I went on Twitter last week and asked a question.
HOCKEY QUESTION FOR PURPOSES— Acting the Fulemin (@ATFulemin) May 7, 2020
What is an NHL rule change or tactic that you know is probably dumb, but you wonder why exactly it wouldn't work (or if it might)?
So far I have "hire a sumo wrestler as your goalie" and "team official marries star player to funnel money around cap"
I got over seventy replies to that. Plenty of them were normal complaints or objections, but I appreciate that I got some crazy responses. Unlike the mailbags there is no way I’d be able to go through them all, but I’ll explore some of them, because what else are we gonna do?
These include both rule changes and the occasional new hockey tactic. Let’s explore.
Gigantic Six-Headed Goalies
At some point, as they learn the rules of the game, each new hockey fan comes to a question: why couldn’t you put a very large person to just block the whole net?
Whoever is explaining the game usually dismisses the question as stupid, and the self-conscious new fan drops the issue because it seems stupid. But why would it not work?
There are two major versions of this idea. The first is to get a sumo wrestler in the net. The second is to just put the largest available person directly in the crease. Let’s take these in turn.
Sumo is a form of Japanese wrestling in which two men fight to either make their opponent contact the ground with a body part other than his feet soles or to eject him from the ring. Sumo wrestlers are famously some of the bulkiest athletes in the world, but they really are athletes; you need strength and mobility to be a sumo wrestler.
The problem is legs. Your torso might be huge, but it’s still supported by your legs. No sumo wrestler is going to cover most of the lower net, even in pads, while standing up. It’s worth noting, given the rules of sumo wrestling, their extensive athletic training involves keeping upright under immense pressure. It’s pretty much the opposite of dropping into a butterfly or setting up against the post in RVH. Even if we can do all the years of training to prep our sumo for hockey, the additional weight is going to limit his agility in the net to such a degree he gets shredded by low shots. Sports Science made a video about this a while back where George Parros demonstrated as much; thanks to Exit Steve Left for the tip.
Short version: the idea of the sumo goalie is because you imagine a wall of bulk blocking the net. Humans are more like walls of bulk on stilts. Shoot past the stilts.
Morbid Obesity Goalie
Okay, then: let’s just get the absolute largest person we can. Agility be damned; we’re just going to have him sit directly in front of the net like a shooter tutor with no holes.
As the video linked above points out, it would be very difficult for the largest people on Earth to reach the net. I mean this seriously: the physical effort of getting to the rink, having the equipment put on you, exiting through the boards, changing ends, and so on would make it difficult for people of great size to reach their starting position. That and the ethical questions about encouraging people to clear, say, 600 lbs. for sports are the real reason this will never be seriously attempted.
In the event you did somehow overcome these—and I want to emphasize, it would be very difficult—it’s still very unlikely our behemoth goalie can be totally flush to the goal posts in a way that blocks the whole net. The NHL net is four feet tall and six feet wide, which would require our goalie not to be very bulky but also a perfect rectangle. With one exception I’ve never seen anyone do that, and certainly not with legal equipment, which means our shooter tutor does have holes—presumably at the four corners. And those openings are likely to be fairly consistent. So you’re gonna get clobbered by wristers.
You didn’t think we were done with goalies, did you? People love doing weird things with goalies.
This is a tactical idea: have all six players on one team lay atop one another or otherwise form some sort of phalanx where their combined bodies block the total surface area of the net. This seems like it would require a team to sign a Cirque du Soleil troupe, but let’s go with it.
So far as I can tell, this is legal. But: none of the defending players except the goalie can fall on the puck, pick it up, or gather it up in the crease, or it’s a penalty shot. They can only block the shot and let it bounce off them. Putting aside that it would be very painful to absorb repeated shots without goalie equipment—and that in this set up you don’t have much control over what body part is doing the blocking—your players are likely too contorted to effectively clear the puck. Further, since you’ve given up entirely on positional defence, three or four players from the other team can just keep whipping their own rebounds point blank at whatever gaps show up, or jam the puck in by brute force while a couple of defencemen stand back to absorb higher rebounds. The attacking team might manage something like 100 shots per minute doing this, which is likely going to be too much for Team Acrobat not to let one through a crack.
New Equipment Rule: Goalies Get Two Gloves And No Stick
I find this intriguing. In the end I don’t like that it encourages goalies to smother the puck whenever they get it, because that would slow the game down. On the other hand goalies playing the puck is, in my humble opinion, annoying and unnecessary and we should never have permitted them to do it. This might also increase five-hole goals, which are funny. I vote we go for the full version...
New Equipment Rule: Goalies Get Two Blockers And No Stick
There’s going to be a lot of close-in hacking at the puck when there’s no gloves, but maybe the little glove behind the blocker would be enough for smothering. Again, more goals. We have coddled goalies too long, I say!
Make It Legal To Bodycheck Goalies Outside The Crease
This rule change is good and I will hear no counterarguments.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given we’re a Leafs blog, a lot of people wanted to beat the salary cap one way or another. I took two suggestions from that.
Marry Mitch Marner
This was inspired by an NBA Reddit thread, but the idea is basically: have a team official marry a star player. Pay that team official a very high salary, with the understanding most of it will go to their spouse. Pay the player a below-market salary and save money against the cap. Ta-da!
Aside from being popular as a fan-fiction prompt: there is a limited degree to which I could see this working. If a team were to hire a player’s spouse in a role, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem is the plan trips into Article 26 of the CBA: the No Circumvention clause. Article 26 is a big catch-all section that precludes teams and players from doing or failing to do anything to defeat the agreement, and it wipes out a lot of otherwise clever schemes. If a player’s spouse is making $4M a year for a job that usually pays $65,000, that’s going to be pretty obvious evidence of circumvention. The league has actually thought of something like this; see 26.15(f). That said, top NHL GMs can make in the mid-seven-figure range, so there might be a fun arbitration case out of this if circumstances arose. Kyle Dubas seems to be happily married, though.
Let’s Sell Some Stuff
Same sort of thing. Players can sign reasonable endorsement deals—look at John Tavares and Rogers—but if the money they get is disproportionate to the endorsement, the league is going to get curious. This will be all the more so if the player took a below-market salary, which Tavares did not. It’s also worth noting that most NHL players don’t make significant money off endorsements, outside the top ten earners or so (McDavid, Crosby, Ovechkin, Tavares etc.)
The basic rule for all these things is that if it seems obvious what’s actually going on, the league has the ability to intervene. The Ilya Kovalchuk contract wasn’t really any more against the rules than most of the contracts of the day; it was just more blatant about it, and the league finally decided to act.
Death To Faceoffs
People are tired of faceoffs, friends. They don’t want to see them. They’ve had enough.
This is basically “just let one team start with the puck” after a given play. I don’t necessarily hate this, but I think it encourages stoppages even more unless you award possession to the team that didn’t smother the puck. That could get interesting, although it might make it almost impossible to survive relentless offensive possessions that carry through whistles. You’d still want faceoffs to start periods, though.
Drop the puck from the Jumbotron and just let the teams have at it. You could throw it down between the two teams, separated by a distance, and then just let them dash for it. There would be a lot of stuff about false starts but you might also get total chaos as players rammed into each other going for the first possession, or running cool set plays that are less doable now. I am open to Jumbotron puck (or, depending where the play was stopped, just leaving it wherever and then blowing a whistle to say “Go.”) I vote that this idea is actually kind of good.
I got about a zillion (all numbers are estimated) responses about penalties, although most of them were frustrated, normal complaints about “just calling the rulebook equally.” However, there were some wilder ones:
The idea would be that when a player gets a game misconduct, they’re sent off and their team plays the rest of the game shorthanded, much like when a player gets a red card in soccer. This is fun in principle, and we can all think of teams who deserve it—it’s Boston, I’m talking specifically about Boston—but it’s too punitive. Even a five-minute major tilts the ice pretty severely; ask the Vegas Golden Knights what they think about that. Unless the game misconduct is fairly late, it’s going to go a long way to deciding the game.
Icings Still Count On The Penalty Kill
Teams would still ice the puck a lot to get stoppages in play. Calling icings takes away their main recourse for changing players, but by extension you’re making the penalty killers more exhausted, and a whistled icing would at least get them a few seconds to breathe.
Icings Add Another Penalty On The Penalty Kill
Too punitive again. Maybe if you shorted minor penalties to one minute? Otherwise you’re handing out tons of 5-on-3s or exhausting the penalty killers constantly.
These were fun, unlike the shootout itself.
Do The Shootout Before The Game, Use The Results If There’s A Tie
The idea here is that the team that knows it’s doomed when OT ends will go for broke. I’m not sure that’s worth it when it also encourages the other team to play for a tie (because they win automatically should the game end that way), but your mileage may vary.
The biggest problem is that six games out of seven, the shootout would be a waste of time (we’ll assume that the number of games that go to shootouts is about the same as it is now.) Wouldn’t it be kind of silly to have one of those ten-round shootouts delay the start of the game for half an hour, only to have it turn out to be meaningless when the shootout-winning team loses 5-0? It would also guarantee longer run times for the game every night, whereas currently the games only run long when an overtime and shootout are actually needed.
I admire the creativity here but ultimately I would not want to do this.
Have A Player On The Roster You Only Use For Shootouts
I actually like this a lot as long as we pair it with a rule legalizing all sorts of trick shots. Make the rule that you have, say, eight seconds to put the puck in the net without bumping into the goalie, and beyond that, go nuts. Then we get crazy specialists coming in every few games and doing spinning lacrosse goals ‘n’ whatever. The shootout is absurd anyway, so if we’re going to do it, let’s get nuts.
This is the big one. I have to tell you: I don’t know for sure how this would work. So much of modern hockey strategy is premised on the blue line existing. The biggest reason that it’s unlikely is not that it’s guaranteed to be bad, but that it would flip the whole game on its head. It’s possible you would end up with a freer-flowing game with fewer whistles.
But, and this may just be conservatism talking: I don’t think it would be an improvement. Offsides give teams a way to escape offensive possessions by giving them the chance to clear, and they force more back-and-forth movement in the game by requiring players to clear and re-enter the zone. Some of the most exciting hockey is mobile, fast, and involving rushes. The easier it gets for players to set up camp and cherry pick, the less movement there is. You’re also encouraging goalies to smother the puck because otherwise the defending team can’t really get a clean change safely. Some teams would end up getting possessioned to death from an inability to exit the zone, and as someone who’s had some experience with that already, I don’t know that I’m eager for more.
Maybe it would work, though. Hey, if the other leagues start up again...who knows?
Thanks to everyone who contributed!