The Red Wings' forward gathered a handful of players, coaches, broadcasters and other hockey types in a room this week and asked the burning question: When the lockout finally ends, how can NHL hockey be made more exciting and entertaining?
It was a private affair, with no endorsement from the NHL or anywhere else. But with names like Curtis Joseph, Mats Sundin, Al MacInnis, John Torotorella and Brian Burke signing on to the final list of recommendations, it ought to carry some weight.
They didn't come up with anything ground-breaking, but the list is interesting in how it reveals which innovations are finding their way into the mainstream thinking about the game. Here are the ten ideas, with my comments:
- Create a permanent competition committee, with players, coaches, GMs and on-ice officials monitoring the state of the game and exploring possible rule changes.
- Long overdue. The Hockey News also endorsed this idea a few weeks ago. It should be part of the next Collective Agreement.
- Streamline the goalie equipment.
- Encouraging to see this from a group that includes four NHL goaltenders, two current and two retired. The NHL targetted goalie gear last season as part of a series of proposed rule changes, and was slapped with a grievance by the Players' Association. It seems the players like the idea as long as they get a say in the process. I finally lost patience with the NHL Goalie Scam last spring.
- Use the shootout to break ties during the regular season.
- Hard to believe a bunch of NHL players would have backed this idea five years ago. But the shootout is gaining support and its introduction appears inevitable. I've never liked it - Do they break NFL ties by having quarterbacks throw the ball through a spare tire? - but the American Hockey League adopted it this year and the game seems to have survived.
- Reduce obstruction.
- A new twist on an old favorite, the twist being that the next campaign against interference, hooking, holding, etc. might work if it is initiated by the players, because their reputations will be at stake. This should get big laughs at the next meeting of the Third-Line Forwards Committee.
- Minor penalties in overtime should be one minute instead of two minutes.
- As far as I know, this is new. "There was a feeling that calling a two-minute penalty in overtime to make it a 4-on-3 was putting a lot of pressure on the referee that he was making the final decision in the outcome of the game," Shanahan said. Definitely worth considering and a reminder that we rarely consider the referee's perspective on the game.
- Adopt the new rules introduced by the AHL this season: introduce tag-up offsides and wider blue lines, push the net back two feet, and forbid goalie puckhandling in a designated zone behind the net.
- The American League has already declared the experiment a resounding success. Given that the changes were made at the request of the NHL, it would be surprising if most were not adopted when big-league hockey resumes.
- Introduce no-touch icing.
- Why the NHL insists that players race for the puck on icing plays -risking of life and limb - is one of hockey's great mysteries. No wonder people question Gary Bettman's credibility.
- A puck shot directly into the stands in the defensive zone is a two-minute penalty for all skaters, not just the goalie.
- The automatic two-minute minor is a pet peeve of goaltenders. If they can't eliminate the rule, they want to share the misery. Fair enough.
- Improve access for broadcast rights-holders.
- The idea is to enhance TV coverage with stuff like in-game interviews, microphones on players, "goalie cams" and so on. Some NHL teams already allow this, as do the NFL and Major League Baseball. It's all nonsense, rarely adding anything to the experience. But I suppose there's no harm in it.
- Improve communication and partnership at all levels of the game.
- And clean your room and eat all your vegetables.
Brendan Shanahan's hockey summit was held December 7 and 8. The participants: