After a low-scoring All-Star Game, John McCauley ponders the changes needed in the NHL rulebook to bring the game back to where it should be.
Really there isn't one right answer. If any proposal is to be successful it will have to be a combination of rule changes for any effect to be felt.
So as long as everyone else gets to throw their suggestions into the ring ... I might as well jump on the know-it-all bandwagon. I've got a seat reserved next to the driver.
Clearly the first thing that has to happen is referees must call obstruction fouls in the neutral zone without hesitation. Hooking, holding or impeding a player in any way must not be tolerated. In the offensive or defensive zones the calls should not be as strict, but still, it has to be at a level that players can get into position without being hassled ridiculously.
That in itself would do a lot for the game, but since it's rarely enforced for a full season and has been tried numerous times in the past, we must assume that trend will continue, so further measures are needed.
There is no doubt in my mind that removing the red line is the way to go. If we go back to origins of hockey there was no red line so why not remove it? At the 2002 Winter Olympics there was nothing better than watching players work into position to catch a team off guard.
Think about how many assists goaltenders like Ed Belfour and Marty Broduer would get on bad line changes alone. Will coaches find a way to counteract the long-bomb pass? Sure, but if players are forced back further to defend against it, theoretically there is more speed created in the neutral zone and that's how the trap is broken down.
If both of these changes were implemented scoring would increase, but let's guarantee success in this plan.
The nets have to be moved back three feet to their original position. On two separate occasions the nets were moved out two feet and then another foot to try and give players more room in "the office". The thinking was that if you give a player like Wayne Gretzky more room behind the net it will cause more goals. What really happened is teams now concentrate on cycling the puck, not getting more shots on goal.
By reverting to the former net location, the play would go from in the corners to the wings or half-boards where a player like Mats Sundin can break down a defence.
You'll notice I haven't mentioned goaltenders. You might think I'm crazy, but reducing the equipment size isn't going to make that much of a difference today. The athletes between the pipes are too good. Who is the best goaltender in the game? Marty Brodeur. Are his pads too big? Not in the least.
Some goaltender's pads and chest protectors are a little large and it may give them a small edge, but I don't see Garth Snow winning the Vezina. Even the Mighty Ducks', J.S. Giguere seems to have come back down to earth.
If you give players the opportunity to score they will. Without the above changes or something very similar, we are never going to see free-wheeling hockey at the NHL level again.