New Rule: No More Bad Rules! Shark Circle Examines Potential Rule Changes Proposed At The R&D Camp

The past two seasons, Brendan Shananan has hosted a Research and Development camp for the NHL, where ideas for changing the game are tested with the scientific precision you’d expect from any retired hockey player. This year’s ideas range anywhere from better goal-cam technology to rule changes that would directly affect how the game is played.

In theory, the pure, uncorrupted idea of a research camp that is always looking to improve the game is a great one. But what is good, in theory, can easily be ruined when bad ideas get involved, and that is precisely what’s happened with the R&D camp. Shanahan, as the camp’s leader two years running, has to bear some responsibility for this.

However, NHL fans need to worry more about stopping these proposed rule changes, and less about who’s to blame. Why the urgency? Unlike in the past where bad ideas were met with derision, GMs are now actually getting behind these ideas with a “Why not?”sort of attitude, as if altering the game is no big deal. In fact, It is known that the possibility of implementing these new rules for next season has been discussed at the camp.

To understand why this is bad, we must first understand the various rule change ideas being tested at the camp, and the innate problems they present that the NHL GMs are overlooking.

The first two rule changes I’ll touch on, The two-minute major rule, and the No icing on the penalty kill rule, both would serve a similar purpose per their advocates: to “increase offense.” But I believe both come with similar problems. First, for those unfamiliar with these rules, here are their basic functions.

The two-minute major rule would require every minor penalty be served in full, so penalties would not expire after a goal. The attacking team would be able to score an unlimited number of goals on each power-play. A single hooking penalty could result in three goals against, for instance.

The no icing on the penalty kill rule is self-explanatory. If it were to pass, teams would no longer be able to ice the puck on the penalty kill without it being called icing, which would result in a defensive zone faceoff and not being able to change tired penalty killers.

In essence, the no-icing rule would make it easier to score on the power-play, and the two-minute major rule would let you keep scoring on the power-play. The main problem with these rules—and this is what those advocating them do not seem to understand, is that they would not “increase offense,” they would just increase power-play offense. There is a big difference. A blanket increase of scoring chances in the game by natural means is something I could get behind. But just increasing offense on the power-play, while not also increasing offense at even-strength, imbalances the game.

What do I mean by that? Consider this. Approximately forty-five minutes of every game is played at even-strength. How do these two rules create more space for the players, more scoring chances, or change anything for the better during that very large majority of the game? They don’t. All that these rules would do is artificially weight the power-play. So for forty-five minutes of every game, there would be nothing changed, no more offense, no more scoring chances, no more speed or excitement. But there would be way more power-play goals during the (approximately) fifteen minutes, so that the league can say goalscoring is up and bring in more NBA fans. This is called pandering to those who don’t even like the sport at the expense of real hockey fans, and the game itself. That’s unacceptable.

So that’s one problem. You would essentially be giving a small minority of the game more importance, and the large majority of the game less importance. And if you go too far in that direction, you would make it so fifteen minutes of a game would be more important than forty-five. That’s what I mean by making the game imbalanced. And maybe the biggest problem of all, you would be putting the game more in the referees’ hands, and less in the players’. Think about it. Just think of how many games are already ruined because a referee makes a bad call when the game’s close, and a deciding goal is scored on the ensuing power-play. Well, if you give even more power to the power-play (pun intended), that will just happen even more. So if you think you hate soft hooking calls and cheap embellishment now, just wait; you’ll be banging your head against the wall every game. That’s just another reason these rules would be a disaster.

Now, Brendan Shanahan and company would try to convince you otherwise, but their argument is suspect. They often say, “If a team takes a penalty, letting them ice the puck is just giving them an advantage. If they break the rules, why should they get any advantages or favors?” This is like saying, “A five year old stole a soda from a drug store, that’s a crime, so why should we let him keep both his ears? That’s a favor. He broke a rule. Cut one of them off.” I chose that far-fetched example because it illustrates how they have no understanding of degree. They seem to think every infraction deserves maximum punishment. They forget to ask the most important question, does the punishment fit the crime? For instance, while enforcing icing on the penalty kill would certainly be a way to penalize the shorthanded team even more for their penalty, the problem is that Shanahan never asked the question, “Does (a hooking call) deserve to be punished even more than it already is?”

Ultimately, forgetting to consider important questions like this is a big deal if you’re responsible for altering the game. It can lead you to proposing really poor ideas, which is what’s happened. I worry for the well-being of our game when ideas like these come from the people in charge of it. As things are, as a hockey fan I already have a hard enough time explaining why a little hook in the offensive zone gets punished with two minutes of power-play time. It’s not like the defending team was going to score from their defensive zone if they hadn’t been hooked, but now they get rewarded with a two-minute power-play and a great chance to score. In other words, the punishment already doesn’t fit the crime in many respects when it comes to the NHL and power-plays. They are perhaps too powerful already. Making them even more so would be absurd, but that’s what they are considering at the R&D camp. And that’s why I’m worried. These power-play-specific rule changes need to be stopped. We can do better.

The next change I have issue with is the shallow nets, which is where they use nets that aren’t as deep in back. Advocates of this rule say it will create more space on the ice, and thus more creativity, skill, and offense. Well wait a minute there! If the NHL is finally admitting that more space means more offense and skill, why aren’t we making the whole ice surface bigger? That’s the change that really needs to happen. The entire reason the R&D camp continues to look at artificial means of increasing offense is because they refuse to look at the best natural way, which is making the ice bigger. This needs to change. Until it does, we’ll just be left to discuss “band-aids” like the shallower nets.

What is my problem with the shallower nets? Again, there is a balance issue, this time not between power-play and even-strength, but between one part of the ice and another. I am all for more space, but–and this might ring a bell, the problem with the shallow nets is they don’t create more (blanket) space, they create more behind-the-net
space
. They create more space in one area, but not any other, actually changing the dimensions of the playing surface. This creates incentive for teams to play more behind the net, and less “any other” area. This is the definition of a balance issue because you are changing how the game is played. Of course the point of every rule change is to do just this; the problem here is that it’s not necessarily a change we want. Hockey fans want more speed through the neutral zone, more creativity, and more excitement. But by creating more space behind the net, not in the neutral zone, you are encouraging teams to play more behind the net, not in front of it. You are giving teams more space, incentive, and ability to play that slow, grinding, dump-and-chase game behind the net. And because more space behind the net means less relative space everywhere in front of the net, you are actually discouraging teams from playing that fast skill-game through the neutral zone that hockey fans want to see. That’s the issue. The shallow nets would subtly change the balance of the game towards a slow, behind the net style that discourages speed and creativity.

There you have it, three of the rule-change ideas I object to. All present balancing issues, and overemphasize the importance of play either during a minority of the game, or on a minority section of the playing surface. If the NHL truly wants more scoring chances, skill, and a higher quality of play in general, they must increase the playing surface to a happy medium between the current size, and the international size many feel is too big. The NHL neutral zone, especially, is too narrow and crowded. This makes it far too easy for teams to employ a neutral zone trap, which slows down the game tremendously, and limits skill and excitement. I worry that instead of truly addressing these root problems, the R&D camp will continue to look for artificial means to cover them up, such as increasing power-play potency to absurd levels. If band-aids like that are ever passed, they will do nothing but harm the sport we love, so fans should look to prevent that from happening. And ultimately, the best thing any fan can do to improve our game is pressure the NHL to increase the playing surface size to a happy medium.

Thanks for reading.

Written By Shark Circle

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