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Friday, March 11, 2011

Attacking The Neutral Zone Trap?

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.

The Rule

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.

Summary

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.

7 comments:

Miller said...

Seems like you would need at least one additional linesman to have any chance of enforcing this accurately. It seems like there are already a handful of blown offsides calls (some more egregious than others) as it is, with this proposal there would now be two lines to worry about, once of which is invisible. Even if you painted the "2nd blue line" on the ice you'd still have one ref watching two lines on every play.

Neat idea, though.

Anonymous said...

Your proposal adds more than 30 linear feet of ice for the defense to cover. I know that was your point, to stretch out the neutral zone, but that would be far more than is reasonable. Before going to your extreme, the league should try to widen the blue lines from 12" to 36". That would have a salutary impact on offense by cutting down on the constant offsides from stickhandling at the blue line. As we here all the time in the injury debate, today's hockey players play much faster than their predecessors, which has rendered the old 1' blue line obsolete. If nothing else, we'll see people trying to make a play to gain the zone instead of the constant dump and chase that teams need to employ against trap teams.

john said...

Legislating the trap out of the game is not going to drive up the entertainment value of ice hockey. It's going to turn most games into the all-star game which fans already dislike. Lastly, you're removing the responsibility of coaches to actually coach their teams and craft systems to counter the opposition.

Look at the NBA, their efforts to legislate any type of zone defense makes the game look silly. If the NHL truly has the best players, they should be able to beat any system.

The Colonel said...

Great comments!

Was wondering if this was tried if the linesman wouldn't simply play a bit deeper, necessitating the change in width to the blue line as mentioned (and calling into question referee competancy even more it would seem).

Maybe the answer is simply increase the size of the rink approximately 10% to equal the change in the average size of players since the rule book was written - size change would be in overall width of the playing surface behind the goal itself to bring back 'Gretzky's Office.'

And yet, I would like to see it in practice because it would change how the game is played.

Keep the comments coming!

taylor said...

I could see this being confusing in some ways and a bit inaccessible to casual and new fans. I also agree with the problems of now having a linesman watch two offside lines, one of which is invisible.

One thing I thought of (which may still have the problem of linesmen watching two things at once) would be instead of having the second invisible line, if instead of players having to wait for the puck to cross the line before entering the offensive zone, you made it so that they could enter when the pass was released from their team mate's stick. This would be somewhat analogous to how offside works in soccer.

D Land said...

Here is a simple rule they can put in to eliminate the trap. Get rid of the stupid trapezoid thing and make it illegal for the goalie to touch the puck behind the icing line. Trap demolished !

The trapezoid idea would have worked... if it were reversed !

The Colonel said...

Here's one I didn't think of before, inspired by the retooling of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Take the chip out of the season ticket holder jerseys, put it in players' jerseys and the puck and have offsides called electronically.

You could also drop to one linesman to drop pucks and help the 'blue line' referee break up players at the end of a fight, in effect puttin more 'room' back out on the ice.