NHL GMs watch new rules play out on the ice

Updated: June 6, 2005, 8:25 PM ET
Associated Press

TORONTO -- NHL general managers and coaches saw the changing face of hockey firsthand.

An entire three-period scrimmage was played with only a handful of stoppages for offsides, as potential new rules were tested Monday -- the first of three days of experiments.

"Could you imagine Wayne [Gretzky] and Mario [Lemieux] playing that kind of game?" New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather said. "They'd have a field day.''

The rules testing began with a look at the open-game concept put forth by the Boston Bruins.

Bruins president Harry Sinden contends that offense would be freed up, and neutral-zone trapping would be obliterated if the center red line and the blue lines were removed.

Instead, he suggests putting thin lines a few feet above the faceoff circles at each end and allowing passes to go anywhere on the ice once the player with the puck reaches the pass line in his zone.

"I don't know if I'd want to rush into it, but I sure like the idea,'' Sather said.

The Sinden System has about as much chance of being implemented next season as the NHL and the players' association had of coming to an immediate collective-bargaining agreement that would end the lockout that started last September and wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

"What we're working on with this experiment is opening up the game,'' said Colin Campbell, the NHL vice president in charge of hockey operations. "The trap has stymied our game.

"What the end result of this is, I don't know. At least it's an attempt to open up the game.''

That's what this camp is all about.

"There's a lot of things that have happened since the '80s,'' Sather said. "Our game has changed from a freewheeling game to a very tight defensive style.

"A lot of that has got to do with the techniques the coaches have developed. It's a lot easier to defend than create offense. [The Sinden System] is not a lot different from the style of play we used in the '80s -- freewheeling, changing lanes, defensemen getting involved. It goes a step further because you've distorted the size of the rink. It becomes a lot bigger without the blue lines. There's so much skating involved. I think it's exciting. I think it's a great idea.''

The scrimmage consisted of three 15-minute stop-time periods, which each took about 21 minutes to complete because whistles were so infrequent. The final score was 5-2.

The participating players are free agents who have just graduated from major junior and skaters from university teams. They'd never tried the Sinden System so it wasn't executed as well as possible.

The goalies wore leg pads that were 11 inches wide -- 2 inches narrower than pads used in the NHL -- smaller catching mitts, narrower shoulder pads, and sweaters that were tight rather than loose and baggy.

"We've worked with the players' association closely on reducing the size of goalie equipment,'' Campbell said. "We've got to get moving on this now with the manufacturers.''

Compromise solutions to open up games and allow skill players to display their talents will probably be reached down the line. The NHL is likely to reduce the size of goalie equipment, bring back the tag-up offsides rule, eliminate obstruction and give teams three standings points for a win.

"We should go back to the tag-up rule,'' Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "And we still need a firmer crackdown on interference away from where the puck is so we can get some give-and-go back into the game.

"I don't know what else we can do.''

A second scrimmage on Monday made use of nets with arced side posts, making net space 17 percent larger.

"I don't care so much about making bigger nets,'' Quinn said. "My thoughts were always on make the equipment smaller, and not the nets larger.''


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press