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Changes on faceoffs drawing differing opinions

by Mike G. Morreale
TORONTO -- Veteran coaches Ken Hitchcock and Dave King learned to play by the rules on the opening day of the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp Fueled By G Series here at the Toronto Maple Leafs' practice facility Wednesday.

Both coaches were behind the bench, instructing 33 of the top 2011 Entry Draft-eligible prospects, and all the while, testing various possible rule changes and strategic innovations with an emphasis on offensive play and creative scoring opportunities.

One of the most intriguing rule changes implemented during Wednesday's morning session was the face-off variation.

Instead of having both centermen take their typical positions, the puck was placed on the face-off dot and the draw commenced on the official's whistle. The rationale behind the idea, which was the first of three face-off variations that will be tried over the two-day camp, was to restore the fairness and integrity of the draw.

"A big part of faceoffs is being highly competitive. You want to talk about a system in place that gets manipulated by the players -- that's the faceoff. The older players are best at figuring out what works best outside the rules, so there is cheating. I think that's why this has been suggested. I'm not sure what to think about it right now, though."
-- Sabres GM Darcy Regier

"I thought it was interesting," NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Development Brendan Shanahan told "I noticed, win or lose, there were no real scrums off draws. If you won, you won clean -- almost like you were able to pass the puck to your winger or defensemen cleanly. It wasn't sloppy, like, 'I want to get a piece of this back somewhere.'"

When asked if the idea offered no competitiveness off the draw, as seen on the faceoffs in Wednesday's early game, Shanahan shrugged.

"It was more quickness to the draw and less about diving in and scrumming," he said. "Now I'm not saying I'd rather see this, but the difference to me in this brand, as opposed to ref dropping a puck and it then falling a certain way, bouncing and going back to a player, was this was a clean, flat win on the ice."

Hitchcock and King had varying opinions.

"What was interesting about those faceoffs was there were either clean wins or clean losses," King, an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes, said. "There were no scrums, so maybe it'll allow face-off play to become more important in the game. So from that type of faceoff, you might find more opportunities and scoring chances."

Hitchcock, on the other hand, compared the faceoff to a golfer hitting a ball out of a sand trap.

"You've got no legs … you can't use your legs," he said. "You're all arms and snapping the wrist, so from a far-reaching situation, she's a tough go. That's why everything is clean. If you're a guy with quick hands, you will win so many of these things clean. If you're the defending team, it would make you real nervous."

Buffalo Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier thought it was too early to pass judgment, although he seemed to favor the traditional faceoff.

"A big part of faceoffs is being highly competitive," he said. "You want to talk about a system in place that gets manipulated by the players -- that's the faceoff. The older players are best at figuring out what works best outside the rules, so there is cheating. I think that's why this has been suggested. I'm not sure what to think about it right now, though."

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau saw positives and negatives.

"As a former centerman, I found them to be the most interesting thing," Boudreau said. "Nobody got kicked out, so it speeds it up that way. The only thing I worry about is I think, in the neutral zone it's great, but in the offensive zone it sure could lead to some goals. You're winning clean draws back to the slot, and for our team that's (Alex Ovechkin) and (Alexander Semin) because there is no real stick battles. They're getting it flat before a guy could get out there. If you want offense, that's good, but I'm thinking on the defensive end. We're going to be losing those faceoffs, too, and it might be (Ilya) Kovalchuk blasting it in."

Hitchcock and King certainly are pleased with the way the RDO camp is helping general managers and coaches witness first-hand how certain rule changes could be implemented to the game.

"I don't know about making it more exciting, but I think if you're tinkering and not thinking, you're going to end up stalling," Hitchcock said. "I think if you don't keep looking at ways to make it better, then at the end of the day you get in a position where things just seem to get stale.

"I feel the ideas are real creative. I think there's two or maybe three that have some merit immediately."

In particular, Hitchcock liked the hybrid icing rule that already is used in the United States Hockey League, as well as having the length of the overtime period extended to nine minutes -- three minutes each of four-on-four play, three-on-three play and two-on-two play.

"There's been so much more emphasis put on shootouts and I think, for me, we need more overtime," Hitchcock said. "You see teams spending too much time on the shootout, so let's have the players decide the game. It's funny because prior to shootouts now, goalies are even going back to look at video on the bench to figure out what shooters are all about."

King also is a big believer in the game's continual evolution.

"The idea to tweak the rules a little bit is good because the game should continue to evolve and get better, because it's an effort to showcase the League's skill," he said. "Anytime you allow anything in the game that allows skill to make more of a difference, you've made a positive change."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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