NHL GMs look at old NBA rule

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

The coming facelift of the National Hockey League could borrow yet another facet from the National Basketball Association.

But more than aesthetic change, such as marketing or realignment, it's a proposal aimed at circumventing pro hockey's greatest on-ice menace, the trap.

A small group of general managers raised the possibility of instituting an illegal defence rule during the meetings with league officials and players in Detroit last week. Like an NBA rule that was used until two years ago, it prevents the defending teams from circling the wagons into zone protection, the hockey version would require one player to be up ice as a deep forechecker when the other team had puck possession near its goal.

"It was broached, we discussed it," Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. said. "Is there a way to not allow the trap to be shut on a controlled breakout? Do you have to have that defending team have a couple of players in the offensive zone to widen the gaps in the defence and allow the attacking team to exploit the passing lanes?"

The Pat Quinn-coached offensive-minded Leafs have been crusading against the trap for years, though many mediocre teams champion the fall-back strategy. It fits their watered down roster's philosophy to play not to lose instead of play to win.

Sending a man down low leaves the trap vulnerable to failure in the neutral zone with just two forwards. But enforcing illegal defence is bound to be another headache for officials, who might already have a number of new rules to sift through when NHL hockey makes its return.

Goaltender Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars was dubious about the illegal defence, especially with his peers about to adjust to reduced equipment, and possibly, restrictions to handling the puck.

"But that's not to say it can't fly a few years down the road," Turco said. "Like a lot of ideas that were brought up (last week), they're well warranted with the intention of making the game better. But there's a certain process to go through, a wait and see attitude. A lot of other things need to occur before (illegal defence) becomes a hot topic."

For example, GMs such as Ferguson want to see how NHL goalies fare with 10-inch pads, smaller gloves and blockers and contoured sweaters before taking another step. When bigger nets were mentioned, Martin Brodeur of the Devils called them "a last resort."


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