Adrenaline can cause curious human behavior. We’re familiar with the stories about people lifting cars with their hands to save pedestrians trapped underneath.
So in that way, with terror as motivation, I think I could retrieve a puck on occasion on an NHL penalty kill and fling it down the ice. The pain of teeth shattered by a forechecker gone berserk would be slightly dulled by the attaboys I’d receive from coaches and teammates en route to the dentist’s chair.
This is precisely the point.
The NHL is too good, too competitive, and too elite for any bum to walk in off the street and do anything successfully. Yet since 1937-38, a rule has been in place to do exactly that.
It does not take much skill to corral a loose puck and send it, perhaps by clanging it off the glass, rapping it off the boards, or snapping it to the other end. In fact, it is a boring step back to hockey’s go-go pace, to the degree that the sport punishes the practice during five-on-five or man-up play by calling for an icing infraction.
That a team guilty of taking a penalty is then granted a green light to ice the puck is the definition of preposterous.
“How often in sports,” asked Ken Martel, technical director of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, “do you actually change your normal playing rules to benefit the team that was penalized?”
To that end, USA Hockey has introduced a new rule for players 14 and younger for 2017-18. Penalty-killing teams will no longer be free to slingshot the puck down the river. Referees will call icing on shorthanded teams, just as they do during even-strength play. Upon an icing, the faceoff will take place in the defensive zone, giving power plays another chance to try a set piece off the draw.
The aim is to encourage U-14 players to read opposing power-play setups, think about what to do, and execute skilled plays: a D-to-D pass, a soft chip off the boards, or a floater to a streaking teammate. It is a far better thing to hold on to the puck than give it away, even if a 200-foot clear allows players to get off for changes.
“We want our kids to play with and handle the puck,” Martel said. “Puck possession is a big thing in our sport. We don’t like to see rules that encourage kids to blindly grab it and throw it away. You work pretty hard to get it. This rule actually encourages that. You listen to the anxiety that sometimes parents and coaches create from the stands, whether it’s, ‘Get it out,’ ‘Get it deep,’ ‘Ice it.’ Players’ first instinct when they get ahold of the puck is to get the head up and perceive what’s going on around them. The [old] rule doesn’t necessarily encourage that.”
The new rule will be moot for some levels. It’s not easy for the typical mite, for example, to put enough muscle behind the puck to launch it to the other end of the rink.
But at the bantam level, the rule should encourage players to practice puck-possession skills on the penalty kill that usually remain under lock and key. This happens organically in pickup games anyway, Martel notes, citing the example of when nine players are present for pond hockey.
“You’d play five-on-four, and if the four guys got ahold of the puck, they probably wouldn’t throw it away,” Martel said. “They’d make a play and have fun. This really is a rule that encourages them to do some things that are good and healthy in our sport. It actually encourages them to think a little bit and make some plays. Try to work the puck out to the red line before you throw it in, instead of grabbing it and just throwing it. You need a little more touch to put it into space behind the defenders to get it out of the zone. It’s teaching them to perceive and think a little bit.”
It’s likely that parents will find the new rule most perplexing. As Martel points out, the parental chorus is the same at every rink, regardless of how well they understand the game. Every parent knows what to shout when a penalty killer settles the puck. They will not be able to yell at their children to send the puck up the boards anymore.
While parents struggle to learn, players, as they always do, will adapt. So will coaches.
“If I’m dealing with players 12 years old and I see a teammate get the puck in the corner — we’ve got time, not under high duress — I’m sending the weak-side net-front forward straight up the middle of the rink,” Martel said. “I’m telling my guy the first thing to look for is maybe throwing the puck at the center-dot red line to try and spring somebody. The point of the rule is to make plays. The other team could be in bad defensive posture on a turnover, especially on the power play, because you’re not thinking, for the most part, about defending. The alarm bells don’t go off fast enough.”
Some of today’s U-14s will become tomorrow’s high-end players. Leagues such as the USHL have experimented with the rule. But major junior, college, and pro leagues have yet to give it a shot. They should.
The NHL needs scoring. Last season, the Bruins led the league by killing 85.7 percent of opposing power plays. The league average was 80.9 percent.
The NHL has adjusted special-teams rules before. Most notable, however, was one that aided the penalty kill instead of the power play.
Before 1956-57, players had to serve the entirety of two-minute minor infractions. The Canadiens would eat opponents’ lunches on the power play. On Nov. 5, 1955, Jean Beliveau scored three power-play goals in 44 seconds. The following season, a player serving a minor could leave the box if a power-play goal was scored.
It’s time the power play got some love.
SHOWING THEIR STRIPES?
Possibility of bias is examined
Dan O’Halloran, the league’s most senior referee, has been blowing a whistle in the NHL since Oct. 1, 1995. He has seen a lot of plays and interacted with hundreds of players. Simply because of O’Halloran’s long-tenured exposure to the game and its personnel, the 53-year-old is subject to a phenomenon known as regulatory capture.
“Logically, once you build a relationship with somebody, it’s very hard not to be biased in your actions or in your assessment of a situation,” said Imke Reimers, assistant professor of economics at Northeastern University. “This is not something that people plan. It’s not something where the regulator is going to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to be very nice to this person.’ It might be something where, ‘Oh, this guy has always been a very fair player.’ Subconsciously, you might give them the benefit of the doubt.”
Reimers is the coauthor, along with fellow economics professors Gregory DeAngelo and Adam Nowak of West Virginia University, of “Examining Regulatory Capture: Evidence from the NHL,” a paper published in Contemporary Economic Policy in July.
Regulatory capture can occur between parties and regulators. The Securities and Exchange Commission is supposed to keep watch over Wall Street. The Department of Justice oversees mergers and acquisitions. An internal affairs division is in charge of regulating a police department.
The theory is that the more time a regulator interacts with a party, bias affects what should be neutral oversight. The trouble with determining regulatory capture is that the DOJ, for example, doesn’t open its doors for researchers to monitor its actions.
The NHL, on the other hand, is open for public consumption. Reimers and her colleagues collected data from every NHL game from Jan. 1, 1996, to Dec. 11, 2015. They were interested in particulars such as a referee’s total number of games, penalties called, a referee’s years of experience, and number of games a referee worked with a specific team.
Experience varies from old-timers like O’Halloran to Garrett Rank, who first pulled on NHL stripes on Jan. 15, 2015. The veteran crew of Dave Jackson and Marc Joannette, for example, called the Montreal-Detroit game on Oct. 17, 2015. Combined, the duo had worked 205 Canadiens games and 134 Red Wings games over their careers. Conversely, Eric Furlatt was the lone referee for the Montreal-Detroit game on Feb. 11, 2002. Furlatt had only worked five Canadiens games and one Wings game before then.
Some of the results of their research:
■ A first-year referee calls an average of 24 penalty minutes per game. A second-year referee averages 18 PIMs per game. Expected penalty minutes decline by 0.262 for each additional season of experience. A two-referee team with 10 total seasons calls 2.6 fewer penalty minutes per game than a duo with no experience.
■ Each additional season of a referee’s experience with a specific team decreases penalty minutes per game by 0.972.
■ Of all the months, referees call the most penalties in October.
“What we were really interested in is if you have a regulatory agency — in banking, finance, stocks, anything, really — we are concerned with fairness,” Reimers said. “We want markets to be efficient. If regulators, through no ill will, just happen to make biased assessments, that’s something that economists try to prevent. We try to find ways to make markets efficient. This is just one example of a market that might lose efficiency by regulatory capture.”
If the NHL aims to lessen regulatory capture, according to Reimers, one solution would be to diversify refereeing tandems and be more mindful of the games they call.
Stars are against bathroom bill
On Wednesday, the Stars issued a statement opposing a bathroom bill being debated in the Texas Legislature. The bill would require transgender people to use bathrooms in schools and government buildings that correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificates or Texas identification documents.
“The Dallas Stars stand strongly opposed to any legislation perceived as discriminatory, including proposed bathroom legislation,” president and CEO Jim Lites said. “We welcome fans from all over the globe, and our roster boasts players from half a dozen countries. Dallas welcomes all, and we welcome all.”
On July 29, the NHL awarded Dallas the 2018 draft. You Can Play, the organization promoting inclusive athletics founded by NHL director of player safety Patrick Burke, issued a statement expressing disappointment regarding the award.
“We would encourage our partners at the NHL to carefully consider the message sent to fans — all fans — by holding the 2018 NHL Draft celebration in a state that has chosen to write discrimination into law,” read the statement. “Hosting events like the draft is a privilege. We believe events like this should be held in states, cities, and venues where all fans, athletes, and their families feel welcome.”
The NBA originally planned to hold its 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte, N.C. The location was changed to New Orleans because North Carolina was also debating a bathroom bill. In May, the NBA awarded Charlotte the 2019 game following a partial repeal.
“Dallas will be a wonderful host city and we’re grateful for the NHL’s business,” Lites said. “We are proud of our home and want every visitor to feel at home here, too, and that’s why we oppose this discriminatory bathroom legislation.”
Schmidt scores lone ruling
Of the 30 players who filed for arbitration, only Nate Schmidt progressed to a ruling. On Aug. 5, Schmidt was given a two-year contract worth $2.25 million annually. Schmidt, according to Sportsnet, was pursuing a one-year, $2.75 million award. The Golden Knights had requested a two-year deal worth $975,000 per season. That Schmidt was the only player needing a ruling indicates the hesitation players and organizations feel about the process. But it also showed how Schmidt’s limited data produced a disagreement requiring neutral deliberation. The 26-year-old has two full seasons of NHL experience. In one way, Schmidt’s abbreviated window illustrates a defenseman still in progress and perhaps limited to the 17-point career threshold he set in 2016-17. To the eye, however, the left-shot Schmidt showed good skating, aggressiveness, and offensive acumen to hint at a higher ceiling. Schmidt could unlock even more of his game given more shifts with the Knights than he had as a third-pairing defenseman for the Capitals.
Star power still unsigned
David Pastrnak is not the only high-end restricted free agent chasing an extension upon expiration of his entry-level contract. Others in Pastrnak’s category include Andreas Athanasiou, Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl, Bo Horvat, Damon Severson, Alexander Wennberg, and Nikita Zadorov. None has arbitration rights. The likelihood of any of the RFAs signing an offer sheet is low, but the threat level rises after camp starts and the season approaches. Of the cluster, Draisaitl (137 career points, 191 games), Horvat (117, 231), and Wennberg (119, 217) should sign extensions most comparable to Pastrnak (123, 172). The Bruins’ right wing, however, should be able to command the highest price tag based on his ability to score goals (59, most of the bunch).
ESPN is back in the rink
ESPN, under the Disney umbrella, made a long-awaited move to streaming on Tuesday. ESPN declared its intent to become majority owner of BAMTech, the company that owns NHL streaming rights. Next year, ESPN will launch its streaming service, which will include NHL games. The ESPN-NHL relationship has been complicated. Following the cable giant’s decision to go elsewhere, the NHL has migrated, on cable, from OLN to Versus to NBC Sports. The latter has been a good home for hockey. But it does not have ESPN’s reach or muscle. ESPN did not do well in its audition last fall with the World Cup of Hockey, mostly because of Team USA’s early exit. But even as cord cutters and changing consumption habits whittle away at ESPN’s dominance, it remains the king.
Ales Hemsky’s 2016-17 season ended at TD Garden on March 30. The right wing lasted just 13 shifts for 7:25 of ice time before heading to the room because he had aggravated a hip injury. The ailment, which required surgery at the start of the season, is one reason Hemsky could only land a one-year, $1 million deal with Montreal. For the Canadiens, it’s a short-term bet that the clever 33-year-old still has some pop (13-26—39 in 79 games with the Stars in 2015-16) . . . On Tuesday, Will Butcher will fulfill his obligations to the Avalanche, who drafted him 123rd overall in 2013, and become unrestricted. The 22-year-old may not need much AHL prep time before he makes his NHL debut. The left-shot defenseman scored seven goals and 30 assists to win the Hobey Baker Award last season . . . The Stars re-signed Jamie Oleksiak to a one-year, one-way deal just shy of $1 million on Aug. 4. The ex-Northeastern Husky will be in a dogfight, so to speak, for an NHL job. John Klingberg, Marc Methot, Julius Honka, and Dan Hamhuis should be in Ken Hitchcock’s top four. It leaves Oleksiak competing with Esa Lindell, Stephen Johns, Greg Pateryn, and Patrik Nemeth for bottom-pairing shifts. GM Jim Nill could be looking to wheel a spare defenseman to a team pursuing depth . . . Men’s league commissioners across North America remain hopeful that Jaromir Jagr’s bid for another NHL season remains unfulfilled. Frosty postgame beverages always stand as good currency, even to future Hall of Famers.
Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the NHL rejecting a proposed six-team merger by the World Hockey Association, a rival league that debuted in 1972 and shuttered in 1979. The 1977 proposal called for four future NHL franchises — the Edmonton Oilers, New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and Winnipeg Jets — as well as the Houston Aeros and Cincinnati Stingers to join the NHL for the 1977-78 season. But the board of governors voted it down, leading “bitterly disappointed” Whalers owner Howard Baldwin to say, “They made a very unbusiness-like decision.” Baldwin got his wish two years later when a four-team merger finally occurred, but the Aeros and Stingers never got another chance at the big time.
Seasons: Six (1972-78)
Avco Cup titles: Two (1974, ‘75)
Top coach: Bill Dineen (285-170-19)
Top skater: Gordie Howe (121-248—369)
Top goalie: Ron Grahame (2.99 GAA, .900 save pct.)
Dineen was behind the bench for every game in franchise history and never had a losing season. The Aeros won back-to-back titles (both on final-round sweeps) after the arrival of the Howe brothers, Mark and Marty, and their 45-year-old father Gordie. Houston made a third straight trip to the finals but was swept by the Jets. The Howes all left after the following season, and despite all their success the Aeros were hit by financial turmoil and folded in the summer of 1978.
Seasons: Four (1975-79)
Avco Cup titles: None
Top coach: Terry Slater (74-81-6)
Top skater: Rick Dudley (131-146—277)
Top goalie: Mike Liut (3.69 GAA, .878 save pct.)
Cincinnati had just completed its second season — and the only winning campaign in franchise history — when it was included in the 1977 merger plan, having the appeal of playing in one of the WHA’s bigger markets. However, the Stingers were left by the wayside when the WHA dissolved in 1979, though team owners got a $1.5 million thank-you card from the NHL. In two seasons with the Stingers, Needham’s Robbie Ftorek had 98 goals and 127 assists in 160 games.
— Compiled by Sean Smith
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.