Even though he always seems to come up with big goals against the Sharks I've always been a Brendan Shanahan fan. He's an elite scorer with a nasty streak and above everything else he's a champion. He's also always had a wonderful sense of humor and doesn't take himself and his fame as a professional athlete too seriously. Now that the NHL is back in business after a year absence I find one more reason to admire the guy. He had a big hand in changing the way the game of NHL hockey is now played. You might remember last December when Shanahan held his own hockey think tank. He brought together players, coaches, managers, referees and broadcasters and paid for all of it out of his own pocket. The purpose was to discuss ways to make the NHL game more exciting and thus more entertaining. Most of what Shanahan and his group came up with has been put into place for this season. They recommended streamlining goalie equipment, shootouts to settle ties, clamping down on obstruction, reinstitution of the tag up off side rule, and assessing a two minute penalty to any player that shot a puck into the stands.
If you've been watching the first few weeks of the season you will see that it is a much different game. The flow is tremendous, scoring chances and scoring are up and quite simply the product is much better. When I recently spoke with him about the "New NHL" Shanahan himself was surprised that the improvements in play happened so quickly. He thought it would be a slower more gradual transition. Instead the games have been more compelling to watch and according to Shanahan to play in from the very start of the season. In Shanahan's opinion, and he's not alone, the games were being coached to death and the primary reason for that was the use of video. Back in the day, players didn't have the luxury of watching a detailed breakdown of game situations on video. In the case of Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson he even brought high tech video systems onto the bench during games. Even the head coaches who attended Shanahan's seminar like Tampa's John Tortarella and Vancouver's Marc Crawford agreed that the time had come to reduce the coaches ability to manage the game. That's why the rule that prevents the team that iced the puck from changing lines is so important. Coaches can't get the match ups that they want as easily. That creates more mismatches and thus more scoring chances. I realize that we are just a few weeks into the NHL's grand experiment with making the game better but from what I've seen it's working, big time. When he retires I'll certainly remember Brendan Shanahan for the outstanding hockey player he was but perhaps his true legacy in the game will be the steps he took to make the game better.
I have a couple of random thoughts on the shootout even though the Sharks haven't been in one in the regular season at the time of this writing. Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News made this point in a recent column and I couldn't agree more. It should be MANDATORY that every player involved in the shootout, except the goalies, be required to remove his helmet. Fans want to see what these guys really look like under those helmets. Is Mark Smith's hair really blond, green and black or is that just urban legend? Most NHL players I've met over the years are shy by nature. If the no helmet rule is voluntary most of them won't do it because they wouldn't want to showboat. It goes against the "team" culture that is so much a part of hockey. But if all the players had to do it there would be no issue.
One other thing about the shootout. Right now when overtime ends the Zamboni comes out and does what's called a dry scrape to smooth over the ice in the area's in front of the two nets in preparation for the shootout. The theory is that a smoother surface will allow the shooters a better chance to deke and score. The problem is that the Zamboni is usually operated by an employee of the home team. What's to stop that driver from properly scraping the end of the ice where his team will be shooting and then make a minor adjustment to the blade and do a less thorough job at the other end? Believe me there is some coach out there who at the very least has already thought about this. It could be the difference between winning a shootout and not. It could also put one team into the playoffs and knock another out. The answer is to scrap the scrape. If the ice was good enough for overtime it should be good enough for the shootout.
For Seagate Technology's In The Crease, I'm Randy Hahn