It seems to happen every year.
Whenever the league general managers gather for their annual conference, fans can't help but to tell them (read: Tweet about) how they should fix the game. We all do it, too. From the armchair fans right down to Razor Reaugh, we all have proposals on how to improve the on ice product. And just about anything you can think of has been pitched at one point or another.
Changing the color of the ice? Check. Make all penalties major penalties? Check. Get rid of the shootout for the love of Pete? Yeah, that's a check.
While each idea has some level of merit behind them, there's one problem that holds them back. The ideas are too big. Like it or not, changes like those are too much too fast. As a result, they are often disregarded entirely. (Yes, getting rid of shootouts is included.)
So why not focus on some of the smaller tasks that can be handled? The NHL wants to maintain its fast-paced, high-scoring parity that it has established over the years. That means the general focus during these meetings is on how to improve what they have, without compromising the product. Small changes are good. You can fine-tune rules, they can easily be implemented, and the players and fans alike can adjust without too much trouble.
Hybrid icing has been a great example of that this season. While not every call goes uncontested, nearly everyone is glad the rules were changed. It may have some minor flaws, but compared to what was in place before, it's a vast improvement.
Bearing those thoughts in mind, I've listed a few thoughts of my own on what I would like to see changed. The idea is that it would help to slightly increase offense, without making any drastic changes. I'll even toss in my ideas on overtime, at no extra charge.
#1. The Defensive Zone Hand Pass
This has always perplexed me, and I know I am not alone. With the influx of new fans at Stars games this season, I have heard this question more than once from a few rows behind me: Why can he pass it with his hand while the other team can't?
When a team is hemmed into their own zone, they can use whatever means necessary to clear the puck and get a line change (the exception being delay of game), including a hand pass. This gives them an advantage over the attacking team.
So why is it legal for one team, and not the other? Why not even the playing field?
If you make hand passes illegal on all parts of the ice, the balance of power is restored. Defensive players will have to control the puck and pass it with their stick, or risk another faceoff in their own zone. It's not an overly dramatic change, but should help increase scoring chances.
#2. The legal high stick
In those same regards, teams can play a puck with a high stick, as long as one of their teammates aren't the next one to touch the puck. Again, it gives a slight advantage to the defending team. If the only objective is to get the puck out of your zone, you can whack away while the puck is above your head. Meanwhile, the attacking team has to wait for the puck to get below the crossbar before they can take a swing.
Eliminate all high stick plays, and not only do you level out the playing field, but you increase player safety at the same time. It's a win-win.
#3. It's okay to ice the puck, but only if you've broken the rules
This one bugs me more than the first two... If you have committed a penalty and your team is shorthanded, why is it suddenly okay to ice the puck whenever you want?
Isn't the purpose of a power play to create a disadvantage for a team that broke the rules? Allowing the team on the penalty kill to ice the puck removes some of that advantage. In fact, it removes quite a bit of it. How many power plays do we see (too many this year), where the entire time is spent chasing the puck up and down the ice.
If the shorthanded team has to take the puck to the center line in order to get a change, all of the sudden penalties have much more weight to them. You'd be sure to see an uptick in scoring on special teams. You'd also likely see far fewer "dumb" penalties, as it is not worth the risk.
This may be the most radical change of them all, honestly. Team strategies would become entirely different during these times. And given that there are usually five or more penalties a game, this would affect a significant portion of the game play. Even though it follows the logic of restoring the balance of power, it's just not likely to ever happen.
#4. The best penalties to commit are when time is expiring
This one is a little sketchier, as it would take a lot of fine tuning, but is still worth mentioning...
There are plenty of times when a team will choose to commit a penalty in the final minute of a game rather than surrender a good scoring chance. The opposing team may get a power play, but given that there is only 20-30 seconds left in the game, it is usually easy enough to kill. It's a sound defensive strategy, and one you see often.
I would propose that if a team commits a penalty with less than two minutes remaining, the team with the advantage has a choice -- they can either go on the power play, or be awarded a penalty shot. Similar to NFL teams being allowed to accept or decline a penalty, this can give the offense more control. You would likely see trailing teams take the penalty shot, while teams with a lead would choose the power play to kill off the clock.
Like many ideas, this sounds decent enough on the surface, but it leads to a number of questions...
If teams are tied in regulation, does this rule still apply, even though the penalty can be served in overtime? What about in the playoffs?
Games in the regular season are all about beating the clock. If you make it to overtime, you're at least guaranteed a point. If you make it to the end of overtime, you get a chance at the shootout. The playoffs are much more difficult to answer. For the sake of keeping the rule simple, I would say that it applies only to regulation time in a playoff game. Just like 4-on-4 for the regular season and 5-on-5 for the playoffs, overtimes are subject to different rules.
#5. Extending the overtime to reduce the shootouts
This is what appears to be the main focus from the GM meetings this year. The main idea is to extend the length of overtime from five to 10 minutes... And is yet another one that can get complicated rather quickly.
If you extend overtime to 10 minutes, do you bring out the Zambonis to resurface the ice? Do you still play 4-on-4, or change it up? Do teams switch attacking sides? Given all this extra time, are you going to cause games to run too long? Is this even going to be effective in reducing the number of shootouts?
It's those final two questions that will make or break the decision on changes to overtime. The NHL has worked hard on reducing the runtime for a game, so that families can go during the week and not be out too late. If overtime lasts too long, you undo all of that work. And it runs even longer is the game is still decided in a shootout regardless.
If the GMs decide to give me a call and ask my opinion, though, I'll tell them it's simple: Resurface the ice for cleaner (and safer) play. Switch sides for the long change to increase offensive chances. Leave it as 4-on-4 to open up the ice while still allowing for man advantages (which 3-on-3 does not do). And if the refs would stop kicking at least one person out of the circle for every. stinking. faceoff, you more than make up for that additional time.
I'm waiting by my phone, NHL. Just let me know when you want my advice.