The new curved Plexiglass design will, the NHL feels, improve player safety. (Tim Wharnsby)
ETOBICOKE, ONT. -- Of the tweaks fiddled with on the first of the two-day NHL's research and development camp, the immediate benefit will be enhanced player safety and the way the league employs video to scrutinize possible goals.
As a result of Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty's violent collision when he was directed into a stanchion between the benches at the Bell Centre by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara last March, the NHL will use a curved piece of Plexiglas that the league feels will better protect the players from a repeat incident.
This innovative Plexiglas configuration was shown to the NHL competition committee last June and if the reviews from the R+D camp are positive, all rinks will be fitted before the start of the season in October.
"We've been working since the Pacioretty incident to better protect our players through the environment," NHL senior vice-president of hockey operations Kris King said. "We've been working with some engineers out of Philadelphia and had some different ideas we've thought about. We talked about beefed up padding, but just felt that an actual deflection area caused by curved glass could allow a player to deflect off a surface rather than hit it solid.
"There's a definite way for [the curved glass] to be made where there's an actual spring-loaded system in place and it will be able to bounce back. Anywhere in our buildings where there is a termination point, such as the benches, it will be rounded, so a player coming into it will have the ability to roll off of it, rather than hit it hard. The plan is to have it in place in all buildings at the start of the year."
The league also has shrunk the size of the photo hole in the corner glass after last year's incident when Maple Leafs forward Darryl Boyce messed up his face when slammed into one.
In terms of video review, it appears the NHL will use a second green-coloured verification line behind the goal line that will help determine whether a puck is completely across the goal line.
Also, the league tinkered with a clear top to the net and thinner net mesh in the hopes of giving overhead cameras a clearer picture on video reviews.
"We have a verification line the width of the puck, plus a little bit behind the back of the red line," King said. "So our theory is if the puck touches a bit of that green line, then it has to be completely over. The clear net we're trying on top is the same strength as the ribbon on the back of the net, but it gives you a clearer angle. We're also pouring water and Gatorade on it, knowing our goalies will try everything they can to [obscure it].
"We also have a lot more thinner mesh on the top to see [pucks] more precisely. On an HD camera, you can really pick up the puck. It takes away that black area [on camera] when you're wondering is a puck over the line.
"We're trying a new net cam that will show the entire goal line, as well as our overhead camera which shows all the other stuff. It gives you a second look at the line, because sometimes that overhead camera will get blocked out by a player or a goalie's arm. Sometimes, you see a puck that might be in, so now you can see it from over top. We used that in the Stanley Cup semifinals and the final last year."
This was the first official event under the watch of the NHL's new chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, who was raised a few blocks from the site of the R+D camp at the Maple Leafs practice facility.
Shanahan stated that he likes the current state of the game, but that it doesn't hurt to experiment.
"We certainly look at trends," he said. "A couple years ago we thought that too many games were being undecided in overtime. Without too many rule changes that seemed to straighten itself out last year."
Here are five tweaks that generated discussion among the 14 NHL general managers and 30-plus scouts in attendance on the first day.
1. The nets that were four inches shallower. This creates more space behind the goal, changes passing angles and gives a skill player more opportunities for wraparounds.
2. A player serves his penalty to its entirety, even if the other team scores.
3. Icings will be called on the team killing a penalty.
4. An offside results in a face-off in the offending team's end.
5. The different face-off variations that were used.
Here is a summary of the tweaks that were on display on Wednesday:
- No-touch icing
- No line change for team committing an offside
- Face-off variations (penalty line for center committing an infraction; all face-offs in circles; same linesman drops puck for all face-offs)
- No icing permitted while shorthanded
- Verification line (additional line behind the goal line)
- Overtime variation (four minutes of 4-on-4 followed by three minutes of 3-on-3)
- Shootout variation (5-man shootout precedes sudden-death format)
- Shallow-back nets
- After offside, face-off goes back to offending team's end
- Face-off variations (both centers must come set on whistle; all face-offs in circles; same linesman drops puck for all face-offs)
- Delayed penalty variation (offending team must exit zone in possession of puck to stop play)
- Changes only permitted on-the-fly (except after goals and upon manpower changes)
- Strict enforcement of goaltenders covering puck outside crease (Rule 63.2)
- Remove trapezoid
- Verification line
- Allow hand passes in all zones
- Overtime variation (switch ends)
- Shootout variation (5-man shootout with repeat players if tied after 5 shooters)
- Thin-netting nets
On Thursday's agenda
- Hybrid icing
- Offside variation (offending team can't change and face-off in its end zone)
- Face-off variations (player encroaching can't replace thrown-out center, all face-offs in circles; same linesman drops puck for all face-offs)
- All penalties to be served in their entirety
- Strict enforcement of goaltenders covering puck outside crease (rule 63.2)
- Bear-hug rule
- Verification line
- Overtime variation (switch ends for four minutes of 4-on-4, followed by three minutes of 3-on-3)
- Shootout variation (3-man shoot out with repeat shooters if tied after 3 shooters)
- All-Star skills competition (fastest skater, breakaway challenge, accuracy shooting, skills relay challenge, hardest shot, elimination shootout)
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