School will be back in session beginning Wednesday in Etobicoke, Ont. as the National Hockey League gathers its top professors and prospective freshmen for another Research, Development and Orientation Camp in order to test potential changes to the game ranging from the subtle variety to the more drastic kind.
For instance, if you want to know how today's game would play if the trapezoids behind the nets were erased, then you'll want to pay attention to the news coming out of the two-day research camp being held at the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence.
Thirty-six of the top prospects available for the 2012 Entry Draft will act as test pilots in the NHL's experiments next Wednesday and Thursday. The last two Jack Adams Award winners -- Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma and Phoenix's Dave Tippett -- will serve as coaches for the teenagers.
"Whether we're trying something that is a popular idea or an unpopular idea, all of it is done to just give us more information," Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations, told NHL.com. "This is all about us being proactive and not reactive. The game has never been better, but we don't want to rest."
The NHL reintroduced the RDO Camp last summer after first holding it in 2005. Many of the rule changes that were tested last season, including some faceoff variations, switching ends after regulation, hybrid icing and no-touch icing, will again be on display this year for further diagnosis.
But there are several new additions to the program. And yes, one of them is the elimination of the trapezoid that limits where goalies can play the puck behind the net to a confined area.
"I think there is some interest the way the game has evolved just seeing exactly how the players would adapt to some of the older rules like that," Shanahan said. "Another example is we're introducing Brian Burke's 'bear hug' proposal. I think that this is the camp where you try all these ideas out."
Burke has been an avid proponent of a "Bear Hug Rule" for several years now. He believes some dangerous hits along the wall can be eliminated if players are permitted to wrap their arms around their opponent and take him into the boards.
"We monitor what is being said all year and then we reach out to the GMs to help Hockey Operations create the agendas being tested," Shanahan said. "If an idea has enough support and we have room in the camp, we test it. I wouldn't say that any of the ideas are wildly popular, but there is enough support that people want to have a look at it.
"For instance, people wanted to have a look at the three faceoff dots down center ice last year. We tested it. We didn't like it. It's not occupying the airwaves or taking up time in the General Managers' meetings any longer. I don't know how those rules or those adjustments will be received in those few days, but we may learn something."
One thing they learned at last year's camp was referees want to be able to communicate more with each other as the game is going on. So during one of the sessions next week, the referees will be wearing headsets with wireless microphones in an effort to relay information back and forth during the game.
"We tested having one referee standing off the ice last year and the feedback we got from the refs was they didn't like it, but born out of that was the idea of the referees communicating through a headset, which they thought was a real positive," Shanahan said. "People want to talk about the rule changes, but the other thing we're doing at this camp is we're testing some important technology that can improve how a game is called and how the game is viewed by the fan."
The goal of the camp for the NHL's Hockey Operations Department is to gather as much information as it can possibly have before even thinking about suggesting a rule change. That's why several of the changes in this year's program were tested last season, including hybrid icing and no-touch icing.
Shanahan said icing and some of the collisions that occur during an icing play have raised "some orange flags," but no red flags as of yet.
"It's not necessarily broken right now, but it has raised a lot of concerns in hockey and we're looking at ideas to make it better," he added. "I personally would like to see the hybrid more. I think it has strengths and some real weaknesses as well. We're also testing no-touch icing, which is another option as well if we ever felt we needed to make a change."
The final session of the RDO Camp has been designed exclusively for the SuperSkills competition at All-Star Weekend. The prospects will be competing in variations of the events that will likely be put on display in Ottawa on Jan. 28, 2012, including Fastest Skater, Breakaway Challenge, Accuracy Shooting, Skills Challenge Relay, Hardest Shot and Elimination Shootout.
"Last year, for many of the events and even the ones that we've done before, we made changes to them to create more of a head-to-head format," Shanahan said. "This is to hone it down and also make a few tweaks to see if we can create more competitive competition and a more entertaining competition."Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer