KEVIN PAUL DUPONT I ON SECOND THOUGHT
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
If the Lords of the Boards really want to increase NHL scoring — and I have my doubts after the last couple of decades — it’s time to turn their attention away from the ice and focus on what’s going on behind their 31 benches night after night.
Fellas, please, clear the decks back there and give the game back to the players — and in turn, to the fans.
It’s a congested, overstaffed, overcoached menagerie, with many teams, the Bruins among them, parking a head coach and three assistants behind the bench each game. Not to mention yet another coach stationed in the press box, relaying his eye-in-the-sky observations directly to the bench via radio hookup.
If you’ve lost count, that’s five coaches for 18 skaters. Way better than the typical teacher/student ratio in even the finest private schools. All to master the mysteries and complexities of chasing a chunk of rubber.
By the way, yes, I’ve intentionally omitted goalies in the 5:18 ratio here because goalies operate in their own little snow globe, and really, what’s to tell them other than to cover the short side and flare out those ridiculous oversized pads and gloves (my rant for another day) as needed.
So here’s how to open up the game: ban all assistant coaches from behind the bench. They can watch from the press box. They can talk to their charges between periods. Otherwise, stay out of it.
Also, remove the TV monitors (at least one per bench) and the video tablets (often two or more) that said glee club of coaches use as constant in-game teaching companions. Honestly, take a close look behind an NHL bench, and you’ll see it’s stocked with more bodies, TVs, and tech gadgets than your local Best Buy on Black Friday.
One coach. No electronics.
Drop the puck and have at it, boys.
“I started that way,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who launched his coaching career as the lone man behind the bench of the ECHL’s Jacksonville Lizard Kings in the fall of 1996. “Maybe it was mayhem back then, I don’t remember.”
Mayhem is precisely what we want, what fans enjoy, but rarely ever seen in today’s overcoached, robotic, systematized game.
With one coach and zero tech, we’d see poorly orchestrated line matchups. Penalties for too many men on the ice. Players staying way too long on the ice (good mornin’, Espo). Gaffes galore.
In other words, Game On!
Proof of the fun it could be is the three-on-three play now employed in the five-minute overtime. It may not be hockey as we know it — and that’s kind of the point I’m getting at here — but fans love it. In large part, that’s because the coaching iron curtain has been dropped. The two sides freewheel it from the drop of the puck, with lots of open ice, and no one barking from the bench about defensive layers, forechecking schemes, and matching lines.
It’s organized pond hockey, shinny, with the emphasis on playmaking, shooting, and scoring.
“Less organized,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, pondering the look of a one-coach-no-tech NHL. “You would see a lot of little mistakes, maybe too many men, maybe guys caught up in plays, bench changes . . . yeah.”
And what would happen to scoring?
“It would be up, for sure,” said Big Z, such a notion a tinge repugnant for a guy who counts a Norris Trophy among his personal treasures. “Yeah . . . oh, yeah . . . I mean, you need to have structure. And if you don’t always have coaches kind of directing you in a game, you just keep playing the same way, and BOOM!, the structure gets broken.”
Please, make my day, and break the bleepin’ structure.
There is no way of knowing if the scoring floodgates would open, but looser, less-controlled play in itself would be more enjoyable to watch. I sometimes lose track, but I do think people still come to games for enjoyment. The action has become too predictable, too constipated. With five coaches overseeing every shift and facet, how could it be anything else?
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, firmly neither pro nor con on the idea, noted there would be a shift in job responsibility, players needing to adopt and implement some of the coaching responsibilities.
“Players would really have to be in tune with what they are told in practice, and communicate that during the game,” he noted. “Ownership of the head coach running the entire bench is going to be challenging, especially with video replay . . . just a lot of moving parts. I mean, a lot of moving parts, and some of the details are going to get lost.
“No question, you’d have some chaos.”
Mental fatigue would be a factor, too. Chara recalled playing in an international series for Slovakia, either World Championship or Olympics, when one of the three bench coaches was too sick to work the bench. The head coach oversaw the on-ice action. His one assistant took charge of the forwards. Chara had full command of the six-man defensive unit.
“Head coach tells me, ‘Hey, do the changes, make the matchups,’ ” recalled Chara. “It was doable. But . . . it gets tough, it gets tough . . . because you are not only watching your game, but you are watching the changes on your bench and changes on the other bench. You would literally have to have player/coaches on every team, helping out.
“I mean, it’s possible . . . but it would be a lot of chaos.”
Bring it on, I say. No one is going to make the ice surface any bigger. The players only get bigger, stronger, faster. No extra room to be had there. Despite a lot of huff ’n’ puff, it’s clear goalie equipment will be, at best, only nipped and tucked.
“I think I was alone back there for my first five years of coaching,” said Cassidy. “All you had was a DVR to watch the game later, and the GM to talk to, ‘Hey, this is what I saw . . . what did you see?’ That was it. Not ideal. But hey, you manage.”
Fewer coaches, more scoring. The less-is-more NHL needs to happen.
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