The NHL never stops tinkering.
In the league's never-ending quest to increase scoring, the NHL is testing a slew of changes at a camp this week. Some of the things being worked out will never get past this stage, while others have a real chance of being incorporated into the league.
Personally, I think that the game is fine the way it is. I've been watching hockey for two decades now, and I don't spend every game saying to myself, "Gee, I wish this were different." Other sports don't tinker as much as the NHL does. For some reason, the Powers That Be think the NHL isn't as popular as the NFL is because of a lack of scoring. In the last decade every change — the shootout rule, the 4-on-4 OT, the trapezoid, the elimination of the two-line pass, etc. — has been made with the hope that scoring increases and millions of Americans become obsessed with the game.
Still, looking at the history of the league it's obvious some changes are coming. It's impossible for the NHL to resist making changes, so we resist. Instead of spending 600 words telling you what the league shouldn't do, here are five rule changes that should be made if the league insists on making changes. (Got that?)
1. Hybrid icing
Right now the only way icing is called is if a defender touches the puck. The race to beat out icing by the offense is often exciting, but can be dangerous and has caused injuries. Many have said the league needs the international No-Touch icing rule, where all the puck has to do is cross the goal line and the whistle is blown to stop the play. Right now at the R & D camp, the league is testing out a hybrid of the two systems. Here's how it works:
The proposed change gives linesmen the ability to make a ruling on whether a play will be called icing based on which player reaches the faceoff dot first -- rather than who is first to touch the puck.
Sounds simple enough. You still get the chase, and it still rewards hard-working guys who hustle. But the end result is much safer. If the defense is clearly going to beat out the offense, blow the play dead. No need to have an offensive player barreling down into a vulnerable player.
2. Two minute majors
You want to increase scoring? Make the players server the full time for a penalty. Giving potent offensive teams a full two minutes to work on the power play, no matter how many times they light the lamp, is bound to create some offense. A goal is scored in 30 seconds? So what, the defense still has 1:30 left to kill.
3. Goalie penalties served by goalies
How fair is it that when a goalie commits a penalty, nothing happens to him? If the netminder hacks a dude's legs, he gets two for slashing, but gets to stay on the ice. Bogus.
He who does the crime, should serve the time. Teams carry a backup; make him play. It's ridiculous that a goaltender can be penalized, but someone else has to serve his time — and that that someone else is usually an offensive player who doesn't kill penalties.
If a goalie is penalized, send him and the random player to the box. Once the time is up, the player can come out of the box and the goalie can leave at the next stoppage of play. If nothing else it would be fun to see a goalie, in full gear, sit in the sin bin.
4. Switch to the 3-point system
The current system is broken. A dominant 3-0 win in regulation is worth two points. A shootout win is worth two points. How is that fair?
The 3-point system gives three points for a regulation win, two points for an OT/shootout win, and one for OT/shootout loss. Or if you want to get real bold, only one point for a shootout win and zero points for a loss no matter when it happens. I could go either way, as long as regulation wins are valued the most.
5. 10 minute overtime
The four-on-four OT is great. It's still hockey, but it's more free-wheeling. Extend the time from five minutes to 10, and you increase the chances.
Coaches would have to dip into the depth a little bit, causing more chances for mismatches — imagine Davis Payne sending out a fourth liner and the opposing coach going to his first line. It would be exciting and, hopefully, result in fewer shootouts. The OT gimmick is not hockey and really shouldn't be used to determine a winner, but most fans seem to love it and it looks like it's here to stay. The second-best option is to make OT 10 minutes so games have fewer chances to go to the breakaway drill.
Like I said, I'm not in favor of the constant tinkering. I love the game the way it is, and would rather the league fix things like officiating and intent to blow, instead of new lines on the ice and new rules. Fix the rules already in place, first. However, if the league is going to be proactive, these five changes won't alter the game too much, and should improve things for the fans.