Here at On Goal Analysis, we have a recommendation for study during the next NHL R&D Camp.
If there remains a desire to increase scoring, how about trying to attack one of the key areas where puck movement gets clogged up – the Neutral Zone?
We propose testing a change to the Offside Rule in order to increase the potential for scoring chances.
It is pretty clear what Off-sides is in the NHL rule book: “…83.1 Off-side - Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone….”
How do you potentially alter this rule without inducing ‘down town hockey’ and the reason off sides was introduced as a rule in the first place. The intent would decidedly NOT be to remove a definition of off-sides altogether, just to, in effect, extend the neutral zone.
Our proposal would read, “…83.1.1 Off-side – No more than one player of the attacking team may precede the puck into the attacking zone as deep as the nearest mark for the faceoff circles before the puck crosses the attacking zone blue line….”
What The Change Looks Like
Graphically, the change in the rule as stated above looks like this:
There are at least four, basic passing routes to get the puck into the attacking zone. In a transition to offense, the attacking team may send what could be called a ‘Rover’ across the attacking blue line once they have possession of the puck, but the early man would have to remain on the defending side of the faceoff circles until the puck comes across the blue line (see the imaginary, dotted blue line in the picture above).
Second And Third Orders Of Effect
Perhaps the most obvious effect this none-too-subtle change would spawn is an elongation of the neutral zone as in the graphic below:
If we may provide the blinding flash of the obvious (BFO), the Rover forces at least one, if not two, foes backwards out of the neutral zone in order to defend against the deep attacker. That unclogs the neutral zone by at least one – if not two – defenders and buys attackers more real estate to set up scoring chances.
It will force players to see ‘deeper’ down the ice and therefore, mentally play the game faster.
It will put a premium on skaters – and even goalies – who can pass the puck tape-to-tape as accurately and long-range as possible in order to facilitate quick attacks up ice.
It will potentially open up the offensive spread in the zone as one player is now positioned deeper down the ice.
It will potentially create a new emphasis on using more of the middle of the ice over the attacking zone blue line than the ‘rim around’ push along the boards depending on the Rovers’ position.
It will potentially create more scoring chances as the Rover may get in behind the defense like a player does now on a breakaway.
Where the attack breaks down due to bad/intercepted passes, it potentially creates more opportunities to quickly transition to an odd-man attack back into zone.
Overall, it supports offensive hockey, potentially creating a quick method to score with less players clogging up the Neutral Zone. In effect, its implementation serves to break up the Neutral Zone trap.
Lest You Think It’s Completely Absurd…
…This idea can be exploited under current, no-red line rules in its desired effect. Current rules have a Rover remaining on his defending side of the blue line until the puck crosses it. But a defender/forward that is moving the puck up ice simply has to loft a puck over the neutral zone to a spot somewhere between the attacking zone blueline and the top of the faceoff circles instead of sending it along the ice. With skill and good placement, the puck crossing the blue line in the air releases the Rover to follow it into the attacking zone, potentially behind the defenders. It is, in military terms, an ‘air assault’ play into the attacking zone.
So we would like to see the neutral zone opened up in favor of more offensively oriented hockey by redefining the off-sides rule to allow for up to one Rover over the attacking zone blue line and north of the faceoff circles prior to the puck’s arrival. This change could fundamentally alter hockey tactics and potentially increase scoring chances/goals due to the increased space it provides on the ice.
A candidate for the next NHL R&D Camp? Why not take this baby out for a test spin?
We say give 'er a shot.