BACK IN YOUR CAGE!
Behind the screen of celebratory pomp the NHL put up for the
All-Star Game last weekend in Vancouver, more than a few general
managers were sporting furrowed brows as they discussed what in
the name of Gretzky to do about the stunning decrease in
scoring, which is down 1.21 goals a game since 1993-94; about
the dreaded neutral zone trap; and about how their fast-moving
game has become littered with speed bumps. In Sunday's 8-7
victory by the North American All-Stars over the World All-Stars
there were more scoring chances than you'd see in a month of
regular-season Sundays, which is why the general managers will
recommend rule changes to the league sometime in February. Here
are six of the suggestions being floated.
1) Make it illegal for goalies to handle the puck behind the net.
PROS: Most netminders are now proficient at handling the puck,
and they've almost become a third defenseman on dump-ins. If
goalies weren't allowed to corral the puck, opponents would have
something to chase when they play dump-and-chase.
CONS: The thrill of masked men with battle-axes roaming the ice
would be lost.
OUR TAKE: We like this idea. It's not drastic, and it would
create more loose pucks in the offensive zone.
2) Move the nets, which are now seven feet, four inches from the
backboards, three feet farther out.
PROS: Playmakers would have extra room to set up and initiate
action from behind the goal; straying netminders who like to
play the puck would be taking a greater risk in doing so.
CONS: Would further clog already clogged neutral zone, which
would be narrowed from 58 to 52 feet.
OUR TAKE: Not necessary if idea number 1 is implemented.
3) Allow two-line passes; center-ice red line would be used only
to enforce icing.
PROS: Would enable teams to break quickly from defensive zone
and would disable the trap because there would be a larger
passing area to defend.
CONS: Would encourage long, desultory passes as opposed to
skillful, several-pass breakouts; offensive players might hang,
neglecting defensive duties.
OUR TAKE: Good idea. The benefits and risks of poaching will
balance out, and a poacher who draws a defensive man will create
even more open ice for the other players.
4) Enlarge the goalmouth, which is four feet high and six feet
PROS: More pucks in the net.
CONS: Doesn't address the central issue--that scoring chances,
not just goals, are down.
OUR TAKE: Too draconian.
5) Outlaw the trap by mandating forechecking.
PROS: Would foster a more aggressive, more entertaining game.
CONS: Difficult to enforce.
OUR TAKE: No. Referees have enough to worry about. They miss too
many slashes and hooks as it is.
6) Have power plays continue for the full two minutes even if a
goal is scored.
PROS: Power plays are exciting. Players would be loath to take
obstruction penalties like hooking and holding.
CONS: One penalty could decide a game.
OUR TAKE: Good idea. More power to it.
A MEANER, ROUGHER ALL-STAR GAME
If the NHL wants to put some jam in its All-Star weekend, it
should consider bringing in the game it stages with the top 40
prospects from the Canadian Hockey League. In that game, which
this year will be held on Feb. 10 in Toronto, the CHLers are
split into two teams and play their hearts and teeth out for
scores of NHL scouts. Instead of being saddled with a snoozefest
like last Saturday night's slo-mo Heroes of Hockey game, fans
could see some of the best young players in North America going
The NHL dreads the logistical nightmare of adding the CHL game
to an already overstuffed weekend. They're also afraid that the
game might not draw fans in U.S. cities. But if the game is
packaged with the All-Stars skills competition, spectators will
turn out. What's more, new fans attending just for the
stargazing and glitz may find out how exciting a good, hard
hockey game can be.
O FOR EVER
He shoots! He scores! He raises his arms triumphantly and the
arena rocks with the cheers of 10,000 fans. Then Eric Cairns
wakes up. "I dream about scoring," says the Rangers defenseman.
"One day, I tell myself, one day...."
Cairns has played 68 games in his NHL career and has not had a
goal--more than any other active player. If the goal-less wonder
doesn't score for just 14 more games, he'll move into second
place on the alltime list behind retired defenseman Kim Clackson
Cairns' memory of his last goal is as clear as new ice. In a
1996 preseason game against the Mighty Ducks, he chipped in an
Alexei Kovalev pass. Many New York fans also have fond memories
of that game--it was the Rangers debut of a somewhat more
prolific goal-getter, Wayne Gretzky.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM MCISAAC/B. BENNETT STUDIOS Puckhandling goalies help defensemen clear the zone. [Ron Tugnutt]
COLOR PHOTO: C. ANDERSEN/B. BENNETT STUDIOS [Zarley Zalapski]
COLOR PHOTO: J. GIAMUNDO/B. BENNETT STUDIOS [Gary Suter]
BUST AND BARGAIN
D Zarley Zalapski
'97-98 salary: $1.6 million
A locker room whiner and a defensive liability who had only two
goals at week's end. Acquired for Suter in '94.
D Gary Suter
'97-98 salary: $1.6 million
Vital presence in clubhouse who had eight goals through Sunday.
Chicago wouldn't trade him for 50 Zalapskis.