Campbell's Cuts: Radical ideas keeps game headed in right direction

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Can you imagine what kind of response guys such as Mike Gillis or Brian Lawton would have received last week if they had proposed what Bob Gainey did at the GM meetings in Chicago?

They would have been laughed out of the room and would have been vilified in the media for suggesting the league look at the possibility of penalizing players who leave their feet to block shots. But because the notion came from Gainey, one of the most levelheaded and respected executives in the NHL, the idea is gaining some traction.

This is actually a testament to how seriously the upper reaches of NHL management views the dearth of scoring in the game today. The fact that some respected NHL people with years of experience in the game are actually talking about making the nets bigger, whether or not you agree with their ideas, is a good thing.

It shows the people who hold a vested interest in the game care about the product they are producing every night. That Gainey, one of the most prolific defensive players in the history of the game, is so concerned about scoring he would make such a radical pitch, indicates an open mind and an executive who is willing to at least consider possibilities that are beyond the confines of traditional thinking.

It is an idea that, practically speaking, probably would not work. It also goes against almost everything NHL players have been programmed to believe when it comes to personal sacrifice, but the fact the idea is out there indicates hockey people are at least willing to engage in the debate.

Players, not surprisingly, reacted with the predictable derision to Gainey’s idea, thinking he wants to enact it beginning tomorrow when actually all he wants to do is have people consider the idea and stimulate debate on the matter.

“I think they’re looking too hard for some answers, to tell you the truth,” Minnesota Wild defenseman Nick Schultz told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press recently.

Well, I would rather have that than an administration so stubbornly resistant to change it would rather stand idly by and watch its product deteriorate than make the changes necessary to improve it.

If the NHL were still stuck in that way of thinking, defensemen would still be holding forwards up at the bluelines and muggings in the neutral zone would continue to go unpunished. Say what you want about the NHL, but you have to admire its vigilance in remaining steadfast in trying to get rid of hooking, holding and interference.

Sure, there are those who would probably love to go back to the rodeo days – usually they veil it by saying there are not enough “battles” for the puck now – but the league has done an outstanding job of not giving in.

As a result, the game is infinitely more exciting than it was before the lockout. It has not resulted in a significant spike in scoring, but there is little doubt games are far more compelling, far less sleep-inducing and generally a lot easier to watch. Are they perfect? Not by a country mile, but they are undoubtedly far more entertaining.

Take Saturday night, for example. There were 15 games in the NHL and six of them produced at least nine goals. One of them was a 6-5 shootout game and only two of the 15 were shutouts. Not including shootouts – the NHL awards one goal to the team winning in a shootout – the league averaged 6.4 goals per game that night.

And, yes, it is early, but NHL scoring is actually up this season. Not including shootouts, NHL teams are averaging 5.91 goals per game. That number will likely creep down as the season goes on, but it is something upon which to build.

Whether or not that is enough offense is debatable. Which is exactly why some of the more progressive people in the league are at least debating the merits of doing more to create offense.

Perhaps the league is looking too hard – significantly reduce the size of goaltending equipment already – but that is far more palatable than the alternative.

You want to talk about making nets bigger, penalizing players for their feet leaving the ice to block shots, ban all hits to the head regardless of intent?

Bring it on, I say, the game only stands to benefit from it.

Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

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