. Did it lead to more injuries? Debatable, but without the goalie to play them there were certainly more runs to the end boards for loose pucks.
Get rid of the trapezoid, but understand this: The game has fundamentally changed since the lockout. The days of Martin Brodeur(notes) having 10 minutes in his own crease to look for an outlet pass are over because there's been a dramatic reduction in obstruction. But that doesn't obscure the fact that a player is being restricted from performing fundamental hockey plays, which is why we loathed it to begin with. See-ya, Trappy. PASS.
One of the winners of the R&D Camp. Gave a little extra room to skate behind the net, and looked exactly like the current nets in use. There was no discernible reason not to approve this, like, yesterday — especially with new rules about head shots that are going to temper Raffi Torres(notes)-like freight-training. PASS.
The Brian Burke Bear Hug
For the reasons stated here, it's a rule that works for player safety but really opens up a Pandora's Box about holding and obstruction. Even if it would lead to a career renaissance for Zack Stortini(notes). FAIL.
Longer Change in Overtime
When tested, this worked: The "second period rules" with players being farther away from their benches opened up the 4-on-4 a bit. It's the second year in a row they've done it, and Shanahan sounded optimistic about its future. PASS.
We'd like to give this an "incomplete" because its hard to gauge it without 65 minutes of team hockey beforehand and a raucous arena crowd watching it. Instead, we'll just FAIL it because the shootout stinks.
Overtime (Four minutes of 4-on-4; three minutes of 3-on-3)
The first time they tested 3-on-3 overtime at the 2011 R&D Camp, it was fugly. The second attempt was much better: end-to-end action, long lead passes. It's got potential, especially if you used NHL talent in it. PASS, but with one request for next R&D Camp: Try it without anyone being whistled for offside. Who hasn't turned off that option on EA Sports' hockey titles?