I had the pleasure of watching a hockey game with Scotty Bowman on Saturday night and as you would expect when sitting with the greatest NHL coach of all time, it was a fascinating night of talking about the game and the way it's played.
Bowman is, of course, a consultant of sorts for the Chicago Blackhawks and his son, Hawks GM Stan Bowman, but what Scotty mostly does now at age 77 is watch hockey, a lot of hockey. It doesn't matter what league or what level or what teams, it's all just hockey to him. He is as fascinated by it now as we are when he offers up the changes he would make to the game, which aren't so much innovations as they are a return to the way things once were.
"There are only four changes I would make," he said, and here they are:
1. Put the redline back in for two-line pass offside until the puck carrier reaches the top of the face-off circle in his own end.
"I don't like that," Bowman said, pointing to a defenceman on his own goalline firing the puck hard up the boards to a teammate at the far blueline, who tips the puck into the offensive zone. "I want to see defencemen make a play. Force him to get the puck to the top of the circles in his own end before you open up the whole netural zone for a pass."
Bowman also thinks that might encourage more forechecking to prevent a player from getting to the top of the circles and putting the whole neutral zone in play.
2. Take out the trapezoid and allow goaltenders to handle the puck anywhere on the ice.
Bowman said it would help protect defencemen from being pulverized on the forecheck and while a good puckhandling goalie could neutralize an opposing team's forecheck, a bad puckhandling goalie could result in turnovers and more offence.
3. Eliminate the automatic delay of game penalty for a player in the defensive zone, who shoots the puck out of play.
"I would like to see it be at the referee's discretion," Bowman said. "The refs know if it's an accident or intentional. Let the ref make the call."
4. Return to traditional offside -- get rid of the tag-up.
"Again, I want to see defencemen make a play with the puck, not just slap it into the offensive zone and just stand there waiting (for teammates to clear the zone)," Bowman said. "Hold onto the puck, try to make something happen, maybe he makes a play, maybe he turns it over. But force him to make a play."
5. Return to 10 feet between the goalline and end boards at each end and have three equal zones of 60-feet apiece, as opposed to the smaller neutral zone/larger offensive zones we now have.
"The offensive zone is too big now," Bowman said. "That's why you see all five guys collapse to the front of the net and you have forwards playing goalie. If the zone were smaller, they (the defensive players) might spread out a bit and go after pucks up top. There would also be more forechecking."
Wait a minute, Bowman originally said he had only four changes he would make. Yeah, well, you tell the greatest coach of all time he doesn't get last change.