Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012 NHL General Managers Meetings

The NHL General Managers met this week to discuss several proposed rule changes for next season, among them the high profile discussions regarding changes to the icing rules in an effort to reduce injuries, as well as modifications to both the trapezoid behind the goals and issues regarding the use of the center red line for two-line passes.

In the end, hybrid icing was finally recommended, but, thinking that the game has had enough changes recently, everything else was put on hold for now, which in the case of putting the red line back in is a good thing.

There was one addition rule proposal which we had not heard about in advance of the meetings, and it's inclusion really caught us off guard - the proposal by the Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis to not only eliminate the hand pass in the defensive zone, but penalize anyone making one with a two minute minor.

Regular readers of this website will remember our previous calls for such a rule change, as we've written about the topic before, both here and as a guest writer on Hockey Blog in Canada, because if there's one rule in the NHL that we cannot stand, it is the allowing of the hand pass in the defensive zone.

Hand Pass

To us, hockey has always been a game of speed and flow, with high tempo games featuring end-to-end rushes making for the best games. Personally, we’ve been very pleased with the brand of hockey played since the return of the NHL following the lockout and the rule changes adopted at that time, the majority of which were designed, as commissioner Gary Bettman prefers to say, “to increase scoring chances.”

But somehow the hand pass rule survived the revamping of the game at the time of the Shanahan Summit.

The first issue we have with allowing the defensive hand pass is that it helps the defense decrease scoring chances. The second issue is that it’s legal at one end of the ice but not the other. If it’s deemed illegal on 2/3rds of the playing surface, why allow it on the rest? That just seems wrong.

The main problems we have with the defensive hand-pass is that it is the worst looking play in all of hockey. It’s an aesthetic nightmare to watch. Awkward at best, and ugly at it’s most common, the hand-pass is also contrary to the most basic, elemental point of the grand game of hockey, to advance the puck toward the other team’s goal with one’s stick.

We once brought this up with Commissioner Bettman himself during his weekly radio show, The NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman (12/11/08), and he stated “you’re absolutely right” and said it was something that had been discussed and probably would be on the agenda at the spring (2009) general manager’s meeting when they discussed rule changes. He went on to say it was not the first time this had been discussed as a suggested rule change and “that it was not as skilled a play as we like to see our game played” and “an excellent point.” and Co-host Bill Clement agreed. Obviously the rule was not overturned at that meeting or any subsequent ones.

The reason the hand-pass was originally allowed in the defensive zone was due to teams on the penalty kill deliberately making hand passes in order to get a whistle, which would allow them to get a cheap line change and likely the thinking behind keeping the rule in place.

This caving in to deliberate rule breaking was where the league erred in the first place, as the solution then, as it is now, would be to call any hand-pass by a team while shorthanded in their defensive zone a delay of game penalty. Under our proposal, the offending team would also be required to keep all of it’s remaining players on the ice at the time of the penalty, removing any incentive to attempt a hand pass to get a line change.

With a team already down a man, an additional man in the box under this proposal would lead to the desired “increased scoring chances” on the subsequent two man advantage, which should please the league and it’s fans.

The defensive hand pass doesn’t happen with great frequency, but when it does, it’s the visual equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard and we really feel it’s a good idea to remove the worst looking play in hockey in order to maintain the integrity of one of the game’s most basic elements, advancing the puck with the stick, and stop capitulating to the deliberate rule breakers.

As Clement said, “It’s an ugly play. Get rid of it.”

Sadly, the rule did not have enough traction this time in order to get a recommendation from the General Managers, but we are more than pleased to hear an actual NHL GM not only propose banning the hand pass, but adopting the two minute minor as well. Hopefully this is not the end of it, and the issue will be revisited and gain enough traction next time around that it will sometime in the not too distant future be not only recommended, but adopted as well.

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