GET RID OF IT
By Jeremy Roenick, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS, CENTER
Lets face it: The NHL is boring. If I were a Kid watching our league, I'd have a nave a nard time finding things to get excited about. What pulls fans out of their seats are goals, quality shots, great saves and action in front of the net. But what do they see instead? A bunch of guys skating in the neutral zone, meandering through various defenses with a lot of tic-tac-toe passes. � Something needs to be done to give the league a jolt that will create more offense, more goals, more excitement and—most important—help make those awful defensive traps, which so many teams use, a thing of the past. The best way to open up the game is to eliminate the red line.
A lot of the old-fashioned people in charge of our sport would not want to do this because of their respect for the traditions of the game. But a shake-up is needed, because the trap is bringing the league to a standstill.
Before teams started trapping all the time—somewhere around the mid-1990s—I'd have a breakaway or a couple of two-on-ones or three-on-twos every game. Now I'm lucky to see a breakaway every six or seven games. Some teams keep four guys back, hoping to create turnovers in the neutral zone and then counterattack. If you're an offensive player, you feel like you're skating into a wall all the time, stuck in traffic in the neutral zone.
Eliminating the red line is the only way to abolish that defensive mentality. If the red line were banished and the offensive team didn't have to worry about two-line passes, defenders couldn't clog mid-ice—they'd be worried about players getting behind them and taking long passes. There would be more room to skate as you come out of your zone.
Also, without the red line a teammate could fly out of your zone as soon as you got possession of the puck. If the defense had to worry about that player receiving a long pass, you might be able to hit someone else, maybe a defenseman coming out of the zone late, and create more breakouts and easier rushes. Playing without a red line can break down defensive strategies.
There's no red line in international rules, and playing that way in the Olympics last year was terrific. There were so many times when I passed from my face-off circle to a teammate at the opponent's blue line. It takes pinpoint accuracy to connect on those long passes, but in the NHL, with the best players in the world, we could pull it off.
A lot of people say that if the red line were eliminated, teams would just move the trap back to their own blue line. They might, but then the trap wouldn't be as suffocating as it is now. For one thing, players on offense would have much more room to generate speed in the neutral zone. It's easier to break the trap if you have a head of steam when you attack it. Then, as you hit the defenders' blue line, you could softly chip the puck into the zone. That would make it easier to create a forecheck, and you'd see fantastic battles for the puck in the corners. If you want to score, that's where you want the puck—in the corners, where you can battle and create scoring chances.
Now, defenses trap at the red line to keep opponents from dumping the puck into the zone. You can't throw the puck in before you hit the red line, because that would be icing, there would be a stoppage, and the puck would come back to your end for a dangerous defensive-zone face-off.
Those who want to keep the red line say we shouldn't tinker with the game so much. Hey, the NHL has recently made many attempts to generate offense, changing rules and asking referees to crack down on obstruction. But those changes haven't worked, and the game is stuck in the neutral zone. Getting rid of the red line can get the fans what they want: excitement on every shift.