SANTA CRUZ, October 12, 2013 — The new National Hockey League (NHL) season is a couple of weeks in, and there now exists some empirical data on how the new rule and equipment changes have affected the game. Teams are also approaching the end of the nine-game window for their rookies before they either have to send them back to junior or have the first year of their contracts kick in.
There have already been more wrap around chances and plays around the net due to shallower netting and the nets smaller footprint on the ice. The added space behind the net has allowed for more offense to be generated there as well. Prior to this season, the area behind the net was a a place the puck would pass through but seldom stop, unless a defenseman was waiting for a breakout to set up.
The NHL is also experimenting with what they call hybrid icing, where an icing call will be left to the linesman’s discretion, based on where the pursuing players are when the puck crosses the face off dots. The intent is to eliminate dangerous races towards the end boards, where two players are skating full speed in an attempt to beat out a potential icing call. There have been a number of accidental collisions over the last several years, some of which have resulted in career-ending injuries.
Hybrid icing is a step in the right direction but it is still too ambiguous for the players. The only way to eliminate competitive collisions close to the boards at top speed is for the NHL to adopt automatic icing, already the law of the land in junior, college, and international hockey. Automatic icing, where the icing is called when the puck crosses the end line, regardless of where pursuing players are, will eliminate risk and speed the game up.
For NHL rookies, the first nine games of the season are important. They serve as an audition for a permanent roster spot. After nine games, teams must decide to either send the player back to junior or keep them and have the first year of their pro contracts kick in.
The Calgary Flames will soon be facing this dilemma with Sean Monahan. The team snared the 6’ 2” center with the sixth overall pick in last years draft, and he has made a strong case to stay with the Flames with 5 points in four games. Monahan’s size and hockey sense have impressed his coaches and he has not looked overmatched in the face off circle either.
The Flames were already going to be hard up for scoring this season, so the emergence of Monahan could give them an offensive boost. The team must weigh whether keeping him will help or hinder his development. If he cools off, his ice time will drop and he may even find himself in the press box more than on the ice. In this scenario everyone loses. The team is on the hook for a year of salary to a player who is barely playing. For the player, development during a crucial time in their career is stunted by lack of playing time. Had the team sent them back to their junior club, they would be playing big minutes every night. It is often a difficult decision but one which teams ought to feel fortunate to have.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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