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Bigger net? No thanks

Six by four. Hockey fans instinctively know that I'm talking about the dimensions of the net. Six feet, by four feet, and it's been that size forever. But if some of the geniuses who run the NHL have their way, the net may be getting bigger. If y...

Six by four. Hockey fans instinctively know that I'm talking about the dimensions of the net.

Six feet, by four feet, and it's been that size forever. But if some of the geniuses who run the NHL have their way, the net may be getting bigger.

If you've not heard the news, I'm sure you're shaking your head in disbelief. Could you imagine the NFL changing the width of the goalposts, Major League Baseball the dimensions of home plate, or the NBA the size of the hoop? Of course not. Hockey is the only major sport willing to throw away 100 plus years of history in the quest for a buck.

Frankly, I'm not surprised by anything NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman does, but NHL Director of Operations Colin Campbell is a different story. He's a serious hockey guy who, for some reason, is willing to discuss bigger nets. I fear more than a decade in the NHL offices may have corrupted him.

So, what's behind all this discussion of larger nets? Bettman and his ilk are wringing their hands over the lack of scoring this season. We're a little over a quarter of the way into this new season, and NHL games are averaging about 5.32 total goals. In other words, the average NHL game winds up 3-2.

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I have to ask the question. Is there anything in the world wrong with a 3-2 hockey game? I certainly don't think so. I just watched a pair of excellent 2-1 games, Minnesota vs. Chicago and the Islanders vs. the Rangers. Both games had plenty of scoring chances, great pace, and great goaltending. I'm confident that most serious hockey fans have no issue with a well played, low scoring game. But the folks in the NHL offices continue to pander to the casual fan.

The Bettman's of the world were already looking at bigger nets way back in 2005 when they came up with - you guessed it - the shootout. After 90 years these geniuses decided that a tie was no longer acceptable in the NHL, and that an idiotic gimmick like the shootout might drag a few casual fans to the game of hockey.

Now the powers that be have put the bigger net idea back on the table. There's a reason Bettman gets booed every year when he's about to present the Stanley Cup. The man is, for the most part, clueless.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against rule changes to improve the game I love. Going to the hybrid icing, used for many years at the college level, was a great idea. And preventing teams that have committed an icing infraction from changing players has cut down drastically on play stoppages, another great tweak to the rules of hockey.

But the shootout? A terrible idea, and my proof is the fact that the braintrust of the NHL has spent the last two years trying to figure out a way to reduce them, finally settling on another spectacle, albeit slightly less offensive to hockey purists, the three on three overtime.

But if you are of a mind that more scoring in hockey would be a good thing, why even consider something as drastic as enlarging the net? Those in favor point out that goaltenders have gotten bigger over the years. No question about that. When I was a youngster back in the 60's, most goalies were smaller men who used their cat-like reflexes to keep the puck out of the net.

That all changed with the advent of the butterfly style of goaltending, where the goalie drops down when a shot is imminent and tries to cover as much of the net as possible. Typically, the top corners remain available to a shooter in this scenario. A larger goalie can cover more of the top of the net in the butterfly position, thus the move towards larger goalies.

But there are less drastic ways to increase scoring chances without changing the size of the net. One idea that I like has been mentioned by color analyst Ed Olczyk of NBC. Switch benches. What am I talking about, you ask? I'm talking about making line changes "on the fly."

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In the first and third periods, a team defends the side of the ice closest to its bench, making it relatively easy to get tired players off the ice without a whistle. When a team changes ends for period two, it's bench is further away, on the other side of the red line, what we call the "long change." Its much more difficult to change on the fly in period two.

As a result of this long change effect, period two historically sees more scoring than period one, and roughly equal with period three, when the effects of fatigue also play a part in goal scoring. Why not just switch ends and make teams accomplish the long change in periods one and three?

This seemingly minor change would guarantee more scoring without requiring nets at all levels be enlarged. Another idea would be to simply instruct officials to call the game tighter, which has already been done to some degree. More power plays equals more scoring chances. Again, accomplished without bastardizing the history and rules of the great sport of hockey.

I wish I could say I'm confident that the men who run the NHL will do the right thing, but I cannot. All I can do is hope.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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