On this day of hockey mourning in Vancouver after our leading hockey nemesis, Chicago, beat our second-in-command hockey nemesis, Boston, for the Stanley Cup, I’d like to distract our sorrow with imaginings of how to improve the game, itself.
Consider this: the NHL’s most well-fueled offence this season, the Pittsburgh Sidney Crosbys, averaged 3.44 goals per game. They were eliminated from this year’s playoffs by the aforehated Boston Bruins after scoring a shockingly low 2 goals in four games. The old motto “offence sells tickets; defence wins championships” was in excellent form as this sleep aid of a playoff series ended.
The NHL knows it has a problem and is planning a few minor changes to give the ticket-selling offence a better chance of winning a championship. To create more room for the players in the offensive zone, the NHL will reduce the size of the irrelevant back side of each goal, and to create more openings between the goalies and said net, the NHL will attempt to reduce the size of the goaltending equipment (which overprotects the goalies into looking like giant marshmallow men). Sounds good to me, but when the problem is as oppressive as the NHL’s most exciting team only managing two goals in four games against the Boston Bruisers, these solutions are akin to throwing a mousetrap at an attacking shark. It’s time to go radical.
Here, then, are some ideas (that will never happen) that could save the NHL from its own defence.
In its elimination game, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (who should have won this year’s league MVP) made a magnificent pass to teammate Evgeni Malkin (last year’s MVP); the latter received the set up, and instead of smacking it immediately at the net, he maneuvered brilliantly around the supersize (6’9”) defenceman Zdeno Chara, but, upon realizing that he was beaten, Chara slid feet first in front of the play and, by the skin of his skate, managed to block the puck from arriving at the open net that Crosby and Malkin had provoked.
In the next playoff round, Boston utility forward, Gregory Campbell similarly dove in front of a puck, which in turn broke his ankle on impact. This happens often as players are expected to “sacrifice their bodies” for the sake of restricting goals.
So here’s an idea: maybe we should get rid of such dangerous and excitement-dampening dive-based shot blocking.
It is a means of stopping goals that would not be missed: best case scenario, it stops a brilliant play; worst case scenario, it breaks the player who dove in the way (as in the time superstar Steve Yzerman blocked a shot face first).
I understand that sometimes it can be exciting when a player chasing a shooting player dives from behind and sweeps the puck away. This could be allowed because it would be the defender’s stick that would be doing the work. However, stopping an offensive play by using oneself as a 7-foot horizontal barrier should not be allowed. Thus, any shot blocked by the body of a fallen player would be a penalty. So new rule:
(1) ANY PLAYER WHO BLOCKS A SHOT WITH HIS BODY (WHILE THE BODY IS ON THE ICE BY HIS OWN VOLITION) WILL BE PENALIZED.
Meanwhile, when an offensive player finds an empty path to an opposition goalie but is yanked down from behind by his enemy, he is given a penalty shot whereby he gets a free attempt on the goalie with no defender. Strangely, though, in the original play, if the offensive player had been unimpeded and his first shot rebounded back to him off the goalie, he would have been allowed a second shot at the puck, whereas on a penalty shot, he’s only allowed his first attempt. Therefore, the penalty shot is a lesser breakaway than the one that was illegally taken away! So new rule:
(2) REBOUND ATTEMPTS ARE ALLOWED ON PENALTY SHOTS.
Minor penalties in an NHL game put the infracting team down a player for two minutes. Thus, if one has one-goal lead with only a few seconds to go, and breaking a rule will allow a team to save a goal, they’ll surely do it because they’ll only be penalized for the few remaining seconds of the game. So, new rule:
(3) ALL PENALTIES IN THE LAST MINUTE WILL BE AN AUTOMATIC PENALTY SHOT
During an NHL game, if a defending team panics because they’re in trouble and shoot the puck all the way down to the opposite end, “icing” is called, and the puck is brought back to where it was and the fatigued defenders have to stay on the ice, while the offensive team can swap in fresh legs. Good rule. Strangely, though, when a team has been penalized for breaking a rule, and so are short one player, they are allowed to ice the puck without the above rejoinder. Why? New rule:
(4) ICING IS STILL ICING EVEN WHEN A TEAM HAS BEEN PENALIZED.
Presently, coaches are the biggest cause of the defence-first strategy in the game. Coaches would rather win a game 1-0 than 7-6 because it allows them to feel more in control. Thus, we need to start rewarding teams who win with offence. New rule:
(5) WHENEVER TWO TEAMS ARE TIED IN THE STANDINGS, THE FIRST TIE-BREAKER WILL ALWAYS BE THE TEAM WITH MOST GOALS.
Currently, regular season NHL games are rewarded in the following way:
Win in regulation time: 2 points
Loss in regulation time: 0 points
Win in overtime: 2 points
Loss in overtime: 1 point
This means that, if a game is tied near the end of regulation time, it is in the best interest of both teams not to take risks—that way, they can each collect their safety overtime point. To avoid this disincentive to charging for a last minute goal, new rule:
(6) POINTS WILL BE AWARDED IN THE FOLLOWING WAY:
WIN IN REGULATION TIME: 3 points
LOSS IN REGUlATION TIME: 0 points
WIN IN OVERTIME: 2 points
LOSS IN OVERTIME: 1 point
Presently, players such as the Boston Bruins’ affectionately identified “super-pest” Brad Marchand swings his stick around during games in such a way that it looks like he’s just being a little careless, when in fact he knows that he’s creating space for himself by being dangerous with his stick: “Oops, did I hit you in the face?” He sneaks in these sharp maneuvers in ways that are difficult for the referees to detect in the speed of the game. So, new rule:
(7) AFTER EACH GAME, REPLAYS WILL BE USED TO ASSESS ONE-GAME SUSPENSIONS FOR ANY DANGEROUS STICK BEHAVIOUR.
I’m saving my most radical for last. Currently in the NHL, no player can enter the offensive zone ahead of the puck. This means that exciting plays are often stopped in their development because a foot was in the wrong place. Enough! Lacrosse has no such offensive restrictions, and it has much higher rates of scoring. New rule:
(8) GET RID OF OFFSIDE!
Finally, I’d like to defend a couple rules already in place:
Presently, if a defender shoots the puck into the stands, he is penalized. Don Cherry and other soft-hearted media members have shouted down this rule because they say that the player didn’t mean to shoot the puck out of play. Well, as I argued in my post, LETTING THEM PLAY CUTS BOTH WAYS, who cares? It takes skill to get the puck out of the defensive zone without also knocking it into the stands; so, even if the players didn’t mean to do it, they lacked the skill to avoid it. Let’s reward skill, and not the players who luck out by accidentally knocking the puck out of play.
Moreover, I call rotten cherries on this one: NHLers love the motto “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” so of course, if there is no disincentive to purposely shoot the puck out of play (but merely an unwritten rule that one shouldn’t), then players will simply pretend to do it accidentally. So keep rule:
(9) IF A PUCK IS KNOCKED OUT OF PLAY IN THE DEFENSIVE ZONE, THE PLAYER DELAYING THE GAME IS PENALIZED.
During penalty shots, some players have taken to “spin-o-ramas” in which they lead the goaltender one way, and then circle with the puck to the opposite side of the (hopefully empty) net. Most fans love it. But there are rumours that the NHL is planning on taking the play out of existence because technically the puck has to be moving forward at all times during a penalty shot. Rubbish! Goalies win about two thirds of penalty shot attempts, there’s no need to take away the most exciting play in their rival’s arsenal. Keep rule:
(10) PLAYERS CAN DO WHATEVER THEY WANT ON A PENALTY SHOT.
Thank you for reading this far regarding these ideas that will never be a considered. I thought it was worth a shot (even though I knew it would be blocked).