The solution no one wants to think about (including me)

Things are a little slow here in Rangerland as we count down to the pre-season, so I thought I’d tackle a more global topic.

Not withstanding the (now completely predictable) labor squabbles of recent years, the NHL has consistently investigated and implemented ways to improve its overall on-ice product.  They aren’t plagued with the constant felony arrests of the NFL and NBA, nor the drunk driving and steroid issues of MLB.  Most of the athletes are humble professionals who respect the game and the fans.  Now, the NHL is not without its problems.  There have been several nagging issues that have persisted through rule changes, new committees, summer R&D camps and beta tests in lower leagues.  The most demonstrative examples include not enough goal scoring, concussions and obstruction-type penalties.

Now, all three of these major problems could be solved by one simple solution, and it’s not one anyone around the league wants to consider, myself included: moving the NHL to olympic sized rinks.  I know what you’re thinking, I don’t like it either.  It seems borderline sacrilegious.  The NHL has always played on North American sized rinks.  It’s what has differentiated the NHL from the Olympics and the inferior European leagues.  We like the physicality, the fighting, the hard-nosed style of play that comes along with the smaller rink, but consider each league problem…

While this summer hasn’t seen the ridiculous bowed-out nets or just plain bigger ones, the league is again reducing the size of goalie pads to help increase red light frequency.  I’m not going to pontificate about how I feel about these new regulations (I’m sure you can guess my stance), but look at the underlying problem.  This past season, the NHL averaged just over 5.0 goals per game, down from almost 8.0 goals per game in the 1980’s.  Goals are what casual fans come to see, and there’s nothing quite as entertaining as a good ol’ fashioned barn-burner.  The trapezoid and removal of the two-line pass are other examples of alterations to the rulebook for the sake of increased scoring, not to mention all the previous goalie equipment limitations.

While some of the changes worked (red line removal, original round of goalie equipment changes) and some have not (trapezoid, cutting the crease down), they ignore a well established assumption: players with room score more goals.  Every four years we watch, enthralled at the Olympics.  The action is high-tempo, end-to-end, creative hockey.  It’s the best players in the world with room to maneuver and wider passing lanes.  Smaller, skilled players like Mats Zuccarello thrive and put on displays of tremendous puck handling and passing abilities.  And goal scoring isn’t the only thing a bigger sheet would remedy…

The biggest thorn in the league’s side the past few years has been the frightening rate in which players are being sidelined with concussions.  There have been equipment advances, tighter restrictions and harsher penalties enforced to keep players safe.  The problem is that hockey players are bigger, stronger and faster than they have ever been.  These guys aren’t 5’10”, 180 lbs anymore.  As of 2010, the average NHL player was 6’1”, 205 lbs.  With players like Zdeno Chara and Dion Phaneuf running around, it’s surprising there aren’t more concussions.  Is it possible the modern game has simply outgrown the 200×85 sheet we all know and love?

Back to my Mats Zuccarello example, his performance in his breakout season for Modo in the SEL also demonstrates the skill that can be displayed when quarters aren’t so tight that obstruction type penalties are that frequent.  It’s much harder to pin a player in the corner of an olympic sheet than an NHL sheet.  More room is less congestion, less scrumming in the corners and more passing and creativity.  Now, the speed that is achieved at the NHL level is helped by the smaller rinks and board battles are an inherent part of the game, but wouldn’t a bigger rink help with the clutch ‘n grab problem better than calling phantom hooking penalties?

All in all, I don’t really like the idea of the NHL switching rink size, but then again, I think the game is absolutely phenomenal the way it is.  (Maybe take out the trapezoid and implement some type of hybrid icing, but the point stands).  I think the league should continue to educate and be adaptive to concussions and other issues of player safety, while forging ahead with efforts to market the game.  I’m fine however, with the frequency of goal scoring and (at least from a team building perspective) the focus on goaltending and defense to build championship sides.

What I do believe, though, is that if the league is truly concerned about these issues, they need to at least consider and discuss this possibility.  They might test it out and realize it won’t help.  But until they do, it seems like a pretty logical option that no one is willing to take the time to examine.

What do you guys think?  Is this a viable solution?  Any pros or cons you think I missed?  Sound off in the comments below.

13 Responses to “The solution no one wants to think about (including me)”

  1. Mikeyyy says:

    I would prefer that the Olympics, euro leagues and the nhl all come to a consensus on the dimensions of the rink.

    Somewhere between NA rinks and Olympic rinks. I’m thinking 92 feet wide. Get rid of the trapezoid. Let the goalies play the puck to keep it moving.

    Call hits with your arms up elbowing.

  2. PopLoserTwit (@PopsTwitTar) says:

    I don’t think a larger ice sheet automatically means more scoring (lots of people will tell you about how much trapping apparently goes on in Europe) but I don’t think this is such a radical idea. Anything that opens up space on ice is a good idea to me.

    I think the Olympics might not be the best example. These are all-star teams…lacking the 3rd and 4th line grinders and goons that I would argue are as much to blame for “clogging” the game.

    Unfortunately this would not be an option until the next round of new arena construction… Which is what…maybe 15-20 year away? The NHL should have mandated larger rinks when it did the 1990s expansion.

  3. Walt says:

    The NHL rinks are just fine, plenty of space for good skaters.

    The problem is that they aren’t really enforcing the clutch, and grabbing the way they should. Also, like Mikeyyy said, hits with arms high should be called elbowing. Do these simple things, and the game opens up quickly. Make elbowing a four minute penalty, see how the crap stops, and the idiots like the Cookes of the world become old hat, and are gone from the game.

    The current size of the rinks make it such that there is hitting, that will be gone from the game, and it becomes the ice capades, who wants that??

  4. KC says:

    I do think larger rinks would both help breed a more creative style of play and limit hard contact/concussions… however given how important it appears to be to these owners about scraping every dime out of the arenas… I can’t imagine they’d be willing to spend the money to expand the playing surface (some places may need renovating to accommodate)and give up a few rows of seats. And you lose me on the Zuccarello comment… 2010 in Vancouver was played on NHL ice…

    • Justin says:

      You’re right KC, that was a proof reading error, I meant to say his huge season for Modo in 09-10, I’ll fix that right up.

      • Justin says:

        I also agree with you about losing the seating in the arena, I think that would be a huge revenue consideration for the owners…

  5. Vic says:

    Twit stole my thunder.

    Having watched numerous games on bigger ice, I’m not a fan. More scoring on bigger ice is a misconception. Not to long ago, about 3-4 years ago, the KHL had scoring drop below 5 goals a game.
    Using the Olympics is a bad example because you’re dealing with the best on best in a constricted schedule with a lot on the line. Of course it’s going to be good hockey.
    But when you get two bad teams during the dogs of the season – imagine Calgary vs New Jersey in early February – you’ll watch to gouge your eyes out. (Would expansion increase scoring? Usually scoring spikes up a bit afterwards but normalizes.)

    Call the game as it should be and scoring will be fine. I think scoring has dropped since the 04/05 lockout because refs are letting the clutch and grabbing creep back into the game. Also fewer power plays as result.

    There are a number of reasons why scoring has dropped and will always stay where it is – goaltending and coaching.

    The one area where I will concede where bigger ice might be a benefit is in the area of reducing concussions. Given that the bigger ice leads to a less physical game, with fewer hits, that means less concussions. But in that regard, much like calling the game as it should be, punish head shots more strictly, as well as diminish the need for fighting, and concussions will start dropping as well.

  6. pauronty says:

    What the NHL should do & it’s a no brainer is increase the size of the nets. In this day of behemoth goalies with behemoth equipment increasing the nets by even 1″(I prefer 2″) on each side and on top would result in more goals & more excitement. But the NHL is run by dinosaurs & then there are the traditionalists who think all change is bad.

    • Justin says:

      And make goalies relearn their entire positioning paradigm? Seems much less intrusive than bigger ice…

  7. Justin says:

    Just to be clear, I’m not advocating for the move. I just find it curious that with all of the relatively strange R&D suggestions they are willing to try (bowed-out nets?, really?), no one is even investigating the merits of it.

    I could very well be that it has no effect at all on any of these problems, but the fact that its not even being considered is a bit odd.

  8. Chuck A says:

    My solution is this: find out the average weight and height of the players when the dimensions of the rink were initially developed, then adjust the rink today to the 2000 or 2010 averages. Do this for goal dimensions, too.

  9. Bayman says:

    I think the biggest factor working against is the necessary arena renovations.

  10. Doug says:

    Never happen. Larger rinks mean less seats and fewer potential dollars. Its all about the money.