Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hockey: the Perfect Game

by J. Scott Moore

Clearly Vancouver was offside on that play. Notice that they didn’t have the video to “prove” he was onside till the end of the game? Well, even with today’s technology it takes time to doctor video.

But anyway…I have a different topic for today.

At a very high level, the game of hockey has been perfected. By that I mean the large concepts of the game; the red line, the blue line and the number of players on the ice. Professional hockey was once played with six skaters a side and I believe the five skaters are perfect. As well, the 5-on-4 play is perfect for the game when a penalty is levied against one team or the other. The 5-on-3 is fine for the occasional situation involving egregious offenses.

I’m not real hot on the 4-on-4 play that we see pretty often. Many argue favorably that it opens up the ice while others argue against, that it favors certain teams. I certainly think that every team in the league builds a team to compete 5-on-5 and for the special teams of penalty killing or the power play. In other words, 5-on-5 or 5-on-4. The remaining situations can’t be much more than a small percentage of the game as a whole. That would be 5-on-3, 4-on-4 or God forbid, 3-on-3.

At the risk of sounding like the purists that I have chided in the past: 4-on-4 is roller hockey and 3-on-3 is pond hockey. Nothing against either of those games. I have the accessibility of roller hockey to thank for getting me into the sport. But the three are different games with different goals and strategies. When you try to play NHL hockey with only three or four players to a side, it changes the game. And not for the better in my opinion.

Last night in the Stanley Cup finals, in the second period there was a 5-on-3 for mere moments before the team with the advantage was called for another penalty resulting in a 4-on-3 situation. As I’ve already made clear, I think that is a ratio best left to the other games, not the National Hockey League.

The solution?

Instead of putting another guy in the box, let’s let one out. So instead of a 5-on-3 turning into a 4-on-3, it shifts to a 5-on-4. A ratio that I feel is more suited for the rules that govern this game.

Here’s how it works: anytime there are there are two guys from one team in the box there is a chance for my new rule to take effect. If the team on the power play commits a penalty resulting in neither team icing five skaters the rule kicks in by putting one of the two players in the box back on the ice instead of the power play team losing the offending player to the sin bin.  I'm only talking about minor penalties.

But obviously this is going to make a lot of people howl at the injustice of a player committing a penalty and not ending up in the box. Look at it this way, players commit “good” penalties, you hear that phrase all the time and isn’t that a matter of working the rules to your advantage? The fact is with this new rule the offending team will still only have a one player advantage; it will be 5-on-4 instead of 4-on-3.

To keep the game flowing I would also like to see this done on the fly. Like a delayed penalty the referee will indicate the penalty but will not stop play. Here’s where it gets a bit hairy, but it would really be slick if it worked: the team with two guys in the box (aware of this new rule) would be on the alert for just such a call. The box official also must be on high alert as it is his job to quickly open the door to release the player with the least time left on his penalty. This player will integrate right into the play just as any player would after finishing his time in the box. All this done, the referee lowers his arm indicating proper completion of my nifty new rule.

See, I told you I’m not a purist.

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