August 18, 2011
TORONTO — Ask around at the Research and Development Camp, and you get an idea for what the NHL GMs and coaches are really keeping an eye on this week. Anything involving penalties and power plays has gotten plenty of attention. In particular, calling icing on penalty killing teams.
Makes sense, right? Why should a team that broke the rules be given any benefit for having done so? There's always been this odd aspect of remorse to allowing icing on the PK — 'Look, we feel really bad about trapping one of your guys in a glass cage of emotion … here, shoot the puck down ice without recourse.'
There's no question that more faceoffs in the offensive zone in a 5-on-4 situation could lead to more offensive chances. But in debating the rule's merits, there are also a few drawbacks.
Icing Calls Stop Play
Allowing icing on the PK keeps power plays running at a pretty good clip, which makes for exciting hockey. Icing makes whistles blow. The NHL has tested a number of rule variations that could decrease the time between an icing call and the next faceoff — allowing only changes on the fly, no-touch icing. But under the current rules, icing on the power play would make for some long-ass power plays.
Won't Teams Just Continually Ice The Puck?
If there's one thing to know about NHL coaches, it's that they're adaptable creatures. Create rules that restrict something, and they'll find a way around them. Or have you not noticed variations of the trap in 2011?
One theory on penalty kill icing — coaches will simply instruct their killers to ice the puck with regularity.
It'll give them a breather. It'll break up the other team's momentum (and it's not like the shorthanded team needs to create any of its own, being that they're in a defensive mode). And as long as your best defensive center is a better face-off man than their best offensive center, there's a chance your team comes out unscathed.
Finally, Is Too Much Emphasis on Special Teams a Bad Thing?
The essential debate on many of the inventions tested this week: Should the NHL tweak its rules to juice power-play scoring?
The "2-minute major", the emphasis on possession during delayed calls, icing while shorthanded … all of it points to more goal-scoring while one team has the man advantage.
"Are we putting more emphasis on the games being won on special teams?" asked Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau. "Most of the games you want to see are 5-on-5. Being able to rotate four lines, being able to see which team is better."
As we wrote before, increasing power play scoring has its benefits. But calling icing on a shorthanded team has its drawbacks, too.