The NHL is going the way of the NFL, and burdening the game, the fans, the broadcasters, and the players with absurdly long reviews on that just rob the fastest game on earth of all its trademark speed. You just can’t do that.

Several times a week, sometimes more than once in the same game, we’re all bored to tears watching multiple views of a something in slow motion that happened at full speed, an ever increasing number of minutes ago. The question is why?

We all know the offsides rules are there to prevent unfair advantages and force teams to play in all three zones so the game doesn’t turn into tennis on ice. And that makes sense. A guy who gets into the zone two or three seconds, or strides ahead of the opponent has a clear advantage. But how long does that advantage last? We see the fastest players in the NHL make full laps of the rink in as little as 13 seconds up to 15 seconds. Goalies go from the crease to the bench in about seven seconds.

When it stops being an advantage, shouldn’t it stop negating a goal? If a goalie  gets bumped, has a chance to reset, and three seconds later the opposing team scores that goal isn’t waived off. Why should a goal where a player entered fifteen, thirty or even more seconds before the puck enters the net be negated? Sometimes that player isn’t on the ice any more.

Here’s the rule change the NHL needs:

If a puck enters the net more than ten seconds after a play is deemed offsides, and no other infraction occurs the goal shall count. 

 

One of the numerous ways casual observers and mental lightweights have decided is the perfect way to make the scoring easier in the NHL is to reduce the size and protectiveness of goalie equipment. Given all the safety concerns in professional sports, this just seems like a train-wreck waiting to happen.

Today’s idea is a slightly different application of physics. From the NHL rulebook:

The puck shall be made of vulcanized rubber, or other approved material, one inch (1”) thick and three inches (3”) in diameter and shall weigh between five and one-half ounces (51/2” oz.) and six ounces (6 oz.). All pucks used in competition must be approved by the League.

This is the puck size used up and down the hockey ranks in North America. Kids use it, and your favorite NHL star probably has a couple hundred at home for shooting at their favorite wall, net or old dryer. As athletic as today’s goaltenders are, I suspect changing pad sizes and thickness would do little to increase goal scoring and might even decrease it as net minders would have greater freedom of movement.

But what if the NHL went with a puck that wasn’t the size we’re all used to? With all the technological changes to equipment in the last century of play, why are they still using the same old puck? Making the puck smaller and heavier would likely produce more goals than making changes to pads.

If the size of the puck is dropped from three inches around to 2.75 inches it will fit through more gaps in pads. The positioning of goaltenders to cover the post, close their five hole and maintain a snappy glove will become paramount. Yes the surface area of the puck does help it stay flat, but that’s why the change in weight would be the second element.

By inserting a small weight at the center of the puck you can counteract the lost mass, and increase it. Rubber isn’t the densest material in the world, and it fairly easy to mold around other materials. How far up you want to go with the puck weight will tell you what material to use. Bronze, ceramic, or nickel are all dense materials and a small disc or ball shape in the the middle of the puck would add the mass handily, but other materials are options.

With the loss of surface area, and the increase in weight pucks will have greater inertia. This means goalies with leaky pads will have to work harder. Pucks that hit the crossbar are a bit more likely to land in the net or even bounce off the goaltender and drop. There will probably be a slight drop in pucks that go just over the net as well. The lowered surface area would mean it had less ability to keep air under it, and longer shots from the tops of the circles out to the points would be more likely to stay at or below crossbar height.

Click here and here for parts one and two in the series.

We all knew when the NHL realigned that there would be sacrifices made. We all knew things would change. Most of us just didn’t expect division rivalries to be bulldozed in the name of getting every team into every arena.

The first change you’ll notice is that in the sixteen team eastern conference divisional games have dropped from six fierce games per season to a weak kneed four. Against the opposite division there will be just three games. And a two games against each team in the west. One home, one away. The Flyers and Bruins who have enjoyed a rivalry for decades will barely play enough to wake up the blood lust. The chance to see Ovechkin and Malkin dueling on the ice will only happen four times. Nathan Horton will square off against his former teams in Florida and Boston just three times each.

The goal behind this is to drive more visitors to more arenas with fan bases that are still growing. The hope is that when people in New York or Buffalo, and Winnipeg or Chicago have vacation time an some spare money and can’t get tickets for a home game they’ll fly off to one of the cities with a less engaged fan base and buy tickets, support their team, buy drinks, merchandise and keep the arena loud and full.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck for hardcore fans of the major rivalries. The Rangers and Islanders only square off four times, and that rivalry is one that’s been getting hotter over the last two years. Worse, the realignment may backfire and concentrate the All Star voting and major awards votes even further into well known names in well known places. With rookies like Jones, Domi, and Barkov getting less trips to the big cities than their counterparts in previous years, they will get measurably less exposure. This makes their teams less captivating, and if you don’t have any other stars to pull people in, and those youngsters don’t get the exposure across the continent to draw in revenue from outside the market, I don’t see the gain.

NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement:

One of the things that might make sense to add into the next CBA is a provision to allow a larger roster from the trade deadline forward and or additional NHL contract.

The argument for the first is that if additional roster players are allowed (under the salary cap)  players who are injured won’t be rushed back at the potential expense to their career or long term health. Assuming the number were two additional players on the roster teams could let new acquisitions, call ups and free agent signings integrate into the system while players who are listed “day to day” or otherwise hoped to be back soon are recuperating. It is also a way for teams to integrate black aces and evaluate players heading into the playoffs for potential post season play and or trades around the draft.

The possibility of adding additional contracts, assuming they will drop back below the ceiling on July 1, allows for the signing of free agents coming out of the CHL, USHL and college. Getting those players into the fold and giving them more time to get grounded in the type of physical fitness expectations a team has can be crucial to fitting them into the system sooner. We’ve all seen the affects of “the rookie wall” or the difficulty many college players have with going from the short college schedule to the 82 game marathon that is the an NHL season is going to make serious inroads into the adjustment period of these players.

NHL Entry Draft

One of the purposes of televising the NHL Entry Draft, and plastering the prospects all over NHL.com is that it’s good marketing to give people a glimpse of the future. So why is it done so erratically, and mostly half-assed? There are a couple prospects blogging for the NHL when there schedule permits which is fantastic. But can someone explain why there are no USHL  or QMJHL players? How about a video blogger? Of all the hundred or so players likely to be taken in the first three rounds, there has to be be at least one in either of those two leagues, who can write intelligibly or who’s engaging enough to be a good vlogger. The NHL needs to remember it is marketing to people across about six or seven decades, the US, Canada (yes even Quebec) and that promoting any of its development leages is good for both parties.

NHL Playoff Official Infractions

Last year the official infraction of the NHL playoffs was “too many men”. I think we were treated to more too many men calls in the first round of the playoffs last year than we saw in the entire regular season, the second round didn’t provide any let up. Judging by all the noise being made in the wake of the latest GM meetings, it looks like its set for a reprise of the leading role that made it a household name last year.  It also looks like it’ll be sharing the marquee with the always entertaining goaltender interference.

Given that these are possibly the two most inconsistently called rules in the book I predict a great deal of teeth gnashing, swearing and wrath, Social media will doubtless be awash in a deluge of reactions to each call. Goaltender interference has gotten so muddied that when the Anaheim Ducks had a goal disallowed against the Boston Bruins in their most recent matchup Bruins fans were described the call as something organic and odoriferous. In common parlance when the average homer fan shows disgust for calls that go their teams way “a bad thing” for NHL officiating.  By the letter of the rule it was the right call, but the rule is largely ignored, and called for things so widely scattered even knowing the rule doesn’t help anyone figure out what should and shouldn’t be an infraction.

The NHL has made a remarkable number of rule changes in the last half decade since the lockout. One or two of them down right idiotic, others ok, and one or two that are hugely beneficial. One of the ones in that first category has come up for review at this years General Managers meetings.

The trapezoid was one of the absolutely bizarre and unimaginably idiotic things that was spawned by the powers that be having way too much free time during the lockout.  The official goal was to improve the safety of the goaltenders. The unofficial (and real) goal was to take away the advantage of the goaltenders that can handle the puck well.

The belief was that the trapezoid would help stop teams from playing the neutral zone trap. They thought this would lead to smoother offense and more goal scoring. It was a knee-jerk reaction to the “dead puck era” that was solved quite handily by a newer, more athletic generation of players and the elimination of the two line pass rule.

 

What the didn’t understand is that this has led to more icings. Which has led to a certain small increase in icing related injuries. The purposed fix is an inane change to the icing rule that takes still more control out of the hands of the players and yet again lowers the intensity of play.

The simpler, smarter, more easily understood, less arbitrary, way to address the issue is to remove the trapezoid. Will every goalie go out to play the puck in the corner or out by the top of the circle? No of course not. But for the teams that have goalies like that it will be an advantage, it will aid offense at least as much as it does defense. It may even lead to less injuries to goalies. A goalie in a lop sided game who goes seven or eight minutes without facing a shot could start to tighten up, if they have the chance to make a quick skate to the side boards and pass the puck to a forward along the far boards while their team makes a line change it is going to keep them both mentally engaged and physically active.

For teams that have a young defense like the Ottawa Senators or a banged up defense like the Philadelphia Flyers the end of the trap could be a god send. A goalie who handles the puck well, like Brodeur who has at least a little bit of veteran savvy is going to make smarter outlet passes than than some rookie or sophomore defenseman. On a defense that’s missing a key player or two not having your remaining defensemen have to skate the extra hundred feet in each direction to retrieve the puck and then break it out again several times a night for months will save a lot of wear and tear. Realistically, there could also be less injuries around the blueline as outlet passes will have a higher potential number of players to go to.

In short eliminating the trapezoid is the only sensible rule change of all the ones I’ve seen discussed. It puts control in the hands of the playere and coaches, it removes artificial and unnecessary barriers to creative and exciting play and gives teams a way to perform as a six man unit.

The first and most obvious way to replace the shootout falls in line with one of the NHL’s stated objectives: creating and enhancing rivalries. The simplest way would be to eliminate shootouts between divisional teams. No one on the world is going to complain about another seventeen minutes of Chicago vs. Detroit or Boston vs Montreal, and it neatly eliminates tie breakers in the standings at the same time. Using this networks could plan for teams the extra time accordingly. Another option is for all games from November 1 forward between two teams that enter the night in a playoff position to end through overtime play if tied after sixty minutes. This option allows for higher level play by pushing the teams to end it as soon as possible, and prevents games between basement dwellers from filling up valuable network time that might otherwise be used for society improving infomercials.

As something of a hockey purist I’m sick to death of the shootout. It’s no more hockey than the intermission shot on some goofy target in goal by a fan wearing sneakers from center ice is. It’s got nothing to do with team play. It’s got zero to do with fair what makes the game engaging or unique. The NBA doesn’t settle games that are tied at the end of four quarters with a free throw contest. I can’t imagine the NFL switching to competitive punt returns to end games.

Unfortunately we’re stuck with a farce that takes longer than playing another five minutes of hockey would. Further we’re all subjected to talking heads blithering endlessly about “the best players” needing to be the ones in the shootout. It should be noted that a great deal of the reason these talking heads are behind the microphone and not behind the bench is because they couldn’t tell the difference between “best for the job” and “best total skill package”. If Peter Laviolette wants to ramp up the physical play, he’s probably sending out not Sean Couterier but Zac Rinaldo who’s skill set, and mentality is a touch more refined for this facet of the game. So please someone save us all from another round of “why not the guy with the biggest salary” when the guy with the best shootout percentage is clearly a better choice.

While it’s a given that the shootout will continue ushering people out the door like the bad lighting and seeing what exactly your feet are stepping in at the end of a movie, it’s possible to reduce the equally noxious sensation at the end of otherwise perfectly exciting games.

Among the things have no place is sports is blatant, center stage cheating, Perhaps the most common, and inexcusable form is diving. It’s not called often enough, sadly it is most often called in conjunction with the tripping, hooking, high sticking or interference events that inspire the dive. It can’t be both, but if the referees are going to call both make the liars hurt. There are fines clearly stated in the rulebook, but honestly those may not be enough.

In my mind referees should be able to rule that something was enough of an infraction to make the mechanical requirements for a hook or high stick, and not be enough to actually impede or endanger the attacked player. In this case both calls would be correct. But, that’s not really enough to eradicate the problem. The solution is to make the dive or embellishment a more costly penalty.

There are three main options that present themselves.

  1. Call the dive and an unsportsmanlike penalty on the same play even if the other team is penalized, leading to two players serving two minutes for the infraction and potentially leading to a powerplay for the team who committed the act that met only the mechanical requirements for an infraction.
  2. Make the dive a double minor. From five on five play this would lead to four on four play for two minutes, and then a two minute penalty kill for the embellishing players team.
  3. Make diving a five minute major. Even if the mechanical requirements for a hook, trip or other call were met.

Number one is probably the easiest to implement now as it would not require an in season rule change, or a wait until next season to implement. Like the “Avery Rule” it would be an interpretation change. Realistically it could be an intermediary step to one of the other options.

Number two and number three to me have the most appeal. I think implementing both might actually be the right answer. Option two the double minor would probably be the best option to use when there is an action by the opponent that would warrant a penalty if it were to continue or connect. Option three in making a dive or embellishment a major (possibly with video review) if unaccompanied by an opponents infraction or potential infraction.

If the NHL is serious about providing role models in the form of it’s players, this fairly minor set of adjustments to the rules is the simplest thing they could do all year to improve the integrity of the game.

What’s your call?

While we all know hockey is played on ice and not the statistics sheet, sometimes being able to validate or invalidate a player vs player comparison is important. Sometimes it just allows you to shut someone up who just doesn’t know better. For players on the fringe, or almost any player who gets drawn into arbitration advanced stats are going to be key. Also, one can’t forget the use for fantasy players and leagues which whatever certain pundits and casual fans may think do help keep more focus on the sport.

Unassisted goals. While we all know hockey is the ultimate team sport, having this stat to help break down the important individual efforts that can sometimes turn a game or playoff series is important.

Points  off turnover.  This would be a measure of the points (goals and assists, and possibly broken down into both player and team categories) scored within 30 seconds of forced turnover/strip of the puck.

Zone starts.  Where players start their shifts says a lot about what their team expects of them.

Quality of shots.  Much is made of the number of shots teams give up, and there is the “scoring opportunities” number thrown around, but that’s largely a meaningless number since no one knows how it’s measured. Ideally, shots would be broken down into three areas 1: Below and between the faceoff dots and about five or six feet outside the crease 2: Within six feet of the crease and forward of the goal line. 3: All shots from other places.

Diversions. This would be a measure of how often a skater forces an opponent to redirect away from the net when they possess the puck. It could be a lift of the stick, poking the puck away or a check that takes them off a line that allows a shot on net.

Aside from the fantasy and monetary reasons, statistics are useful for player development, and growing the game. Football seems to spawn a new statistic about every six weeks, baseball has more of them than there are seats at Yankee Stadium and neither sport is lacking for fans, discussion of statistics or the ability to produce and retain players from a young age up to the professional level. We often here players efforts compared in one zone or aspect, but aside from the points aspect there are few if any cross positional measuring sticks. If you watch Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk or Ryan Kesler play you can say “they are better defensively than…” and insert any number of names from Phil Kessel to Marion Gaborik or Alex Kovalev, but right now there is no simple metric for helping a player who defensively resembles one of the latter group improve to a level closer to the former.

One of the more interesting things the national broadcasts have gotten away from in the past two or three seasons is helping new fans get immersed in the game. We used to see explanations of various rules during broadcasts. At some point that ended. With ratings climbing in recent years, and the national deal moving to NBC and Versus which will soon be NBC Sports, it might be time to resurrect the explanations, and implement a few statistics to support why players like Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, Andrew Ference or similar defensemen can be so valuable to a team and often get paid as much or more than players who score more than they do. Similarly it would make awards like the Norris or Selke more meaningful when you can have a reasonably reliable measure of “better” for non-scoring plays.

 

Last nights Dallas Stars at Boston Bruins games was one of the most exciting hockey games of the season. An unfortunate byproduct of the energy that infected fans, coaches, bloggers, newscasters and yes the players was a careless hit by Daniel Paille.  Paille, a former first round pick who has a career high in penalty minutes of 35, and even including those assessed last night is at a total of 26 on the year and 102 for his career hit Raymond Sawada knocking the rookie out of his first NHL game.

It was just about a year ago when Matt Cooke, veteran of multiple suspensions, who has had three seasons individual seasons where he eclipsed 100 penalty minutes, obliterated Marc Savard the hue and cry was limited to a small number of people. The usual handwringers foremost, Bruins fans just behind and fans of Marc Savard the player sprinkled in.  Later in the year when another player was spattered all over the ice, a similarly small murmur of national attention.  Yet, by the start of the new season a rule had been added.

This year, Sidney Crosby who for good or ill is the face of the NHL was concussed, on hits far less vicious than the one his teammated dished out, the outrage reached critical mass. Concussions because a topic of discussion across the hockey universe and the ebb and flow between those trying to eliminate all hitting (a small but vocal minority) and the realists who know how quickly a no touch league would die (and deserve too) was animated, illustrative and ultimately good for the sport.

Last night we saw Andrew Ference, who because of his activism is no longer a player representative to the NHLPA, speak out against his own teammate.  It should be noted that not one of the Pittsburgh Penguins said a single word against the hit by Cooke. Over just a year, we have seen at least a small shift in the NHL’s hivemind. Will this lead to less concussions as players continue to grow larger, faster, and stronger? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. But if the players and league can eliminate deliberate head hunting like the Cooke hit and others that came before it, we as fans, can at least walk away from each game knowing all reasonable efforts to protect the player and the game have been made. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the decision on the Paille hit or not an action that the league ruled would be worthy of discipline was taken, and a fair punishment handed down.