CNNSI.com Winter Olympics 2002 Ice Hockey Winter Olympics 2002 Ice Hockey


 

Speed it up, boys

Success of Olympic rules could lead to NHL changes

Posted: Sunday February 24, 2002 11:27 PM
Updated: Monday February 25, 2002 12:25 AM

 

The great hockey at the Olympics featured fine team performances throughout. Hereís recognizing some of the standout individuals:

All-Tournament First Team

Goaltender

Martin Brodeur, Canada

Defensemen

Chris Chelios, USA
Rob Blake, Canada

Forwards

Steve Yzerman, Canada
Brian Rolston, USA
Joe Sakic, Canada

All-Tournament Second Team

Goaltender

Nikolai Khabibulin, Russia

Defensemen

Ruslan Salei, Belarus
Chris Pronger, Canada

Forwards

Mats Sundin, Sweden
Brett Hull, USA
Paul Kariya, Canada

All of these players resume the regularly scheduled NHL season, most gearing up for the two-month tournament known as the playoffs. That much we know. But, what about beyond this season? During the Olympic Games there was much conjecture surrounding certain rule modifications the league should adopt from the international game -- based on the quality of the tournamentís competition. Here is a look at the most debated topics.

Change of Players: NHL Rule 17(a) vs. IIHF Rule 412

The NHL rule allows each team "a reasonable amount of time" to change players during a play stoppage, with the visiting team declaring first. The international equivalent puts a time limit on the same occurrence -- first, five seconds for the visitors, then five seconds for the home side, with the puck drop happening five seconds after that. The 15 seconds allowed is a guideline, a target, and not strictly adhered to, especially late in games.

As the symbol of Canadian hockey excellence for two decades, Wayne Gretzky took a risk and put his heart on his sleeve for all to dissect. On Sunday, his team played its heart out for the world to bear witness to a gold medal performance.

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    NHL officials likewise are cognizant of the need to keep the time spent during play stoppages to a minimum. Having a definitive goal may help, or it may simply introduce another on-ice interpretive item. Instead of standardizing, a move to this "definitive face-off timeline" actually may lead to more inconsistencies based on differing adherence levels from one linesman to the next.

    Besides, more so than any timesaving on face-offs, the Olympic games were quicker because they did not have TV timeouts built in. If the league found a way to reduce or eliminate the nine 90-second commercial timeouts, they would truly be addressing the issue of improving game pacing.

    The best possible solution would be to incorporate the commercials over live coverage -- and precedents exist. European football applies sponsored segments within the framework of a telecast and last year NASCAR and Turner Sports experimented with a concept that had the commercial running in a window format, without breaking away from live action. Besides, with the proliferation of hard-drive recording devices -- and the increasing ability of viewers to bypass commercials -- this concept makes more sense for advertisers than ever before.

    Off-side Pass -- Center Line: NHL Rule 75(a); IIHF Rule 451

    Quite simply, the NHL game does not allow a pass to travel across two lines while the international game does. That means a pass can travel from behind the goal all the way to the offensive blueline -- increasing the available ice the forwards have to frolic.

     
    From a hockey tournament as rich as the one weíve just witnessed, and from a team as full of compelling characters as Team Canada, you can pick any number of players to celebrate. I choose Theo Fleury.

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    Conversely, using the red line only to delineate icing stretches the coverage responsibilities for the defenders. With the NHL trying to open the ice up for the skilled players anyway -- reference the focus on obstruction violations over the past few seasons -- this seems like an obvious solution. Playing without the red line regarding offside is not unprecedented in North America, either, as NCAA hockey plays under that format.

    The biggest deterrent in the short term would be that such a change would benefit the more-skilled teams. With nine teams added in a 10-year span, an unwanted byproduct would be a widening of the already sizeable gap between the top teams and those still seeking credibility. Also, in the hands of the best players in the world, it is easy to falsely construe difference as improvement. Are these arguments strong enough to warrant the status quo for the NHL? Hopefully not. At the very least Iím sure the rules committee will debate the relative merits of such a change.

    If they need historical precedent, turn back to 1929, when the league allowed forward passing for the first time in all three zones. That first "stretching" of the available ice to create offense resulted in a doubling of goal production league-wide.

    The NHL added the red line in 1943 to speed up the game by reducing offside calls. How? By creating more available ice in which to complete offensive passes. Sixty years later, moving that available area once more again makes sense.

    And while the rules committee is at it, why donít they amend Rules 74 & 77 to again allow for the tag up option to nullify a delayed offside call. How about amending Rule 19(b) by referring to 1967, allowing for a one-and-a-half inch curve on the stick blade instead of the current half-inch bend. No need to stop there. Return to pre-1956 days when it comes to minor penalties, meaning teams would be short-handed for the entire two minutes of a minor penalty. Rule 26(c) could read so that a goal scored against the offending team would not terminate the balance of the penalty time.

    Letís combine this last thought -- the international gameís automatic icing (IIHF Rule 460) and apply it to power-play situations only. The team on the power play would get to reset in the offensive zone with negligible time coming off the clock, while the short-handed team would get the necessary stoppage to get fresh legs on the ice. Which brings us back to the perfect situation to implement the hurry up face-off.

    Well, ask for many and hope for a few.

    Darren Eliot, a former NHL goaltender, is a hockey analyst for CNN/Sports Illustrated and is a regular contributor to CNNSI.com.


     
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