Most of the changes we’ve advocated here the past few days, or have been talking about for a few years, are pretty simple. They’re logical. They make sense. Which is why the NHL is never going to adopt them.
The problem with these discussions is you have to accept that there’s something inherently wrong with the game on the ice. That it’s not entertaining. I don’t know if I buy that. I don’t know that a lack of goals means boring (I say this is a soccer fan, so take it for what it’s worth). Lack of scoring does not mean lack of action. Action is the crux here.
But I could definitely see where people think hockey has a lack of action. While the game has never been faster, and teams are every so slowly stocking their roster with more speed and skill (at least some are), that doesn’t mean it’s all that fluid. A lot of games descend into one team stretch passing to a forward at the other blue line to chip in, and then basically an attempt at a cycle. It can ground down in a hurry, and far too much playoff hockey looks like this. It happens quickly to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s all that vibrant.
I think all hockey fans have become frustrated too with how bogged down things can get in the offensive zone. Sure, you can have the puck for long stretches, but we’ve seen those stretches result in no shots on goal because teams just sink back to the middle of the ice and clog up every lane. Shot-blocking is definitely the part of the game that has evolved the most and the quickest. Due to the size of players now, their mobility, advancement in equipment, strategy, or basically all of it, shot-blocking has gone from something only a select few d-men do to something that every player is expected to do and does.
So the question is how to open up more space there. There really is no way to legislate shot-blocking. You’re not going to be able to institute a rule to get people to stop. Some have suggested going four-on-four all the time. That seems too extreme. But it might not be that far off. Widening the nets is another, but I don’t know that having an inch or two on both sides now would actually create that much more of a lane that can’t be blocked. Maybe it does, but I think we’d just see more shots missing to the outside.
So here’s something I’ve thought about. I’m not necessarily endorsing it, and I don’t even know if it’s enforceable, but it’s a little outside the box. Maybe hockey needs to adopt a lacrosse-like rule, which is you’d have one forward who cannot come into the defensive zone and one d-man who cannot go into the offensive zone.
The positive results of this are that you suddenly open up a lot more space in the offensive zone. Shooting and passing lanes get harder to block with four skaters than five. Skilled players have more room to operate. Turnovers could be more immediately punished with a forward to hit already lurking outside the zone, or opening up more breakout space as teams compensate for that.
The downside, at least the first one off the top of my head, is that you don’t really want hockey to look more like lacrosse. That is to have it be long campouts in each zone, resembling more half-court basketball. It might tamp down end-to-end hockey even more, and we don’t want water polo on ice. You would also take away some of the skills of d-men around the league if they spent far less time attacking and just loitering around the red line.
But again, it could aid the transition game, which hockey needs more of and more a cohesive version. If your forward outside the zone drags their d-man to one side of the neutral zone, you might have more room on the other. Coaches would figure out a way to vice grip this too, but it’s an idea.
And it’s probably more doable than having the long-change twice, or going to two halves or four quarters to get the long change as much as you don’t. That would involve moving dressing rooms or benches or swapping ends of season ticket holders, none of which is realistically going to happen.
Sure, it sounds too radical, and it probably is. But then the three-point line once sounded radical. So did the shot clock. And Canadians are familiar with lacrosse, so they can’t scream bloody murder too much on this.
Just a thought.