TORONTO – Brendan Shanahan’s goal with the NHL’s research, development and orientation camp was to take a proactive approach to considering potential changes that could improve the game.
The league tested several modifications to its rules—some slight tinkering and some out of left field—during the two-day camp which wrapped up Thursday. The exercise gave league officials, team executives and players a chance to see various ideas in action during live scrimmages.
Shanahan, the NHL’s vice-president of hockey and business affairs, thinks it was an important first step.
“I don’t really feel like there’s a finish line with this project,” Shanahan said. “I think it’s just a matter of collecting information that could come in handy tomorrow, or it could come in handy five or 10 years from now.”
Fans shouldn’t expect to see changes to the game any time soon. The next scheduled GMs meeting is in November and the competition committee and board of governors would need to approve any potential proposals.
After experimenting a day earlier with changes that included a hybrid icing rule, wider blue-lines and relocated faceoff dots, a few dozen prospects for next year’s NHL draft tried out some other tweaked rules at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ practice facility.
On Thursday, no-touch icing was in effect, teams switched ends for overtime (creating a so-called ‘long change’ with the bench being farther away) and there was a five-man shootout instead of the usual three.
One change that generated some buzz was the use of an off-ice referee positioned on an elevated platform beside the boards. The goal was to create more room on the ice and provide a better vantage point to spot infractions.
“It’s like Big Brother watching you,” said veteran coach Ken Hitchcock. “It’s like he can see everything and obviously when you’re up that high the game is slower. So I think the players mentally are more careful.
“A couple guys commented that you’re not going to get away with anything.”
Ontario Hockey League referees Dave Lewis and Scott Ferguson handled the officiating. Ferguson was like the hockey version of a tennis chair umpire.
“I think there’s good and bad to it,” Ferguson said. “It’s good when (Lewis) is down at the net, I can see what’s going on behind him. … I can watch the changes on the bench, a too many men on the ice situation, I can see that.
“But you don’t feel the game, you don’t feel when the intensity starts to rise and everything. So that was the tough part about it.”
Hitchcock said communication between the coaches and referees could be more difficult when one official is on the opposite side of the ice.
“You wouldn’t know who to yell at because they could just shift the blame,” he said. “When the guy’s 85 feet away you’re not going to get barking at him. You’re going to start yelling, he’s going to start yelling back at you. It’s like two guys trying to yell at each other over a fence.
“But it’s an interesting concept.”
Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Dave King also helped out at the camp. He liked the modified delayed penalty rule where a team that committed an infraction had to gain possession of the puck and clear it from the zone before play was stopped.
“You’ll be able to get your goalie out and actually get a 6-on-5 going in the zone,” King said. “I think it’s going to help a little bit to create some offence.”
The number of tied games being settled in overtime has been on a steady decline in recent years. Hitchcock said he liked the long-change adjustment for OT because teams would be rewarded with more odd-man rushes.
“I think there would be a lot more games decided in that situation,” Hitchcock said.
“I feel like 4-on-4 now is just a stall to get to the shootout where there’s more strategy and more control,” he added. “I think we’ve got to really look at allowing the players as a team to decide the game rather than two or three individuals (in a shootout).”
Shanahan was given the assignment of organizing the camp directly from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. It was Shanahan’s first major project since stepping into his job with the league in December.
The former NHL forward was pleased with how things worked out.
“Whatever reason you came here, whether it was for the research and development or to scout these kids, the big thing is we got a lot of really good hockey minds all under one roof talking about the game,” Shanahan said. “Which is good.”
In other experiments Thursday:
—Teams could not make substitutions after an offside call, with the ensuing faceoff back in the offending team’s end.
—In the event of a faceoff violation, the opposing team could pick the replacement centre.
—Teams were whistled for icing while short-handed and could not make substitutions before the ensuing faceoff.
—In an effort to create more visibility during video review, Plexiglass was used on top of the nets for the morning session and a thinner mesh was used for the afternoon session.