Changes to Power Play Rules Could Make Biggest Impact

By David Strehle
ot Stove Creative Editor

The National Hockey League’s Senior VP of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan and other forward-thinking hockey minds assembled in Toronto today for the commencement of the second annual Research and Development camp.

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With Colin Campbell at announcement of Shanahan's new post with NHL. (Photo Credit: Dave Sandford / Getty Images)

36 of the top-ranked North American 17-year-olds will take part in scrimmages under the watchful eyes of NHL GMs and scouts, testing out a number of potential NHL rule changes.

The camp is designed to do a bit of fact-finding on different adjustments that can both improve the game as well as making it safer for the players.

It seems that a couple of issues that are at the forefront of the proposed rule changes could have the biggest postive impact on the game, and they revolve around the power play.

At present, a short-handed team can ice the puck to their heart’s content.  The proposal at hand is for the rule to be altered so that the shorthanded club not be permitted to ice the puck.

First off, the current rules raise some basic, common sense questions:

Why should a band of penalty-killers be allowed to shoot the puck the length of the ice while a teammate sits in the sin bin when they cannot do the same while playing at even strength?

Is it really a minus for a squad with an excellent PK to commit a penalty in order to neutralize an opposition scoring chance when they’ll likely be able to kill off a resultant power play?

Why would a league so desperate for an increase in offensive output have rules in place that encourage the opposite result?

Shanahan appeared on Tuesday’s edition of That’s Hockey with host Gino Reda, and discussed the possible modification to the rules while a club is operating with the man advantage.

There are some things…some of the power play situations where we’re going to put a little bit more pressure on the penalty-killers,” Shanahan said.

That would seem like a good idea.  When watching many NHL games over the past decade, you can sometimes find yourself wondering if a power play is truly a man “advantage” at all.  If the NHL seriously wants to see talent, creativity, and scoring increase at a noticeable clip, the power play could be the beginning of where to focus.

I think as you look at the statistics through the years, penalty-killing it seems, has become more proficient than the power play,” Shanahan continued.

He would be correct.

According to, after experiencing a modest spike in 2008-09, scoring in the NHL was down for a second consecutive season in 2010-11.

NHL Goal Scoring, Last Decade

As you can see by the chart to the left (based on the information provided at Drop Your Gloves), overall league scoring since the turn of the century remains an area of concern.

 The 1980′s saw scoring at its apex.  During the course of the entire decade, the total number of goals per game (GPG) never dropped below 7 – and saw a nearly-40 year high of 8.03 in 1981-82.
But as the 1990′s approached, defensive systems would see the amount of GPG drop substantially.  After a 90′s high of 7.25 GPG in 1992-93, offensive totals dropped off the map with the advent and perfection of ”the trap” and “left wing lock”.
As a matter of fact, the graph shows that over the course of the past 10 years - and after a lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 campaign – the average total amount of goals in an NHL contest has increased less than a half a goal per game.
Aside from the financial battles being waged by the league and NHLPA, it hardly seems this is what everyone envisioned at the cost of losing an entire season.
The only real significant increase was the year following the lockout.  During the 2005-06 season – with many new rules in place to encourage goal-scoring – NHL games topped the 6 goal mark (6.17 GPG) for the first time since ’95-’96.

One obvious way to help rectify that issue would be with giving more bite to the power play.

So when Shanahan continued, his words were kind of puzzling.

I don’t think we’re at a point yet where we want to make a change, but if it continues down that road, or if we feel that we need to make a tweak to that rule, this is a good way of looking for it.”

Not exactly sure why the need to see the status quo continue in order for substanitive change to occur.  The league has seen scoring continually going down the same road for some time.

One of the “tweaks” to the current rules is the issue of players being able to ice the puck while shorthanded.  By allowing them to do so, the power play really doesn’t possess near the threat of making a penalized team pay, but rather levels the playing field for the penalty-killers.

That should change without even a second thought.

And while they’re at it, going back to making a player serve the entire two minutes of a minor penalty would be another positive.  This way the team on the power play has the opportunity to score multiple goals, just as they do on a five-minute major.

This suggestion is in no way to condone the majority of games being played via the special teams route.  The opposite would be preferential, as it tends to break any kind of flow a contest may have with a continual parade to the penalty box.

But if players have to serve the full two minutes of a minor, more discipline will have to be exercised.  Maybe a player will even think twice before taking a minor in order to thwart an opposition scoring chance if the alternative could instead be giving up multiple goals because a team possesses a lethal man advantage unit.  Can you imagine what would be going through Zdeno Chara’s mind if he had a clear shot at Patrick Sharp when the Blackhawk had a close-in chance on Tim Thomas?  Say the Bruins are holding a one-goal lead with less than five minutes to play in regulation.  It may be best for Chara to get position, but take his chances in allowing Thomas to make a big save instead of rolling the dice with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Sharp with a full two-minute advantage late in the game.  Boston may not only give up a tying goal, but also run the risk of allowing a go-ahead tally late in regulation.

The full two minute PP is not unprecedented, and in fact, that used to be the rule in the 1950′s.  But the Montreal Canadiens of that era were so deadly with the advantage that the rule was modified to even the playing field.

Maybe it’s time to switch back and let teams have the full PP time.

Here are three other items of interest that the camp will be focusing on during the two-day event (With the CURRENT format, the PROPOSED CHANGE to each, and NHL Hot Stove’s  thoughts on the subject):

  • Overtime Format and ManpowerCURRENT:  Five minute overtime with a four-on-four format.  PROPOSED CHANGE:  Four minutes of four-on-four and if still not decided, it will be followed by a three-on-three format for three minutes.  NHL Hot Stove:  Any possible way of avoiding the shootout is a positive, so go with it.  I wouldn’t mind seeing the time periods extended to five minutes in both the four-on-four and three-on-three situations, as it would seem to add to the excitement, as well as games decided without the shootout.  Some of the most riveting regular season hockey since the lockout of 2005 has been during the four-on-four OT periods, as the speed and skill of players is accentuated with more room to operate.  Go for it.
  • Hybrid IcingCURRENT:  The race for the puck results in either an icing touch up, or a sometimes momentum-changing moment.  PROPOSED CHANGE:  The excitement of the race is still there, with the play being allowed to continue at the discretion of the linesman.  If the offensive player gets to the faceoff dot first and it’s deemed that he will reach the puck first, play will continue.  However, if the defenseman hits the faceoff dot first and it’s apparent he will be first to arrive at the puck, the play is blown dead.  NHL Hot Stove:  If an offensive player gets to the puck first to negate the icing call with great hustle, it can even sometimes lead to a scoring chance.  This rule preserves the thrill of the chase while eliminating the danger associated with the battle reaching the end boards.  Look no further than horrific injuries suffered by defensemen Bob DaileyKurtis Foster, and countless others as to why this is a necessary adjustment.  This is where the “player safety” portion of Shanahan’s duties come into play, and there is no question here that this rule should be instituted immediately.
  •  No Line Change for Offending Team of OffsidesCURRENT:  Both teams can make changes immediately following an offsides call.  PROPOSED CHANGE:  The team committing the offsides would not be allowed to change players, a la the current rules associated with an icing call.  NHL Hot Stove:  As far as the penalty associated with offsides being in-line with that of the icing rule, it is a great idea.  There are also proposals to have the ensuing faceoff taken deep into the offending team’s zone, also identical to the disposition of icing the puck.  But there are also many in the hockey community that have voiced their concern that such a rule will limit the creativity of offensively-gifted players and lead to more dump-and-chase.  This could especially be the case if the fallout becomes a defensive-zone faceoff with tired players stuck out on the ice.  This is one that has it’s obvious upsides, but comes with the possibility of downsides, as well.  We will leave our feelings on the matter at bay until after we see the results of just how well the rule tests in R & D camp.  But we will say that if player creativity remains, we’re all for it.

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