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Is The Drop-Pass Actually Good?

Our senior writer has a change of heart on the move after talking to the experts in the NHL.
Morgan Rielly. Photo by Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports.

Morgan Rielly. Photo by Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports.

Ever had a plate of shrimp moment, where something you've been thinking of suddenly materializes in front of you? It happened to me last week during Toronto's 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

For a long time now, I've been watching NHL teams rush up the ice, then make a drop-pass just before the attacking blueline. To me, it was illogical: The puck-carrier had already beaten several defenders, so why would they essentially surrender territory, forcing the recipient of their pass to beat one or two of those same defenders again?

Since it was my first live game in a while, I was determined to ask someone about it. And then, the plate of shrimp was served: Early in the second period, Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly carried the puck up the ice on the power play and due to a defensive mistake by Pittsburgh's blueliners, he was able to thread his way through and pot a highlight-reel goal on netminder Tristan Jarry. Immediately, social media lit up with reporters and pundits humorously amazed that Rielly had abandoned his usual favorite play: the drop-pass.

In the wake of the Rielly goal, I asked a former NHLer turned exec about the drop-pass and he enlightened me in terms of its effectiveness: When you make the move, you're effectively freezing the opposing defenders in place, allowing the recipient of your pass to come at the enemy with speed and, hopefully, zip right past them.

The exec recalls players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Jason Spezza being particularly deadly in that situation, because all of them had great hands and a high level of skill and creativity. Nowadays, the play is incredibly common in the league.

After the game, Rielly was asked about the sequence and the prevalence of the drop-pass in today's NHL. He cited Chicago's Patrick Kane as one of the first practitioners that he could remember.

"He would even do it at even-strength," Rielly said. "He'd go back behind their 'D' and build speed that way. We've been doing it for a while. If you've got someone back there like Auston (Matthews) or Mitch (Marner) with speed and skill, they can really dance their way into the zone."

Of course, if everyone is doing it these days, then everyone is expecting it, too. That's where you have to find the balance and I think that's where my skepticism of the drop-pass comes - if I know it's coming, then NHL defenders certainly know, too. And, you have to read the situation.

"We have plans," Rielly said. "When they have a penalty-killer down low, we try to go ahead. If they have two guys back, we try to do the drop. We try to read what they're doing, but you have to take what's there."

With the game becoming faster and even more skilled than ever, it will be interesting to see what new wrinkles enter game strategy: Players with the high-end moves of Kane, Datsyuk and Marner are becoming more common. Just look at the rise of 'The Michigan' move - even current NHL vets have told me they can't pull it off, but see their rookie teammates as capable of it, so maybe the drop-pass just becomes more effective as time goes on.

Inevitably, something else will come down the pipeline that changes how teams try to enter the zone with possession and then defenders will have to adjust again. It's all part of the cosmic unconsciousness of the game we love.

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