by Alex Brownscombe
Many hockey fans, including myself, are sickened by the number of penalties called so far this pre-season. The NHL is introducing this “no tolerance” policy to crack down on obstruction, that so far has proven to create 35, 40, 45 minutes of power plays in a single 60 minute game. The logic behind this is to ultimately drown out all obstruction from the game, for players will simply learn not to clutch, grab, hook, or hold, sooner or later. But it isn’t as simple as that.
When, in all NHL history, have players ever adjusted to any sort of change? Multiple efforts in the past to introduce this no tolerance crack down have just resulted in the eventual cave-in from league. Let’s face it- no one wants a game in which five/sixths of it is played with one of the teams short-handed. The coaches don’t want to coach a game like that; general managers don’t want it either. From my standpoint and certainly the owner’s as well, fans don’t want to watch a game like that. Gary Bettman seems to believe that its so simple – “we’ll just not stop this time.”
We all know where this really is leading, to the same place it has after the last half-dozen efforts. Even if this crackdown survives late into the season (which seems unlikely) what’s going to happen come playoff time? What I’m getting at is that a whole new system needs to be implemented. A system that cuts down on obstruction, but also plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played- 5 on 5 (of course with the occasional penalty). What I’m suggesting is for the NHL to implement a progressive penalty system.
The basics of this system are that severity of the penalties increases as the game progresses or if the frequency of the infraction augments.
A few propositions of progressive system:
1. If a player accumulates his third minor of the game, he is ejected.
2. If a team as a whole accumulates over 5 minor penalties, a major penalty is awarded.
3. Minor penalties in the defensive zone, after the 5th minor has been awarded, result in a penalty shot
What this does is makes players think twice before clutching, grabbing, or hooking an opponent. That may be the same aim as the system the NHL is introducing now, however in this case successful penalty killing simply excuses the multiple infractions while degrading the product. Penalty killing is basically a science now. With the advent of the PK specialist, simply throwing players in the sin bin by the dozen doesn’t do anything except disinterest fans.
The goal of this progressive system is to put some kind of rational limit on the amount of odd man time there can be in a game. A target of somewhere in the 20 minute mark of game time chewed up by power plays is a reasonable goal. Hockey is best showcased when there is end to end flow – not a static set piece which is the nature of power play exhibits.