The GM meetings begin today in sunny South Florida. Boca Raton to be exact, or if you live here it’s just plain “Boca”. On the table for discussion are a number of items including the “Red Line”, and how it relates to the safety of the game. After the lockout was settled the rules committee looked at different ways to improve play and add excitement. Some ideas have worked, and some are still being analyzed, and consistently being looked at. The owners will certainly discuss and debate the overtime strategy and how the game determines a winner, and how we actually get to the shootout. Which for this writer is an abomination of a way to end a hard fought match. But I digress.
The one rule that will be looked at very closely and has some strong opinions both ways pertains to the “Red Line”. Does the NHL put it back in play, or do they leave it the way it is, allowing two line passes? Some argue that leaving it out of the game allows for faster play, more breakouts, and less offside calls, which slow the pace. The ultimate thought was that scoring would increase since everyone wants to see scores of 4-2 rather than a clutch and grab affair of 2-1. While the goals per game average since the lockout trended upward for the first two seasons, it has almost trended back downward now to it’s pre lockout days. There are a number of reasons for that, and larger goalies like Pekka Rinne are just one of them.
One of the biggest reasons that this rule has gained traction is player safety. Many GM’s feel that the concussion problem has a direct correlation to the more open ice that is now available to players, and with the size and speed that many players posses, feel that the combination has caused the increase in head injuries. While that might not tell the whole story, it bears looking into. Certainly some will say that many concussions are caused by hits to the head either by elbow or shoulder in the corners, or along the boards. The problem is the with the red line no longer in play, the middle of the ice has become a war zone at times. It allows for players to build up speed from either zone and attack the opponent with a potentially stronger impact. I’m no physics major but it doesn’t take one to figure out that two players traveling at faster speeds can do some serious damage when the collide. Take a look at some of these hits, and where they’ve taken place. Not all of the hits take place in the neutral zone, but with more wide open areas than before, players have been more vulnerable because of the amount of ice that needs to be defended. Many teams forechecking systems are now a 1-3-1 rather than a 2-1-2 or even a 1-2-2.
Now let me say that I’m old school when it comes to hockey. I like the game played tough, with some snarl, and with an edge. It’s a tough game and not a ballet performance. However you would all agree that concussions are up since this specific rule change. While the initial hit for some may not be serious enough to cause a season ending injury, it could be the second or third hit which happens a few games later that intensifies the problem. Ask Sidney Crosby that question. Also, look at the career of someone like Jeremy Roenick who played the game with an almost reckless abandon. Roenick suffered from eight separate concussions that we know of, and at least two broken jaws because of his style. I would never have wanted it any different, but it’s because of that way he played, that his body took such a beating. Look at this hit from Darien Hatcher. I know that hit was no where near center ice, but the point being is that big hits can happen anywhere, and we now have created an area of space in the middle of the ice for them to be more profound.
The game before the lockout in my mind was more physical with less head injuries. The hits were bigger, harder and pulled you out of your seats. And with less elbows to the head. Look at this game from 1994-1995 between the Blackhawks and the Stars and see all the hits in this one game alone. All this going on while the two line pass was in play. Not every game was like that but you get the idea. Let’s add to the fact that players have become more careless with their arms, sticks and shoulders. That will continue to be an area of improvement, as well as respect.
Coach’s such as Ken Hitchcock and Mike Babcock are both in favor of bringing back the red line. I’m sure that somewhere in a tavern in Montreal, Jacques Martin is hoping for one more crack behind an NHL bench, and views his trapping style of play as the way for him to get back in there. He’s probably drawing up a petition for it right now. Hitchcock had this to day about the change (taken from Pro Hockey Talk):
“With a red line it forces more of a puck-control game through the neutral zone, rather than a dumpand-chase game,” said Hitchcock. “There’s no puck-possession now, but a red line would bring back the playmaking centre. The centre who buys space and time would be back. Those nifty guys we saw before, they’re not around much anymore.”
While Hitchcock will always be remembered as a defence first type coach, you can agree that he’s adapted well to the rule in it’s current format by looking at what’s he’s done with the St. Louis Blues. Many times it’s the roster that you have that forces the style of play for your team. For those of you who are concerned with the infamous trap coming back, have you really taken a look at how teams play now? Stacking the blue line in all situations has become the norm for many teams. The middle of the ice still is clogged, and you can watch the Nashville Predators do that better than anyone. We can all sit here and debate the pros and cons of this rule, and they style of play that it creates, but the coach’s who are involved on a daily basis know this game better than any of us. Besides coaches, there are a number of general managers including our own Dale Tallon that wants the redline back in play as this article will describe.
I loved the game before, and I love the game now, but safety of our players is a growing concern. The game needs it’s star players performing, not convalescing from head injuries. Careers are being cut short, and are ending at a heightened pace. The rules committe must give this some serious consideration, and do what is right for the game and it’s future. Fans want to see Crosby, Toews, and the like play. That’s why they (we) buy tickets and merchandise.
To answer the question of the title I say yes. Put the redline back in play. As much as I don’t care for Sidney Crosby, I’m smart enough to know the game is better with him in it than not. I’d rather chime in on a conversation about how much he complains about the non calls, rather then when he’s going to return from injury. It’s just more interesting.
And I miss Jonathan Toews.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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