Research Camp tests innovations and wrinkles to NHL game Staff

8/17/2011 5:37:23 PM

From tweaks to some of hockey's newest innovations like the shootout, to the long-standing touch-up icing rule and everything else in between, hockey's innovative minds are converging for the annual Research, Development and Orientation Camp to test potential changes to the game.

The two-day event is underway at the Mastercard Centre for Excellence in Toronto. Thirty-six of the top junior prospects will play for NHL general managers and scouts under the supervision of Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma and Phoenix Coyotes bench boss Dave Tippett.

And while the players will work as pawns to sample various scenarios, situations and equipment, fans should not expect the game to be turned upside down overnight.

"I think everything we go in and try in this camp is to teach us some things," said Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations, said in an interview with That's Hockey on Tuesday. "It's not because we're not satisfied with the game, or we feel this need to continually change the game. It's just to continue to give us more information - and what a great time in the NHL to be studying the game and learning more about it."

One scenario they intend to dissect will be the shootout, which was just introduced to the NHL game after the lockout ended in the 2005-06 season.

The camp will look at both a five-man and three-man shootout, with repeat shooters being allowed if it's still tied. The repeat idea comes mainly from Jonathan Toews' entertaining array of shootout goals that carried Canada to a semi-final win over the United States at the World Junior Hockey Championship in 2007.

"That was exciting," continued Shanahan. "At the same time, if that were the rule, we would have been robbed of maybe the greatest shootout moment, I think, since it's been instituted, which is Marek Malik shooting 16th or 17th for the New York Rangers, doing the most beautiful, clutch shootout goal in the history of the shootout," he said.

Overtime will also see a new wrinkle at camp, as a three-minute, three-on-three sudden death session will be added to the current five-minute, four-on-four format. They will also look at the ice surface without the restricted trapezoid area, which was just recently installed and limits a goalie's puck-handling area.

Technology-wise, referees will get a chance to work with a wireless communication system, allowing the four-man crew to actually talk in-game.

And, in an effort to boost offence, they will look at ways to make power plays more potent - at the expense of the penalty-killing unit.

"If you look at the statistics over the years, penalty killing has become more proficient than the power play," explained Shanahan, as the R & D will try having the penalized player sit for the entire duration of his penalty. As well, delayed penalties will not be whistled dead until the offending team vacates their own zone with the puck. "I don't think we're at a point yet where we want to make a change. If it continues down that road, or if we feel that we need to make a tweak to that rule, this is a good way of looking for it."

With much debate and further injuries accumulating on touch-up icing, they will again look at the possibility of no-touch, and a hybrid of both. Of all the experiments and samples, Shanahan said testing icing is among the hardest to simulate.

"We get such great reads from these players. They're 36 of the highest rated 17-year-olds in North America and they bring a great level of competition. But icing is one thing where we get a difficult read from them because they are used to no-touch icing," he said.

"We don't get that true race for the puck that's instinctive with them that we see in the NHL. Often times even when we've instituted the NHL icing or the hybrid icing, their first instinct when the puck gets shot down is to straighten up and quit on the play. We're always trying to remind them that's not the rule."