That seemed to be the underlying theme of Day 1 at the NHL’s research and development camp on Wednesday as two teams of top junior prospects were put through an array of new rules in the course of two games under the watchful eye of commissioner Gary Bettman and friends.
While most of those taking part were reluctant to classify the exercise as a search for more goals, the rule “rationales” given to media had “will potentially lead to more offence” next to many of the tweaks being tested.
Several involved making power plays even more valuable, with penalized players serving the full two minutes and penalty killers called for icing the puck.
“To me the goaltending is so good and the penalty killers are so strong, I think it’s time there’s a little more advantage for the power play,” said Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who is behind one of the benches for the camp.
“It creates more opportunities. I think the players are so good these days, there’s fewer and fewer mistakes. So you have to find places where they can use their skill even when a mistake isn’t made.”
NHL vice-president Brendan Shanahan, who is running the camp in its second year, said that since he first entered the league as a player in the late 1980s, power plays have become less and less a factor and he likes the idea of increasing that advantage.
“The shift in the advantage has certainly gone to coaching and the penalty kill,” Shanahan said. “When you start thinking about the fact we give an advantage to the PK in that they’re allowed to ice the puck, you start to wonder why, because they’ve broken a rule and gotten a penalty, now we’re going to let them break this other rule?”
Goal scoring, meanwhile, has dropped roughly two goals a game since Shanahan was a rookie, although there remains a divide among those who run the game about what, if anything, should be done about the trend.
“We’ve been talking about goal scoring for 15 years, haven’t we?” Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said. “We changed the game dramatically coming out of the lockout and I think we saw a bit of a blip in scoring, but the reason was we saw so many 5-on-3 power plays.
“I don’t have a big concern that we need to increase scoring. I think the game’s exciting. Goaltenders are better, they’re bigger and their equipment is bigger. That’s the biggest reason in my opinion.”
That issue, however, won’t be addressed at the camp. While they’re using shallower nets with more cameras, thinner mesh, a verification line and a Plexiglass top, testing larger goals (or smaller goalies) isn’t on the league’s radar even in an experimental camp setting like this.
(This despite the fact NHL goaltenders now average 6 foot 2 and 200 pounds – an increase of three inches and 15 pounds in the past 20 years – in a trend that has led to many teams considering only tall netminders as prospects.)
The longstanding taboo on altering the net size leaves Shanahan with less drastic changes to consider, including one on Wednesday in which players played four minutes of 4-on-4 overtime and then three minutes of 3-on-3 overtime.
The rationale for the rule?
“It is believed that the extra ice created by 3-on-3 will lead to more scoring chances and overtime goals.”
Yzerman said he supported playing more than the current five minutes of overtime, something that would reduce the impact of shootouts, which have become a regular target for GMs since their introduction in 2005.
Several lamented the fact that more than 12 per cent of NHL games were decided by the shootout last season. Meanwhile, leagues that have adopted some 3-on-3 in overtime, like the British Columbia Hockey League, have seen dramatically more games ended in the extra frame.
Of all the rules being tested this week, that alteration to overtime may well be the most influential one with a hope of being implemented, perhaps as soon as 2012-13, when the league also gets a new collective agreement and realigns to accommodate the Winnipeg Jets.
League employee that he is, however, Shanahan wouldn’t go so far as to declare war on the shootout.
“We’re not de-emphasizing the shootout,” he said, cracking a smile. “We’re enhancing overtime.”