Stop the Smothering
Historically hockey fans have never been overly receptive of basketball and vice versa. Notwithstanding this fact one would have to be certifiable to deny that basketball has latched onto a few good ideas. No, not Gary Bettman; basketball was smart enough to give him up. I’m talking about their rules that prevent the game from becoming a boring, defensive minded, low scoring affair. From three second violations to the shot clock to back court violations, basketball players are forced to play a little offense from time to time whether they want to or not. Hockey players on the other hand, can resort to defensive tactics that would put a six year old on a sugar high to sleep before its even bedtime. Yes, I’m talking about the trap.
A few nights ago I made the mistake of tuning into the Canadiens at Red Wings game having duped myself into believing I was going to see a classic original six match up. Little did I know the most exciting part of that game was going to be the intermission, spent reading about the study of Chinese Politics throughout the 1990’s. The Wings had a 1-0 lead going into the third and through employing the trap, clung to it like Tom Cruise to a spaceship.
Then there was two nights ago when the Devils hosted the Rangers. Hockey’s Hudson River rivalry, who wouldn’t expect that to be exciting? That is until one realizes that it’s the Devils, the champions of the trap, who were playing. Yet again, another 1-0 yawn-fest (though at least the officials didn’t ruin that particular game with 20 phantom penalties). Sometimes people wonder why the Devils, a strong team with a storied history, have trouble drawing fans. The answer is actually quite simple. It’s much cheaper, safer and more comfortable to take an afternoon nap at home than at Continental Airlines Arena.
So how does one go about fixing this neutral zone trap? That is the $64,000 question. I have some crazy ideas that would take an entire post in themselves to explain, but a small taste of one possibility would involve reinstating the two line pass while forcing all forwards to attack when the puck is past the opposition’s blue line, sort of similar to basketball’s back court violation, or even their defensive three second violations. And of course exceptions would be made to this rule while teams were killing penalties.
This isn’t necessarily about high scoring either. It’s about having some flow to a game beyond a “dump and defend” mentality. The bottom line in all this is that the trap is one of the major factors that is killing hockey. Finding a solution won’t be easy, but it should be one of the NHL’s top priorities. If a large contingency of hockey’s best minds got together and threw around a few ideas I’m sure they could come up with something. Right now pretty much anything on that front would be more than welcome.
Update Jan 18 210pm: For the Devils fans, Kara Yorio wonders Why do opponents treat the Devils with kid gloves? Just having some fun with you. I’m actually rooting for a healthy defense, so Cam Janssen can get out of Lowell. - David