Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Around the League: NHL R&D Rule Development Camp

Today and tomorrow the National Hockey League will be holding its second annual R&D Rule Development camp, where a group of young undrafted prospects will be playing with various modified rules to see how they might fit the NHL. Amongst those in attendance is goaltender Malcolm Subban, younger brother of Montreal Canadiens' defenseman P.K. Subban, and a player hoping for his stock to rise prior to next summer's entry draft.

Let's take a closer look at some of the rules they are toying with, any of which would likely be tested for a full season in the American Hockey League before being adopted into the NHL.

No-Touch Icing

This is a rule in effect in international hockey, whereby once a puck is shot down the ice and crosses the opposing goal line behind the net, the play is immediately whistled down for an icing call. The main idea here is it prevents sometimes dangerous plays when players are skating their hardest to battle to negate an icing call, which could result in highly damaging high-impact tangled crashes into the boards. An alternative to this is the hybrid icing, where it is left at a referee's discretion to blow the play as a no-touch icing, or to let the players skate it out.

Off-Side Line Changes

Two potential new rules involving face-offs after a line change are being looked at. The first would treat it like an icing, in that the offending team would not be able to change its players on the ice. The second implements for all off-sides the rule for "intentional off-side" today, meaning the face-off would come back to the end of the offending team. I'm not sure that cutting off changes will be an effective strategy, as having two common infractions that won't let a team change will make for some odd long shifts. In fact, however, the NHL is also testing an even more radical change which would only allow changes on-the-fly (never during whistles), so clearly applying the rule just to off-sides isn't too drastic in their minds. The face-off in a team's own end will be very frustrating, especially for teams on the powerplay, and might over time change the way the game is played to an extent, with teams being even more cautious to stay onside.

Overtime / Shootout Variation

Different ways of ending tied regular season games will also be assessed, with one option being moving to 3-on-3 overtime if the 4-on-4 period doesn't solve anything. Alternatively, if the shootout remains, a 5-man line-up will be considered as opposed to the current 3-man, something already in effect in the AHL. These proposals could be considered mostly for the fans, to determine the most entertaining and least frustrating way to end games.

Penalty Changes

A couple of alternatives on the timing of penalties will be tested, including forcing the offending team to exit the zone for a delayed penalty to be whistled, rather than just having to touch the puck, and having all penalties served in their entirety regardless of goals scored. Both rules increase the severity of taking a penalty, and would seem to want to increase offensive output in the game.

A number of other rules will also be played with, including making nets shallower, allowing hand passes in all zones, removing the goaltender trapezoid behind the net, and the controversial allowing of bear-hug interference as seen in the game prior to the lockout.

Certainly camps like these can only be good for the game as the league is committed to ensuring they have the best possible product on the ice. Two days of camp will not be enough to guarantee any results of these changes, but ones that seem interesting may be tested in games in the AHL or a junior league.

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