Mellanby weighs in on NHL scoring debate

Former NHL forward Scott Mellanby suggests the league have teams defend the end of the ice opposite their bench in the first and third periods in an effort to increase scoring.

Says starting goalies at opposite end of ice could create better matchups for offensive players

There are those who believe the NHL should enlarge nets, shrink goalie equipment and implement more four-on-four hockey to increase scoring.

Former National Hockey League forward Scott Mellanby fuelled the debate during Saturday's Hotstove segment on Hockey Night in Canada.

Mellanby suggested the league break from tradition and have teams defend the end of the ice opposite their bench in the first and third periods.

Entering play Saturday, 2,058 goals had been scored this season in the second period, compared to 1,683 in the first period and 1,844 goals (excluding 185 empty-net markers) in the third frame.

Part of the reason could be the fact defencemen have a longer skate to the bench on line changes in the second period and more times than not are forced to stay on the ice longer. As a result, they get tired and are more prone to giving up goals at a frequent rate.

"Fatigue is the best creator of offence there is," Mellanby, who retired from the NHL in April 2007, said.

"If you switched the goaltenders to the other end of the ice, you would have the offensive zone in front of your bench twice. The idea is to create better matchups for your offensive players."

To illustrate his point, Mellanby talked about one-time New Jersey Devils defenceman Scott Stevens and his strategy when he visited Toronto.

"Every time there was a defensive-zone faceoff, Scott Stevens would go out on the ice," he said. "If [Maple Leafs top scorer] Mats Sundin comes out [on the ice] great. If he doesn't, New Jersey would get the puck out to the neutral zone or over the [centre] red line.

"[Stevens would] have that short [line] change to the bench and he'd sit and wait [for Sundin to return to the ice] for a change on the fly."

With a longer change by defencemen in the first and third periods, said Mellanby, teams could no longer chip the puck out of their zone and get off the ice quickly.

"And you could also coach against that a little bit," added Mellanby, who played for five teams in 20 NHL seasons. "If you see a guy like Stevens go on the ice, I could put a grinding line out and tell [the players] 'hey, give me 30, 40 seconds. Don't let this [front-line blue-liner] off the ice.'

"Drive him hard and I've got Sundin coming back next shift, either against a tired Scott Stevens or he's going to have to get off the ice and I'm going to get a better matchup.'"

Longtime hockey writer Al Strachan said such an idea makes sense but would be hard to implement.

He noted some season-ticket subscribers prefer to sit at a certain end of the ice, while there are NHL arenas that have set up their dressing rooms in a way that allows for easier access to the existing benches.

"I see nothing wrong with [Mellanby's proposal] but will [the NHL] do it? I don't think so."

Host Ron MacLean suggested fans might be convinced of change on the basis of more offence "but what would the GMs [general managers] say? They wouldn't want their star d-man getting pounded like that.

"The idea is just to create better matchups for your offensive players and you could coach against that a bit," Mellanby pointed out.

Strachan also mentioned that coaches prefer defence first and by exposing some of their better blue-liners would be taking a coaching defensive weapon away.

"What is more likely to happen," he said, "and I think it'll [be implemented] next year is the crackdown on goalies handling the puck when there's no need to.

"Guys now, they shoot the puck in and the goalie just decides to freeze the puck. It's a stoppage in play and you don't want that."

Mellanby also relayed a proposal from his father and former HNIC executive producer, Ralph Mellanby, saying teams should only be permitted line changes after goals, penalties and television timeouts to get away from matchups.

Stay tuned.