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Potential Rule Changes Tested at NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
For the second time since returning from the lockout, the National Hockey League conducted a Research, Development and Orientation Camp at the Seaman Hockey Resource Center inside the Toronto Maple Leafs' practice facility in suburban Toronto this past Wednesday and Thursday.

The league invited 35 of the game’s top prospects – including 33 2011 draft-eligible participants – to partake in two days of scrimmages aimed at testing potential rule changes.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero and assistant general manager Jason Botterill were among the executives who spent time at the camp. Botterill weighed in with his opinions on some of the potential changes which are receiving the most attention following the camp.

“I think some of the things are a little far out there like expanding the size of the blue lines and moving all of the faceoff dots to center ice, but at the same time it was great to see them being implemented in a real live game,” Botterill said. “To me it was an excellent starting point for discussion. I believe that small changes over time to our game could be good. I think that the NHL did a great job throwing some ideas out there for discussion.”

One potential change, which received the most attention, was ‘hybrid icing.’ With some of the injuries that have occurred the past couple years when players were racing to negate the puck on icing calls, the league is looking for ways to make such situations safer for players.

With ‘hybrid icing’ the whistle would be blown if a defensive player is without a doubt going to be the first man to the puck. Teams would play an icing call just like the rule currently reads if the team that iced the puck has a reasonable chance of negating the call.

Botterill said he is intrigued by ‘hybrid icing’ because it keeps the element of competition that exists with the current icing rule, while at the same time protecting players if the defensive player will obviously get to the puck first.

“I like the theory that some of these rules can help the game by taking away some of the injuries that have occurred on races to the puck,” Botterill said. “We are very concerned about player safety, but you want to make sure that you don’t take away too much of the competition and the battle for loose pucks.

“I would say that I have interest in the rule, but I can’t say that I have a position on the potential change just because of the few number of times icings were called at camp.”

Another rule which figures to draw significant attention involves faceoffs. Instead of having the referee drop the puck, it would instead already sit on the faceoff dot with both centers lined up. At the whistle, the two players would battle for possession, much like kids do in street hockey.

Research, Development and Orientation Camp - Testing New Faceoff Options

“That was a neat little tweak that I hadn’t thought about too much,” Botterill said. “They also had a few variations of that one where the referee would drop the puck and if you were caught cheating, you weren’t thrown out of the faceoff, but rather you had to back up further. That meant that you didn’t have as much leverage to battle for a loose puck off the faceoff. That was an interesting.

“One that they showed us today is if a player gets kicked out of the faceoff dot, the opposing center gets to choose who takes the faceoff. You can then pick a defenseman who doesn’t have much experience taking faceoffs versus another forward stepping in. It was interesting seeing that in action and watching defensemen taking faceoffs.”

Finally, the league also talked about potentially tweaking the overtime format. Right now teams play four-on-four for five minutes of sudden death action and if the game is still tied, the match heads to a shootout.

With more and more shootouts being used to decide games, the RD&O camp experimented with three-on-three and two-on-two overtime formats, which would follow four-on-four play.

Botterill was interested in three-on-three action, especially considering the Penguins’ high skill level with offensive talents such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but he doesn’t want to see it implemented at the expense of lengthening games.

“I think taking it down to two-on-two is probably a little drastic,” Botterill said. “Three-on-three definitely provided a lot of open ice and made for some exciting hockey. I would like to see maybe three minutes of four-on-four and then two or three minutes of three-on-three.

Research, Development and Orientation Camp - Testing Two-On-Two Overtime

“I think dropping to three-on-three is a ways away, but one minor change could be going to the long change in overtime just like we do in the second period. Players making longer changes could mean a player gets trapped on the ice for a longer shift and a team can take advantage and score.”

Two other ideas which could help create more offense that interested Botterill were not blowing the whistle on delayed penalties until the offending team cleared their defensive zone and not allowing teams on the penalty kill to ice the puck the length of the ice.

Some of the other ideas discussed included:
  • a second referee standing on an elevated platform behind the plexiglass
  • delayed penalty modification, requiring infracting team to clear puck from zone
  • a shaded line change zone near the players' benches
  • nets with clear tops
  • a yellow verification line inside the crease to help the war room clarify goals
Despite the number of rule changes that were tested and discussed, many of the changes, especially the more radical options, may never be implemented.  The Research, Development and Orientation Camp did however provide teams and officials the opportunity to see the proposed rule changes in action as well as watch 33 of the top 2011 draft-eligible prospects in action.

What do you think about the rule changes that were tested?  Join the discussion on the Pittsburgh Penguins Official Page on Facebook!
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