TORONTO - The best parts of this year’s NHL research and development camp at the MasterCard Centre will likely be seen on the TV screen.
As 36 top draft eligible players tried new concepts in faceoffs, offsides, icings and penalty kills on Wednesday, rinkside techies studied camera angle through clear plastic mesh, new net-cams and a goal ‘verification’ line.
“It’s not as sexy as a rule change,” said Brendan Shanahan, the league’s vice-president and camp supervisor, “but it can certainly have a big say in how a game is decided.”
A transparent strip behind the crossbar enabled overhead cameras to shoot straight into the cage and what little mesh remains is woven thinner than normal to allow even better clarity.
“The clear strip is the same strength as the ribbon on the back of the net,” said Kris King of hockey operations. “We’re also pouring water and Gatorade on it for a test, knowing our goalies will try everything they can to (obscure the camera).”
The yellow/green verification line, which can be implemented immediately if the league decides they like the contrasting colour, is set back three inches from the red goal stripe, the same size as a puck.
“On an HD camera, you can really pick up the puck.” said King, who often mans the league’s war room in Toronto on disputed goals. “It takes away that black area.
“We’re also trying a new net-cam that will show the entire goal line. It gives you a second look at the line, because sometimes that overhead camera will get blocked out by a player or a goalie’s arm. We used that in the Stanley Cup semifinals and the final last year.”
The net itself at this camp is four inches shallower. The mesh nearest the posts also has a clear vertical ribbon so that referees out of position can have a side window into the back of the net to judge goals. Smaller nets are also supposed to encourage wraparound goals.
“That’s the thing I noticed most,” said goaltender Chris Driedger of the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. “I had to stop a quick (chance) that surprised me and I thought ‘wow that was fast.’ Wraparound goals are pretty rare, so it’s going to make us be sure to keep on our feet.”
As much as the kids and head coaches Dan Bylsma of Pittsburgh and Dave Tippett of Phoenix studied the camp itinerary, it took some adjusting during Wednesday’s two scrimmage games. Players could not change on offsides, no icing was permitted on penalty kills and delayed penalties required clearing the zone, not just getting possession. On Thursday, teams will have to kill full two-minute penalties, no matter how many goals are scored.
“The coaches were curious about it today and tried to play around with it,” Shanahan said. “That’s what this camp is for, pushing the envelopes, seeing what works and what doesn’t.”
Bylsma received full marks for ingenuity when he pulled his goalie, Collin Olson, on a power play — hoping to forecheck Tippet’s team into a giveaway, since Tippet’s players couldn’t ice the puck. But the strategy back-fired with Tippet’s team scoring a short-handed goal into Bylsma’s empty net.
“If this (experiment) draws more attention to the (25th-ranked) power play in Pittsburgh, I’m not sure it’s a good thing,” cracked Bylsma.
“You saw a bit after the lockout, that good players — good power-play players — should have the chance to be good. I think that’s something we all want. Not being able to (get to even strength) in a two-minute power play, or ice the puck, gives skill players more opportunity on the ice.
“Being able to skate and make a play with the puck wasn’t maybe the strongest suit of the best penalty killers in our game. Now you’re forcing players in tough situations and that forces turnovers.”
Shanahan was reluctant to say which of these experiments could be fast-tracked.
“A couple of years ago we thought too many games were being decided in overtime and without making too many rule changes, that seemed to straighten itself out. One of the misconceptions is that we have to go out and test 30 new things, when there are about 20 we are repeating (from 2010) to get more data. We love the way the game is played and we think it’s entertaining for our fans. So this is a great time to study it.
“If, for any reason, two, three or four years down the road, we see a trend we don’t like, we’re going to have years of information to back it up. This is about being proactive.”