Hockey Notes

A lengthy look at icing call

By Kevin Paul Dupont
August 14, 2011

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The NHL goes back to the classroom this week with another of its research-and-development camps Wednesday and Thursday in Toronto. Under the watchful eyes of many of the league’s general managers and its quality-control overseer, Brendan Shanahan, a collection of the top teenagers eligible for the 2012 draft will scrimmage in what amounts to a controlled hockey lab, in part to allow the league to gauge rule changes.

“All of this,’’ said Shanahan, “is with the understanding that we really like the game right now. But if there are things down the road that concern us - like, ‘Is the penalty killing too good?’ or, ‘Do we need to speed up the game?’ - then we’ll have taken a look at a few things over time.

“We’ll be able to say, ‘OK, look, here’s the data we’ve collected over the last 3-4 years and here’s what should happen if you make this change.’ ’’

Shanahan kidded that all potential changes are looked at through a filter that allows decision-makers to ponder, “OK, what would Roger Neilson do to screw this up?’’ The late Neilson, of course, was revered throughout the game as an X’s-and-O’s mastermind as coach, even if his former boss in Toronto, Harold Ballard, wasn’t convinced.

Shanahan, the sure-shot Hall of Famer who today is the NHL’s vice president of hockey and business operations, agreed with the premise here that an uptick in penalty-killing proficiency in recent years has had a greater influence on the game than a power play that he muses has been “stagnant or going down.’’

To that point, said Shanahan, at least one of the scrimmages this week will alter the icing standard that exists now when a team is shorthanded. Ergo, the team killing the penalty will not be allowed to fire the puck out of its own zone to relieve pressure. Though he is not convinced there should be a change in the rule, Shanahan said that, overall, he favors rules that award skill and punish the lack of it.

“Look, I think part of it is that [icing the puck] is easy to coach,’’ said Shanahan. “Just about any kid with guts and good skating ability can play the PK.’’

The overall impact of not allowing the shorthanded team to ice the puck should be threefold:

1. More power-play goals.

2. More shorthanded goals. Because shorthanded teams, in theory, will have to put more skilled players on the ice.

3. More five-on-five play. Because teams wouldn’t be as inclined to commit penalties.

One issue with such a change, Shanahan noted, is that teams may continue to fire the puck down the ice, stopping the clock once the linesman whistled icing. If so, play would become choppier, even stalled. But that wouldn’t be the case if the offending team were hit with an added penalty for delay of game - not unlike the penalty for firing the puck into the stands as a means to stop the clock.

“That brings up another point we’ve talked about for some time,’’ said Shanahan. “Part of me would be reluctant to call the penalty in that circumstance because, frankly, of how much I like those long home-run passes we see now that we’ve taken out the red line.

“Obviously, they’re not always successful, but those long bombs are really fun to watch. It’s a very exciting element.

“Well, if you’ve got a defenseman back there killing a penalty, and his name isn’t Bobby Orr, Nicklas Lidstrom, or Ray Bourque, then maybe he’ll be hesitant to try that pass.

“So, as much as I might like to see the PK team pay the price, that might be too much of a price.’’

The compromise, said Shanahan, could be to borrow an element from the NBA rule book. Just as pro basketball begins to assess added free throws when team fouls reach five, NHL teams would be allowed only a certain number of icings per game before each one triggered a minor penalty. Perhaps, said Shanahan, only the icings in shorthanded situations would count toward a penalty.

All a matter of trial and error. Last year, said Shanahan, the R&D camp looked at an initiative to scale the game down to three faceoff circles, one in each zone, all in the middle of the ice. Everyone was certain, he said, that dots painted in the slot area at each end of the ice would lead to a dramatic uptick in goals.

“But after only 10 minutes, just the opposite became clear,’’ he said. “With everyone bunched up in the middle of the ice for the faceoff, it had a much bigger impact defensively. So you just never know until you actually see how it plays on the ice.’’

Time is flying for the champs Just about a month to go before the Bruins open training camp. The rookies report on Sept. 12, and the veterans will trickle in all week before the official weekend kickoff. General manager Peter Chiarelli said Friday that the club, once wrapping up its preseason schedule Oct. 1, likely will head to the Vermont hills again for a couple of days of team-building exercises.

“The themes we’ll be focusing on will be twofold,’’ said Chiarelli. “The obvious desire to repeat, and also the added battle of dealing with a short summer, getting back to work so quickly.’’

The Bruins clinched the Stanley Cup in Vancouver on June 15 and didn’t clean out their lockers until the afternoon of June 19 (with a side trip to friendly Foxwoods). Following a 107-game season - the longest in club history - the summer will feel shorter than the run of a failed TV sitcom.

One thing that should ease the Black-and-Gold’s return to work is the travel-friendly schedule for the first six weeks of the season. The Bruins will be on home ice for 13 of their first 17 games, with only one-night trips to Chicago, Raleigh, Montreal, and Toronto.

Conversely, the co-finalist Canucks will be on the road for 11 of their first 17 games, with trips to Columbus, Philadelphia, Detroit, Edmonton (twice), Calgary, St. Paul, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Anaheim.

No deal yet for Marchand No substantial movement on a new deal for Bruins left winger Brad Marchand, a restricted free agent without arbitration rights. The Little Ball of Hate was sensational in the playoffs (11-8-19 in 25 games) and certainly can point to the cap figures of David Krejci ($3.75 million) and Milan Lucic ($4.083 million) as reasonable comps within the club’s pay structure. General manager Peter Chiarelli politely declined to comment on the situation. Marchand’s agent, Wade Arnott, who also represented ex-Bruin Phil Kessel prior to his being traded to Toronto two years ago, did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

A daft site? The Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that the Penguins’ sparkling new home, the CONSOL Energy Center, could be the site of the 2012 draft. Good spot, Pittsburgh, but it was host to the 1997 draft, and 15 years is a quick turnaround for a 30-team league. Roughly half of the league’s owners and GMs could feel slighted if Mario Lemieux and Friends get the call again so soon. Not to mention that Lemieux was highly critical of the league last season when Colin Campbell, then the league’s top disciplinarian, went rather light on the Islanders - according to Lemieux - following a brawl with the Penguins. In a club-issued statement, in fact, Lemieux openly questioned his interest in staying involved in a league with such questionable governance. Now his team could get the draft in 2012?

Old-timers’ days The Canucks have invited both Owen Nolan, 39, and Todd Fedoruk, 32, to training camp on a tryout basis. Nolan last season played in Switzerland (7-19-26 in 24 games) and Fedoruk remained out of skates after playing 50 games with Tampa in 2009-10. The Bruins, said Chiarelli, similarly are weighing an invite to a veteran winger, but he preferred not to make public the name of the player. “One of those things,’’ said Chiarelli. “Maybe the guy will get a contract elsewhere, or maybe he’ll retire. So, in fairness to him, I’d rather not say who we’ve got in mind.’’

Crime and punishment It’s now up to the Crown Prosecutor’s office in Quebec to decide whether it will charge Boston captain Zdeno Chara for his big hit on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty. A Montreal Gazette story last week noted that a decision is not expected prior to November, which would be after the clubs already have faced each other twice. If Big Z gets clotheslined by the long arm of Quebec law, then shouldn’t Vancouver’s Aaron Rome get the same treatment for his knockdown on Nathan Horton that put the Bruins winger out of the Cup final? Of course, the NHL actually suspended Rome for his hit, while Chara’s went without supplemental discipline.

The spin on Weber Shea Weber’s $7.5 million arbitration award with Nashville places him $3 million above David Legwand and Martin Erat atop the Predators’ pay scale. It also might make him an endangered species for the cost-conscious franchise. The Predators remain a comfortable $10 million-plus below the cap, so the fit isn’t a problem. Had another club signed Weber as a restricted free agent at that figure, the compensation would have been four first-round picks. Draft prospects wouldn’t offer immediate solace for losing a stud D-man/captain. But given the Predators’ desire to stick to a tight budget, perhaps a substantial player-and-prospects package would entice GM David Poile to make a deal. Maybe something like a $3 million player and, say, three first-round picks? Weber, who turns 26 today, is a restricted free agent again next July 1, but he cannot be forced into accepting arbitration, giving him leverage to force a trade.

Voted off the island? Nassau County voters couldn’t be convinced to back a $400 million arena build-out for the Islanders, who remain locked into their Coliseum lease until 2015 (potentially four more seasons). Lots of alternatives remain, including owner Charles Wang shopping his once-proud franchise elsewhere on the island or working out a deal in Queens or Brooklyn. The end of the Nassau lease dovetails nicely with the planned new rink in Quebec City. A sale now to Quebec interests with a move planned for 2015 would surely make for a paltry gate in Uniondale the next four seasons, but it certainly would make for a comfortable, intelligent return to Quebec City.

Loose pucks Two months after the mayhem, there still has not been a single person charged in relation to the post-Game 7 riots in Vancouver. Barney Fife must have left Mayberry to be Vancouver’s top cop . . . Low on the radar, but I really like Chicago’s one-year, $2 million deal for forward Andrew Brunette. OK, he’ll be 38 this month, but he consistently gets the job done, for a career stash of 1,032 games and 706 points. He missed all of two games the last three seasons in St. Paul . . . Local agent Jay Fee continues to hunt for a job for ex-Boston University standout Mike Grier. “Ongoing discussions with a few clubs, including Buffalo,’’ Fee reported via e-mail . . . Picked up a rental car in Vancouver last Saturday for a day trip to Whistler (Larry Glick two-tone whistle here) at the very same time Habs great Yvon Cournoyer was turning in his rental (believe his keys were for a vintage Plymouth Road Runner). Prior to motoring off the lot, I politely asked the attendant to pump my tires. He kindly obliged. Just seemed the thing to do in Vancouver, ya know? . . . Dishing the biscuit to good pal Fluto Shinzawa, who will fill this space for the remainder of the summer. No need to pump his tires. Always a smooth ride with the Flute Dog.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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