So, how is life in the "new NHL" going?
The question breeds all sorts of answers. Some say that the "new rules" are working perfectly. Others respond that more tweaking is necessary. Still more note that the jury has not finished its deliberations in this case.
On our Sharks radio broadcasts, Jamie Baker has a descriptive way to analyze the scenario. He describes what he's seeing in two ways: "the new NHL" when he sees an up-tempo, hard skating, open ice checking style of game accompanied by tightly officiated contests, and "the new NEW NHL" when he feels the tug back to silent whistles, bottling up the neutral zone, slowing things down, and removing passion, as has seemingly occurred over the past week or so.
Why has the “new NEW NHL” seeped into “the new NHL?” The tough schedule is one reason for the situation. It’s difficult for the players in this up-tempo game to perform at that level when they have five games in seven nights, with travel added. With injuries starting to become a factor, as is always the case at this time of the season, it is a spotlight on the fact that the players are human beings, not machines. It is a tough grind, even for younger players who are peppering NHL rosters, and even though there seems to be a tad less physical play than in years past.
However, it’s also instructive to note that NHL coaches have begun to adjust to the updated rules of the game and are doing what they believe is necessary for their teams to win. Suddenly, we’re seeing teams play in a 1-4 defensive alignment, which takes time and space away from teams at the end of the neutral zone. It’s almost as if the removal of the red line has not produced the all-out drag race that we hoped for, but has instead shifted the “trap zone” back a few feet.
Similar to what happens in Europe on the bigger ice surface, we’re seeing a tactical battle for survival by the clubs instead the drag race. The result is that we’re starting to see lower scoring games, more shutouts, and younger players having an easier time of surviving than was the case in the “old NHL.”
But the next step in the development of the “new NHL” is going to happen as the veterans re-take charge in the physical element of the game. Physical play, of course, is still permitted, but it must occur at a higher tactical and technical level, and that’s taking the League a bit longer to adjust to.
When that happens, the re-morphing of the “old NHL” to the “new NHL” to the “new NEW NHL” and back to the “new NHL” should be completed. Players will have adjusted to all the changes and will have discovered the way to bring the passion, the hitting, and the 60-minute intensity back to the forefront of the game. It is obvious that the NHL continues to evolve, and in a positive direction.
What we’re witnessing is a rediscovery of hockey in the 1960’s, when tough guys like John Ferguson had to know how to play the game, and where stars like Jean Beliveau and Bobby Orr had the space to work their magic. It will produce another golden age in the history of the game.
Bring on the body checks. I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for Seagate Technology’s “In the Crease.”