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Experiments look to restore power to PP units

by Dan Rosen /
ETOBICOKE, Ont. -- Power plays across the NHL have been struggling for years and the trend doesn't appear to be coming to an end any time soon. With that as a backdrop, this week's Research, Development and Orientation Camp includes the testing of three rule changes aimed specifically at giving the advantage back to the power play.

Two of the potential rule changes were put on display Wednesday and a third will be used in Thursday morning's session here at the Mastercard Centre for Excellence.

While it's possible these potential changes could get left on the cutting room floor, the concept of adding more offense to the power play had the camp buzzing on Wednesday.

The few hundred club and League executives watched one game in which the shorthanded team was prohibited from icing the puck without a whistle and another in which the offending team on a delayed penalty had to clear the puck out of the zone before the referee blew his whistle.

The idea of giving more of an advantage to the power play is born out of statistical analysis proving penalty kills across the NHL are dominating and only getting better. (Photo: Dave Sanford/NHLI)
"In terms of giving opportunities for more scoring chances and giving good players, in this case power-play players, more opportunity is something we saw after the lockout when we changed the rules a little bit," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who is serving as one of the coaches at this week's camp. "It provides more scoring in the game, but also good players get opportunities to be good players. That's something we all want to see in a game."

The idea of giving more of an advantage to the power play is born out of statistical analysis proving penalty kills across the NHL are dominating and only getting better.

"When I started playing in the NHL the goal was to be at 100 percent, to have your power play at 20 and your penalty kill at 80. That would put you in the top five in both categories," NHL Senior V.P. of Hockey Operations and Player Safety Brendan Shanahan said. "Now, an 80-percent penalty kill is going to probably put you in the bottom five in the NHL, and there really aren't a whole lot of teams at 20 percent. The shift in the advantage has certainly gone to coaching and the penalty kill."

Shanahan is correct. Since the work stoppage, an average of 23 teams per season had a penalty kill that was 80 percent or better while only 5.8 teams per season had a power play that was at least 20 percent.

The numbers were even more skewed in the six seasons prior to the work stoppage, when there was an average of 27.3 teams per season with a PK at 80 percent or better and only 3.67 teams per season with a power play that was at least 20 percent.

"To me, the goaltending is so good and the penalty killers are so strong that I think it's time to see a little more advantage to the power play," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who is coaching opposite Bylsma at RDO Camp. "If you can get a little more of an advantage, that would help. It creates more opportunities. Opportunities are a lot of the excitement in the game."

The opening session of RDO Camp included the rule that prohibited the shorthanded team from legally icing the puck. The idea was to create a situation in which the penalty killers would essentially be penalized for doing what they are taught to do, which is clear the puck out of the zone.

"When you start thinking about the fact that we give an advantage to penalty killers in that they're allowed to ice the puck, you certainly wonder," Shanahan said. "They've broken a rule. They've gotten a penalty, so now we're going to let them break this other rule just for these two minutes?"

The power play was given a distinct advantage in the second session when the offending team on a delayed penalty had to not only gain possession of the puck, but keep possession and clear the puck out of the zone before the official blew his whistle.

In this case, the team that is awaiting the power play could get a decent amount of extra time with the man-advantage by pulling the goalie and keeping the puck in the zone.

"If you talk about a penalty being two minutes, now with a delayed penalty you're adding maybe five or six seconds to that power play or man-advantage," Shanahan said. "This situation, where the offending team has to get the puck out of the zone in control, sometimes we saw here today it added another 30 seconds of man-advantage (time)."

NHL Senior V.P. of Hockey Operations Kris King, who was serving as Bylsma's assistant coach, said the players definitely noticed the difference.

"Even if we did it with our guys at our level it would be tough for them to get used to as well," King said. "It really would."

"You're forcing players into tough situations and that creates turnovers," Bylsma added. "Turnovers given to the power play, you're going to see some scoring chances for the good players."

In Thursday morning's session, all penalties will have to be served in their entirety regardless of a goal being scored. This, of course, will give a team the ability to score as many goals as possible over a full two-minute power play.

The NHL used to have that rule, but it went away in the 1950s when the Montreal Canadiens' power play was so dominant that the rule had to be modified to at least provide some semblance of equality.

"What's happened is the players are so good these days that there are fewer and fewer mistakes, so you have to find places where the players can use that skill even when a mistake is not made and still create opportunities," Tippett said. "They'll still get opportunities off mistakes, but there can be plays made by great players even with no mistake, and power plays are a way to get them to do that."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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