Fixing NHL overtime is a big concern, the shootout gives too much weight to individual. Not only has the shootout made the penalty shot, once the most glamorous play pretty boring, it breaks down the team concept. On top of that it gets marginal teams who have one or two good shooters and not much else into the playoffs where they become easy meat for deeper teams.

My proposal is pretty distinct, it gives a high chance at resolution, and makes it a team effort.

Teams would play ten minutes of sudden death overtime. If there is no game winning goal scored the would go to two stages of rushes.

Each team would attack and defend three three on two rushes. Shooting teams would start behind their own blue line, defending teams would start no further forward than they can still reach their own blueline with their stick.

The least penalized team (or in cases of equal penalties the home team.) would have the option of choosing:

    alternating rushes
    consecutive rushes
    defense or offense first

If there was no deciding goal teams would proceed to one on one rushes until a deciding goal was made.

Attackers would get one shot per rush, any contact with the goalie would result in a no goal ruling.

Attackers and rushers could be any mix of forwards and defensemen. Players with penalties that carried over past the end of overtime would be ineligible to compete in rushes.

With the start of each and every NHL season, several races start. The flashiest of the races is for the Rocket Richard, as the gaudiest goal scoring numbers drive sales and highlight reels. The races for the Hart and Ross trophies might as well be the very same as it seems that they are awarded to the same person on a highly regular basis. On the flipside, the race for the more ignoble awards begin about the same time and are often holdovers from previous years.

The question of which major name, or which rising star will have a substandard start is always among the most discussed. Jarome Iginla going a whole three games without lighting the lamps probably had half the Calgary media contingents stories half written for a week. When he ‘finally’ did score, it probably got each two more columns. Without looking It’s a safe bet that the keyboard strokes being devoted to the Greater Glory of the Toronto Maple Leafs is probably enough to ensure that two more wins will see enough verbiage written to have at least a one to one ratio to every book in the Library of Congress.

Of all the races both good and bad in the NHL, the one that will probably have its answer first is who will not be getting a nomination for the Jack Ross. In fact, the first panic response coach firing of the NHL season is usually a sign that the games have started to matter, and that organizations expect players to have settled into the quality that can be expected from the current coaching staff and team matrix. The first two weeks or so of the NHL season are pretty well acknowledged as being an extension of training camp. With the number of free agents brought into camp to supplement draft picks, off season acquisitions, and veterans many of the lines that take the ice in the first game or two of the season may not have even spent a full hour on the ice as a unit.

Even though there are injuries galore, and enough turnover to make settling in an extended process, I suspect the first man to go is currently behind the New Jersey Devils bench. John MacLean has the unenviable task of integrating free agent superstar Ilya Kovalchuk into the roster on a long term basis, and turning a team know for defense first, second, third and fourth into a more balanced tool. Essentially he’s been given the job of reshaping his buckler into at least a cudgel while juggling injuries, ego’s and healthy competition in a cap situation so tight you could bounce a quarter off it. With all the turnover, injuries, and the change in philosophy it’s possible that MacLean has been given all the ingredients he needs to fail. Add to those problems the fact that only the Grey Red Wings dress an older roster and it’s possible that even barring the other stumbling blocks it’s just not possible to teach that many old Devils new tricks.

The NHL has been trying since the lockout to get scoring totals closer to the so called golden age of Gretzky and his contemporaries. Some of the measures that have been enacted to little or no effect include shrinking the neutral zone, moving the initial faceoff to the defensive zone of the penalized team, and of course the oh-so-beloved shootout.  This year they’ve reduced the size of goalie equipment.  I’m not actually in favor of that one overall, not because I don’t acknowledge the contribution of padding spread to the reduction in goals, but simply because of the number of guys who can and do fire the puck at very high velocity. Chara won the last fastest shot competition, but three men broke 100 miles per hour. Given how few quality goal tenders there ever are, can we really afford the broken bones that too small equipment would cause?

One of the things that the NHL can not afford to do is to further alienate traditional hockey fans. The crack down on fighting has done this, the shootout has done it more, and the “wimpification”* of hockey as a whole has created unneeded, unhealthy space between the National Hockey League, and people who grew up watching and worshiping “The Broad Street Bullies”, and “The Big Bad Bruins” and individual men who’s ruggedness and skill were awesome to behold like the late and much missed Bob Probert, the legendary Gordie Howe, Eric Lindros and many, many others. Another hit to perhaps the most traditional of North American sports fans might be fatal to the NHL.

What any new rules and alterations for creating goals must do is, allow players, coaches and officials to only slightly alter the way things are done. They should be changes that produce goals that will be a result of natural game play. They must be very easily implemented. They must be done in a way that continues to emphasize team over individual. These new changes must not, require much higher risk to players, require complex decision making by officials as to what is and isn’t allowable on the ice, and they must not greatly disrupt the flow of game play.

A few possibilities:

  • Restore the goal crease to it’s former size, giving the goalie more room to roam in their own space, and by doing so increase the opportunity for them to be out of position.
  • Eliminate the trapezoid. I’ve never liked this and always thought it was silly, the more opportunities the slowest, clumsiest skater has to handle the puck, the more opportunities can be created for mistakes.
  • Allow the team going on a power-play the choice of taking the power-play in the traditional form or adding an extra skater and taking half the penalty time.
  • Make the penalized team have to clear the puck from beyond their own blueline to avoid an icing call.
  • Put players that draw matching penalties immediately into the penalty box without stopping the play.
  • Return to the system where even on minor penalties they run their full time and are not terminated by the team on the power-play scoring.
  • Penalize diving/unsportsman like with a five minute major even when a hooking or other call is made with it.
  • Penalize diving/unsportsman like more.
  • Eliminate phantom hooking calls, phantom tripping calls, and other no effect contact penalties to keep the flow of the game going.
  • Fine teams who give guys like Peter Schaefer and Wayne Primeau contracts while guys like Bill Guerin remain unsigned.
  • Allow players who are completely outside the crease to kick a puck in if they do not have a stick for a goal.
  • Remove players like Steve Ott and Matt Cooke from the NHL for their repeated attempts to be injure better players.

Got an idea? Comment below.

* Thanks Mike Milbury

Every year, on every team in any sport on the planet someone is blamed for each failure. The failure doesn’t have to be real, doesn’t have to be their fault, they just end up being blamed. Before last season, and well into early spring Bob Gainey’s named was linked to more jokes than perhaps any other GM in the NHL. With the Smurfs he’d assembled for his forwards, and the money spent on their salaries even his firmest adherents had to wonder what’s he thinking? I didn’t even expect them to make the playoffs, and then they rattled off back to back series wins against the defenseless although offensively gifted Capitals and Penguins.  With his successors offloading of Halak to clear up the goalie controversy, it’s only a matter of time before we find out if Gauthier is similarly ridiculed or at least temporarily granted the status of hockey genius.

In Chicago, Dale Tallon was questioned to the ends of the earth for his unique and singular salary cap arrangements. The BlackHawks won the Cup and most was forgiven. Just days after the bright spot in flyover country celebrated the end of its Stanley Cup drought, the fire sale began.  Over the next several weeks, roughly eighty goals and six thousand* minutes of time on ice would disappear over the trade horizon. If the BlackHawks who finished just ten points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings don’t have a strong showing, who will be fingered? Will Tallon get the blame? Will someone who’s looking at the championship season through the golden glow of never-was claim Turco is a lesser goalie Niemi? Or perhaps the Bowman family mystique will gather a little tarnish and the current GM will be blamed for not getting a better exchange for the departed Versteeg, Sopel, Byfugelien and others?

In Boston, not without a great deal of reason, Denis Wideman and Michael Ryder were the undisputed owners of the dog house. Wideman who’s season is best summed up in the video of him picking his nose, and not just his collision with slighter partner Matt Hunwick but the subsequent fall to the ice was actively booed at home. Ryder was far less spectacular in his gross failures seeming to have just as much positive impact on a given game from the bench as from the ice. Then too there is the fact he is the only person who saw the vicious and career threatening hit on Marc Savard from beginning to end, and did nothing about it. This season with with Wideman banished to hockey (and sports in general) exile in south Florida, Ryder needs to do everything he can to stave off the ire of the fans, and earn his next contract. If he puts in a concerted effort he might just avoid being the most irksome member of the organization. Claude Julien is probably the man next most likely to find himself on the outs with fans. His loyalty to players is both a gift and a curse, he undeniably wanted Ryder and Wideman to succeed last season and gave them every opportunity to do so. Yet, the refusal to sit either of them for even a period, much less a game or two in the press box provided no incentive for an admittedly thin AHL prospect group to do better, and an early benching of two long time ‘coaches guys’ might have kept the Bruins from having to dump Derek Morris.  Punishments that that are aimed at the principle and pour encourager les autres are a long, long tradition because they work.

It will be will be interesting to see who emerges as their teams scapegoat this year. Will the blame be at ice level as is likely in some cases? Will General Managers like George McFee be called on the carpet for failing to improve their teams defense, if (when) they are ripped apart in the playoffs for this very failing again? Will Rick Nash, RJ Umberger and Steve Mason get all the blame in Columbus for a team with more than seven million in cap space failing to make any noise in the playoffs? How about the situation in Nashville? They have two of the best defensemen in the NHL in Weber and Suter, and not a great deal else. Will the coach be cast from the chariot at the end of the season (or sooner) if they fail to thrive? And too, one must wonder who is to blame for the status of the Islanders new arena.

*Six thousand is roughly a quarter of the 24,600 minutes of play by skaters in each season assuming no penalties.

In a battle of two of the National Hockey Leagues top goalies the guy some might view as the underdog came up big. Tim Thomas had an uncharacteristic year last season battling injuries (hand and hip), and actually regressing in the stat sheet. The year before the story of the NHL season was Tim Thomas and his rolling over people right and left and occasionally throwing punches at players who transgressed against his team. At seasons end, the one trophy that everyone knew the winner of was the Vezina and Thomas took it home. Last year, The Russian Wind helped power the Coyotes to a fifty win season while standing tall and blowing down pucks in forty two of those wins. He also set a personal high water marks with 69 games and a GAA of 2.29.

Today, Bryzgalov in his second start in as many days, and was run down by a snarling, hard charging, hitting, skating and disciplined Bruins squad. From the drop of the first puck the Bruins spend their time getting into, and keep in the puck in the Coyotes end. With the first period in the books Thomas faced just eight shots, while Bryzgalov swept fifteen away.

In the second period the Boston Bruins would get their first lead of the season when Vancouver Giants alumni Milan Lucic would burst in, and pound a low shot past the Coyotes goalie. Seven minutes later the Bruins veteran acquisition would light the lamp for the third time in two days, after a feed from Mark Recchi. At 2-0 last years Bruins might just have stopped skating, not this years squad. The teams closed out the period with Yandle, Hanzel, and Upshall showing the Coyotes weren’t laying down for anyone with solid shots on goal.

In the third period, Michael Ryder who had earned his way deeper into the dog house than any forward since Peter Schaefer with simply foul play last year continued to show he had zero desire to be there this season. Having dished out hits that rival those of Lucic, and Stuart earlier in the game he made a long aerial pass to spring Tyler Seguin. With Coyotes defenders following him in, Seguin went for the net with no regard for personal safety beating Bryzgalov, and beating the man drafted ahead of him to the score sheet with a neat low shot.

The game would see several more shots on Thomas, two or three posts rung, but no change in the score. Thomas earned his first shutout in his first game of the season, and the Bruins and Coyotes would split the two game set in Prauge with five goals a piece.

Ladies and gentleman, it’s the early season in the NHL. I can tell, you can tell because teams are winning and losing in ways improbable. Does anyone, anywhere ever expect Martin Brodeur to give up five goals in a game? Much less to give up all five of them on a paltry twenty shots and get yanked in just his second game? Much less to start the season 0-1-1? Not me, probably not you either.  And if the best goalie of the last decade, and arguably all time is having such a bad night, that the man who is currently the best goalie on the planet would also give up five goals on a hardly better 27 shots? Much less that Ryan Miller would give three of those goals up to the New York Ranger’s rookie center David Stepan and not to thirty and forty goal scoring Frolov and Gaborik?

To take a look at the southeast predictions for the year, how many of you predicted that Evander Kane would out score Alex Ovechkin in a head to head duel and have more hits? I didn’t even predict that and I spent a lot of time hoping the Bruins would trade up to draft Kane two years ago.  Kane had two goals,  and was a plus 2 with five hits to Ovechkin’s lone assist, and three hits with an even plus minus.  That season opener may not be indicative, of the whole season, but the Caps getting just two goals? That happened in less than ten percent of their games last season.

Anyone who told me on October first that the season would open with peach fuzz brigade that makes up the bulk of the Oilers talent snuffing the Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekule Tig Junior Elvis Iginla and Jay Bouwmesster led Calgary Flames? A 4-0 shellacking with no of the home fires burning in this Battle of Alberta or the Calgary contingent? When looking for things unusual in the National Hockey League this early in the year, one need look no further than Ilya Kovalchuk’s annual fight against the oh-so-deserving Norris Candidate Mike Green.

With the heart rending collapse months behind us, it’s time to look at the start of a new year. Here are some of the reasons for hope.

Addition by subtraction: Denis Wideman is gone.
Addition by subtraction: Steve Begin is gone.
Depth, depth, depth. Behind the spots claimed by Caron & Seguin are: Colborne, Suave, Arniel, Kampher, Bartowski, Schaefer, Hutchinson, Alexandrov, Penner and more.
Bergeron: Patrice Bergeron has looked every bit as good as he did before the start of the 2007-08 season.
Krejci: While the wrist is probably not 100 percent yet, Krejci had a solid preseason and is not favoring the wrist. Last year he was visibly slower to start the season he spent nursing an injured hip.
Contracts: Chara is resigned, Bergeron is resigned. The two can concentrate on winning and not worry about on going negotiations or their lack.
New blood: With Campbell, Seguin, Caron, and Horton on the roster that’s a significant enough turn over to affect the team mood. And much as Miroslav Satan was loved and appreciated, the Bruins can probably expect at least equal production from three of the additions.
The Bruins will actually gain experience as the season goes on. With Marc Savard and Marco Sturm on the shelf to start the season, the Bruins get the ability to break in Caron and Seguin while everyone else is having their shakedown cruise, and count on veteran players who know what is expected of them when they return to the ice. Having the guys who have lead the team in goals and points in recent years coming in as relief players can’t hurt the team at all.
Goaltending. The Bruins have Tukka Rask who had a breakout rookie season, and Vezina trophy winner Tim Thomas on their roster.
Defense. This is still the defense that allowed the second least goals last year, and the least the year before. Arguably, they are better than last season. Without Denis Wideman they are a more nimble, defensively sound group. As it’s doubtful that Chara will dislocate his pinkie again this season, or that Mark Stuart will spend another h

It seems almost every third contract in the National Hockey League these days has some sort of No Movement Clause, No Trade Clause or some other provision that will save players the horror of having to learn their way to a new building. While some players never should get them, and in conjunction with a overpayment they are clearly a bad, bad thing for a team to dole out are they actually bad for a team or the NHL?

Often it seems players who take get their NTC or NMC are taking less money than they might get on the open market. It’s doubtful that the Sedin twins could have been signed for their $6.1 million cap hit each without their NMC’s, while some might question if the two are worth it, Henrik Sedin last year proved he could be an elite center, and has averaged more than a point per game over the last four seasons. Realistically speaking had he for instance gone to Calgary to play with Iginla and company he would have commanded more. By comparison, Ryan Kesler who has never gotten more than seventy five points is making five million a year.

There is no conceivable argument that in a league with a salary cap, that the NMC/NTC is not a good thing for both the players and the teams. Teams can save cap space by conceding them in negotiations. Players can rest assured they won’t have to find a new place to live, in a new city and call a hotel home even when they aren’t on the road. But the important thing team should remember, and media as well, is that if a player asks for a NMC/NTC the team is probably doing something right. I honestly can’t imagine any player asking for one of those clauses in a toxic environment, or in a place they can’t stand being.  A team that has many of its core players clamoring for a NMC or NTC is probably one headed in the right direction. The key for the team is identifying who is and isn’t part of the teams core, and keeping enough competition going internally to keep even the players that can’t be moved without their consent driving towards the club goal.

The puck has been dropped, the first goals, saves, hits and wins have been recorded. The 2010-11 NHL season has begun and no one is happier than me.

Aces:
The Vancouver Canucks and The New Jersey Devils.

Playoff locks:
West:
Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Chicago BlackHawks, LA Kings

East:
Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals

Wildcards
West:
Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, St Louis Blues

East:
Pittsburgh Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers.

Without going into details, the main factors that go into positioning are:

    Strength of division
    Additions
    Subtraction
    Addition by subtraction
    Coaching changes

There are two seasons in my life, Hockey season and when I’m bored stiff.