With the outdoor games season upon us, it is a good time to consider tweaking NHL hockey. The NHL recognized the special attention the outdoor game garners, the Winter Classic, so it is consistent in pursuing the philosophy that more of a good thing is better. More teams, more scoring, and more outdoor games. While I look forward to the 2 games the New York Rangers will play in Yankee Stadium where the Rangers are curiously the away team against the Islanders and the Devils, I think there is a point of diminishing returns. Something is no longer special if it becomes over indulged. HBO, for instance, doesn’t produce a show about all the outdoor games, and too many games in blustering cold and snow as was the Winter Classic, is not a recipe for creating greater interest. The Toronto Maple Leafs though sure looked a lot better in those conditions than they did on home ice against the Rangers in their recent 7-1 defeat. Playing in a warm Los Angeles on January 25, will also be an interesting experiment.
NHL hockey is fast paced, and features mostly high intensity continuous action, a reason fans of the sport love it. The league has tried to enhance this by removing the offsides created by the center red line several years back, and limiting how a goalie can inhibit the offense with the trapezoid zone. While the league has also attempted to insure fair face-offs, here the rules are getting in the way of maintaining constant action. Rule 76.3 states:
76.3 Procedure – As soon as the line change procedure has been completed by the Referee and he lowers his hand to indicate no further changes, the Linesman conducting the face-off shall blow his whistle. This will signal to both teams that they have no more than five (5) seconds to line up for the ensuing face-off. At the end of the five (5) seconds (or sooner if both centers are ready), the Linesman will conduct a proper face-off. If, however:
(i) One or both centers are not positioned for the face-off,
(ii) One or both centers refrain from placing their stick on the ice,
(iii) Any player has encroached into the face-off circle,
(iv) Any player makes physical contact with an opponent, or
(v) Any player who lines up for the face-off in an off-side position,
the Linesman shall have the offending center(s) replaced immediately prior to dropping the puck.
What we now get is a steady diet of linesman controlling the start of play to the point of delaying the game themselves; if only they could be penalized. We are now treated to a chorus of “drop the puck!” throughout the league’s rinks when linesmen stand motionless with a hovering puck, waiting for fractional position adjustment by the centers or tricking them into moving too soon. In some games, with many stoppages, this can add up to 10 minutes of extra time. Just drop the puck! I like that some centers have better skill at creating an advantage in face-offs.
The delay of game rule 63.2, should be an opportunity for referee judgment. That a player would knowingly shoot the puck in the stands when it is not necessary to stop a pressure fore-check, by accident, putting his team down a man, is not penalty worthy. I don’t think these should be automatic. It did contribute to the Rangers earning a point in last night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Blue Jackets. The Rangers scored on the ensuing power play to tie the game in the third period. But shooting the puck into the stands directly, without deflection or hitting the glass is already a judgment call. Shooting it over the players benches also does not count. The league should consider calling this only when it is deemed intentional as a way to relieve attacking pressure. Perhaps the league can consider all of these tweaks; let’s keep the game moving!