August 17, 2010
"You have all these rules and you think they'll save you." - The Joker, "The Dark Knight."
The 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp is scheduled to begin Wednesday at the Toronto Maple Leafs' practice facility in Etobicoke, Ont.; and true to Brian Burke's sense of development, at least two have been plucked from the NCAA and juniors as free agents.
(The camp is "Fueled By G Series" by Gatorade, because the NHL will sell the naming rights to any and all events it can. It's actually sort of miraculous that we don't have an NHL Board of Governors Meeting Powered by BlackBerry yet. Although that would be ironic, on second thought ...)
The rules proposals range from the practical to the fanciful, and many of them are worthy of debate. Here's a look at six rules experiments at the NHL RDO Camp that have us intrigued:
1. The Choose-Your-Own-Face-Off Rule
The camp is looking at a couple of faceoff rules, including one that would have a player who jumps the gun move back further away from the dot for the infraction.
But the rule that has us excited? Having the opposing center choose his face-off opponent after a violation. We're assuming this means any player on the ice other than a goalie, although it could end up being limited to fowards.
Now, the idea that Mike Richards(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers could choose to have a battleship like defenseman Colin White(notes) of the New Jersey Devils as his draw opponent might seem a little silly. But shouldn't the offended party gain some level of advantage if his opponent is in violation of the rules; and have it be something more severe than seeing Patrice Bergeron(notes) get swapped out for Marc Savard(notes)?
2. The New Overtime Rules
Along with a 4-on-4 overtime with "long line changes," the R&D camp will test a rather revolutionary new overtime format that seeks to charm proponents and opponents of the increasingly controversial shootout in the regular season.
The plan: Three minutes of 4-on-4 hockey; then three minutes of 3-on-3; and then three minutes of 2-on-2, followed by shootout with five players per team.
The notion of 2-on-2 hockey determining a victor is only slightly less absurd than a shootout ... but it is less absurd. We'll see passes. We'll see defense. We won't see an individual vs. a goaltender vs. blind luck. Or at least we won't unless it's still scoreless after the 2-on-2.
One question, though: If you wanted to capture the entertainment factor the shootout (allegedly) has, why not go 2-on-1?
3. The Hybrid Icing Rule
This is considered the moderate solution to the political icing debate; an allegedly happy medium between those who want no-touch icing and those who prefer to maintain those intense, and sometimes injurious, races to the puck at the end-boards.
The USHL's "Hybrid Icing" was adopted by the USHL junior league in 2007. It preserves the established criteria for icing -- the puck shot from the defensive side of the red line, crossing over the goal line without a defensive player having had a realistic chance to play it -- while adding yet another subjective ruling to the on-ice officials' responsibilities.
Here's how the USHL rule book (.pdf) for 2009-11 describes this portion of the rule:
"Icing the Puck" is completed the instant the puck crosses the goal line, unless an attacking player, who is onside at the blue line and with no opponent between him and the goal line and who is clearly in a position to be the first player to touch the puck, icing shall not be called. This decision by the Official shall be made no later than the first player reaching the end zone face-off dots. If the puck enters the goal in this situation "icing" shall not be called and a goal shall be awarded.
(For the record: A "tie" in that race goes to the defender.)
The suicide runs to the end boards at every level of hockey, for icing calls and on the forecheck, have resulted in sometimes-catastrophic injuries. While we'd like to see this rule in action before passing judgment, it does sound promising as a way to curb those unnecessary risks.
Oh, and let's not forget the greatest benefit to Hybrid Icing: Instant sponsorship from progressive automobile manufacturers. Cha-ching!
4. Second Referee Located Off the Playing Surface
So rather than increasing the size of the playing surface to make it less crowded, the notion here is to take one of the officials and put him ... where, exactly? On Pierre McGuire's shoulders?
On the one hand, having an off-ice official deputized to make penalty calls would be a hoot, considering that's exactly what we all do when we're sitting in the arena watching these guys play. He'd never be "out of position," so to speak; yet at the same time, his sight lines and interaction with the players would be severely limited.
Also, depending on his location, he could be vulnerable to attacks from The Green Men of Vancouver.
5. The No-Line-Change on an Offside Rule
Pretty self-explanatory: Like the current icing rule in the NHL, a team that commits an offside penalty can't make a line change.
What we'd like to see with this rule: An explanation.
Penalizing teams for intentionally icing the puck makes sense, because in essence you're penalizing a delay of game. But off-sides is rarely used as a tactic -- it's a screw-up. Losing the offensive chance seems like punishment enough. And it's also a much, much more subjective and quicker call than icing; one with a large enough margin for error that there shouldn't be any additional penalty.
6. No Icing the Puck while Shorthanded
This rule was proposed for the NCAA next season, but the backlash was so severe that it was pulled from the table. How severe? Every coaches group voted against it.
So why try it in the NHL camp? Because American audiences allegedly have a Pavlovian response to a red light flashing behind the goal net; and the more that happens, the more the NHL feels it will compel them to watch its product.
This is the reason shorthanded icing will be tested, and this is the motivation behind, oh, 97 percent of all NHL rules changes in the last 20 years.