The NHL general managers meetings kick off on Monday in Boca Raton, Florida, and one of the topics on the agenda will be the continued discussion about maybe, possibly bringing the red line back to the league, something that was done away with prior to the 2005-06 season with the intention of increasing offense.
It's now seven years later and offense is still down (and still dropping) and there is now a growing belief around the league that reintroducing the red line could be a way of actually improving offense.
What a difference seven years makes.
The idea is simple: with the two-line pass being removed from the game, teams have made it a regular strategy to simply position a forward just beyond the red line to re-direct passes up the boards into the offensive zone, essentially elminating any sort of play and creativity in the neutral zone.
There are also concerns that it's leading to more injuries as forecheckers crash in on defensemen going back to retrieve the constant dump-ins.
Here's what Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon recently told Piere LeBrun of ESPN.com:
"What's happening with no red line is that the teams that are playing 1-2-2, are playing it closer to their own blueliner than they are closer to the other team's blue line. What we're doing is the stretch play and the chip and chase. With the red line [before 2005], people were coming back deep, there were more guys together making plays and coming up as a five-man unit. ... I'm just worried about injuries is all. I just want to discuss it and see what happens."Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle made a similar argument about the stretch play and chip and chase, and how it's hurting offense, back in February.
The argument about injuries is an interesting one, and probably has some merit.
But the only way the return of the red line can potentially increase offense, or bring more creativity on plays through the neutral zone, is if there is a serious crackdown on obstruction and consistent enforcement of the hooking and holding and clutching and grabbing that bored us to tears during the late 90s and early 2000s.
That is something the NHL has promised us numerous times, and has consistently failed to deliver on.
Having said that, the biggest reason for the still steady decrease in scoring isn't the fact that red line is or isn't in play, it's the simple fact that teams are getting fewer and fewer power play opportunities, with the average NHL team getting just a little over three attempts on the man-advantage per game this season, the third straight year that average has been less than four. As I pointed out a few weeks ago it was never below four power plays per game going back to the 2000-01 season, even during the height of the clutch-and-grab, neutral zone trap era.
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