July 18, 2016
Hall of Famer Orr: ‘Our game
has become more dangerous’
By KEITH GAVE
Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, a defenseman whose speed forever changed the National Hockey League and revolutionized the sport, raised a lot of eyebrows recently when he said it’s time to slow the game down.
The players are bigger and faster, and the force with which they collide has made the game far more dangerous than when he broke into the league nearly 50 years ago.
In an interview with TSN “That’s Hockey” host Geno Reda, Orr, 68, advocated putting back the center red line, a kind of stop sign between the two blue lines that will prevent those long stretch passes to forwards streaking down the ice.
“I think the center line, with the size of our players and the speed of our players, we’re shooting the puck from the goal line to the other blue line,” Orr said, “and guys are going through the middle looking back for the passes, I think our game has become more dangerous.”
Orr’s argument makes some sense, but it’ll find little support among those who want more scoring in the NHL, not less. The league implemented several rule changes after the 2004-05 lockout, most of them designed to open up the offense. It didn’t work, primarily because, as Orr suggests, coaches are too smart, and they constantly devise strategies to counter such changes.
“The coaches just coach around the style,” Orr said. “I think if the red line was back in, now the players have to make plays coming out of their end. I think that’s going to help create more offense. You’re going to cut plays off, forechecking can be more sustained.”
If you buy into that, then be prepared to turn back the clock to the mid-1990s, when New Jersey’s stifling neutral-zone trap helped the Devils win a couple of Stanley Cups. Effective it might have been, though it was unbearable to watch.
When icons of the sport speak, people like Orr, Scotty Bowman and Wayne Gretzky, people listen. And with the speed and size of players in today’s game – not to mention the addition of a fourth on-ice official – there’s simply not enough room on the traditional NHL ice surface.
Frankly, the league should have seen this coming. I’ve been writing about this for 25 years, suggesting that all these beautiful new buildings going up around the continent should at least have the capability of expanding the ice surface. None do, including the finest new hockey shrine in the world going up on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.
No, the new Little Caesars Arena will not be able to expand its ice surface to accommodate these bigger, faster players, said Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment.
“If the league ever mandates it, we’ll bite the bullet and do what we have to do,” he said, adding that in most buildings the cost of expanding the ice surface will cost between $1 million and $2 million.
That’s pretty far down the road, and it won’t happen before much debate. Few will support the league going to the much larger international ice surface, but Calgary General Manager Brian Burke has been advocating adding another five feet in width, a surface used by a lot of collegiate teams.
That would open things up a bit and give creative players a little more room to work with, which almost everyone wants.
Will it help increase scoring? Probably not enough.
Player safety and juicing up the offense are two separate issues that tend to get mingled in discussion about bringing back the red line.
If the league is serious about increasing goal-scoring it can start by doing something it has been too afraid to do for too long: Regulate the goaltender equipment.
Goalies have been cheating for more than two decades as their equipment has advanced beyond protection to blocking access to the four-foot by six-foot goal. The billboards they wear on their legs go far beyond padding their shins. Their gloves are much bigger than they need to be. Same with their blockers. Their padded pants are a joke and the webbing that appears when they raise their arms shows that their jerseys are many sizes larger than they have to be.
Start there, and watch the goals increase.
Next, the league can regulate shot-blocking. Penalize diving and flopping around to block shots. Do it in the name of safety. Mandate that players must stand up, or go down on one knee to stop the puck. Anything more results in a penalty. See how many more pucks get to the net.
Finally, eliminate the trapezoid behind the nets. Why penalize goaltenders like Detroit’s Petr Mrazek, mobile enough to roam into the corners, retrieve the puck and send it the other way with a well-place pass?
Let talented players play. But as Orr says, too, let’s make it safer for all of them.
. . .
The Detroit Red Wings will be spending a lot of time in Northern Michigan again this summer and fall. Here’s some information to help set your calendars:
NHL PROSPECT TOURNAMENT – The 18th annual event runs from Sept. 16-20. The eight-team field consists of prospects from the Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.
Over the tournament’s history, 522 players have moved on to play in at least one NHL game, including 24 players who played for Detroit in 2015-16.
TRAINING CAMP GOLF CLASSIC -- The Red Wings will open their camp with the 18th Training Camp Golf Classic, presented by Eitel Dahm Motor Group, on Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Proceeds from the tournament benefit Involved Citizens Enterprises (I.C.E.), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization providing affordable skating programs to Northern Michigan.
Golf participants will enjoy a pre-round lunch before teaming up with a member of the Red Wings roster, coaching staff or management team for a 1 p.m. shotgun start on one of the resort’s pristine golf courses. Following the round, attendees will have dinner at the resort at a table with their Red Wings teammate and have the opportunity to bid on unique sports memorabilia, vacation packages and much more during the silent and live auctions.
The information for registration, sponsorship opportunities and pricing can be found at the following link: http://www.centreice.org/page/show/521797-drw-golf-outing
RED WINGS TRAINING CAMP -- The 2016-17 Red Wings hit the ice for the first time the morning of Friday, Sept. 23, and continue daily through Monday, Sept. 26. Red Wings players, prospects and tryouts will be divided into teams that will practice and scrimmage throughout camp, leading up to the annual Red and White Game on Sept. 26 at 12 p.m. A full camp roster and the complete training camp schedule will be announced at a later date.
The Training Camp Alumni and Celebrity Game will also return for a fourth consecutive season, taking place on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. Last year’s game included numerous Red Wings front office staff and coaches, including general manager Ken Holland and head coach Jeff Blashill; former players such as Dino Ciccarelli, Kris Draper, Jiri Fischer, Joe Kocur, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty; and Red Wings television color analyst Mickey Redmond.
TICKET INFORMATION – Tickets for all September events go on sale in person at Centre Ice Arena on Saturday, July 9 from 1-4 p.m.., while any remaining tickets will be available via fax starting Monday, July 11 at 12 p.m. Prices for practice sessions are $10 for standing-room only, $15 for reserved seating and $20 for the mezzanine. Red and White Game and Training Camp Alumni and Celebrity Game tickets will start at $20 for standing-room only, $25 for reserved seating and $30 for the mezzanine. Select 2016 training camp merchandise will also be available for purchase. For additional information, please call (231) 933-7465 or visit www.centreice.org.