NHL divided by red line

(QMI Agency, file)

(QMI Agency, file)

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:52 PM ET

BOCA RATON, Fla. - The red line on an NHL ice surface divides the rink in half. You can say its presence also divides the deep thinkers in the NHL about in half, too.

In one end are the hockey people who think taking the red line out for the purpose of speeding up the game has had the desired effect, making the game quicker and sometimes more exciting.

In the other end are those who are having second thoughts and believe the elimination of the red line has made the game too fast, too dangerous and has led to a dumbing down of offensive strategies.

The fate of the red line and its role in the NHL game will be a big topic as the NHL's general managers sit down for a couple of days of meetings in Florida. Whatever recommendations the GMs come up with will be forwarded to the NHL's competition committee for more analysis.

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray has never been a fan of eliminating the red line for the purposes of two-line passes and now it seems there are a number of his colleagues who are coming over to his way of thinking.

Peter Chiarelli of the Boston Bruins, Dale Tallon of the Florida Panthers and Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning are all in favour of looking at the return of the red line for the purpose of two-line off-sides, creating a safer environment for players without impacting the quality of the game.

There was a time when Murray was just a voice in the wilderness. That has changed.

Murray thinks, as have more and more of his colleagues, that the game has become too fast with defencemen whipping the puck from beside their net up to a waiting teammate at the opposition blue line who simply tips the puck - or in some cases just makes the gesture of tipping the puck - into the opponents' zone.

No two-line off-sides and a much more liberal interpretation of what is icing have combined to create a situation that gives the appearance of the game being quicker but certainly not more skillful. Without the red line, an environment has been created where high-speed collisions have become the norm. Re-introducing the red line for the purposes of two-lines passes is viewed as a way to potentially slow the game down a bit and perhaps reduce the potential for injury, particularly concussions.

“We can't have players throw the puck from this corner to the far blue line and the guy wave his stick and not touch the puck and it not be called icing. They are different (issues), but they go hand in hand,” said Murray.

The red line was introduced for the 1943-44 season “to speed up the game and reduce off-side calls. This rule is considered to mark the beginning of the modern era in the NHL,” according to the NHL's Guide and Record Book.

The NHL eliminated the red line for the purposes of two-line passes as part of a sweeping package of rule changes coming out of the lockout in 2005. The same arguments for its elimination were made as when it was instituted in 1943-44.

We see that sequence of which Murray speaks - the long pass tipped into the offensive zone - a lot in the course of today's game. It results in a couple of things happening: either a player from the attacking team roars in on the forecheck and has a free shot at a vulnerable defenceman or the same play happens going the other way.

"I don’t see it as wanting to slow the game. You have to look at what the game is now,” said Yzerman. “We changed the rules to make it a more skilled game. It’s not a more skilled game. It’s shoot the puck down the ice and go chase it. It’s about getting the puck in the other team’s end and getting there as soon as possible."

By putting the red line back in for the purposes of two-line passes, defencemen could still fire the puck up to the red line and see it tipped by a teammate into the opposition zone, but now those forecheckers are starting 25 feet further away compared to the tip-in from the blue line.

Theoretically, that gives the defenceman a second or two more to recover the puck, get squared up and make a play.

At the very least, said Murray, icing rules need to be tightened up.

For those who think about the NHL game pre-lockout with the red line, think neutral zone trap, the so-called dead-puck era and want to curl up in a fetal position on their Wayne Gretzky sheets, we say to you: “1-3-1.”

The elimination of the red line for the purpose of two-line passes hasn't done anything to stop teams from trapping and from coaches coming up with various neutral zone strategies to make the neutral zone look like a pot-holed street in Montreal in March.

It's worth having the GMs ponder what the effects of putting the red line back in for the purposes of two-line offsides.

Player agent Alan Walsh Tweeted his 140-characters' worth Saturday: “For the sake of the 100+ players concussed by season’s end, the red line must return. It will reduce frequency of concussions, time to act!” he wrote.

“The reason you do it,” said Murray, “is to protect the players.”

If that indeed is the outcome, then it's worth talking about.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @CJ_Stevenson

 


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