Brainstorming Shanahan keeps seeking ways to improve NHL

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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Mention the namesake meeting credited with triggering several landmark rule changes a few years back and Brendan Shanahan will shrug before insisting that what is being described as Version 2.0 is nothing like the original.

And that's a good thing, says the man who put together what became known as the "Shanahan Summit" during the lockout. In that two-day meeting in December 2004, the future Hall of Famer corralled fellow players, coaches, GMs and broadcasters to talk about ways of making the game more wide open and entertaining. The brainstorming conclave was productive and resulted in a number of notable innovations, including the shootout and elimination of the center red line for two-line passes that were put into practice and had their desired effect when play resumed.

Shanahan keeps tweaking toward more open ice and a much more open game. (Getty Images)  
Shanahan keeps tweaking toward more open ice and a much more open game. (Getty Images)  
Now one year after retiring and as a member of the league's administration, Shanahan says his goal in spearheading the league's debut research and development camp this week in suburban Toronto is less about shaking things up than avoiding complacency.

"This is something we've talked about doing for a while, but not because anyone thinks the game is broken or needs fixing," said Shanahan, NHL V.P. of Hockey and Business Development. "The game is in really good shape and we like what the new rules did for our game five years ago. "That said, you can't rest on your laurels. Most companies do research and development and we're approaching this the same way, trying to think progressively and to see if there are ways to improve things even more."

With that in mind, Shanahan and the NHL's Hockey Operations team will be paying close attention to what happens in a series of on-ice lab tests Wednesday and Thursday. The tests will feature 33 of the top-rated prospects for next June's draft taking part in scrimmages mentored by former NHL head coaches Ken Hitchcock and Dave King, and testing out ideas that had the most support among many suggested to Shanahan over the last few months. For their trouble, the prospects will get a chance to show themselves off for general managers or player development directors who will be there from most teams.

"These are some of the most talented players to execute the unique skills and strategies the camp is designed to test and evaluate," said E.J. McGuire, NHL Central Scouting Bureau director.

Shanahan said the most of the ideas to be explored at the camp are fundamentally intended to find ways of rewarding skill and to limit the ability of coaches to strategically manipulate games. But there is no particular urgency to make changes. "We're not going into this with the idea of putting in a whole bunch of new rules, but this is the place try a few different things and to see how they might work in controlled, game-situation environments," Shanahan said. "Some of the ideas might be a little bit out there, but this is the place to look at out-there ideas."

To that end, the camp will be divided into four sessions, two on each day. The morning scrimmage on Wednesday will focus on examining the junior United States Hockey League's "hybrid" icing rule that is intended to allow officials to reduce the chance of an injury by whistling a play dead when a defensive player has a clear edge in a race to an iced puck. That scrimmage also will incorporate additional potential tweaks, including prohibiting line changes for teams that go offside, and overtimes that will go from 4-on-4 play, to 3-on-3, then 2-on-2 before getting to a shootout.

Later that day, some of the best 17-year-olds in North America will do their thing on an ice surface that has wider blue lines, a bigger goal crease and only three faceoff dots on the ice, all down the middle of the ice. They won't be allowed to ice the puck while shorthanded, either, and for overtime, teams will switch ends to mirror the longer distance for line changes that occur in second periods when the majority of goals tend to be scored.

Thursday's morning sessions will display some of the more "out-there" ideas Shanahan talked about. One of them is intended to reduce congestion by having one of the two referees stationed off the ice, while the other will allow a center to choose his faceoff opponent –- say a defenseman –- if his original one has been waived out of the circle.

And then to finish things off, the afternoon session will be played in two halves focusing on special-team tactics devised by Hitchcock and King to work in concert with the test ideas.

"It's very important to have two guys who never shut off their hockey brain to come up with strategic ideas," Shanahan said. "I wanted a couple of coaches who would challenge these kids and maybe challenge some of the coaches in NHL to try some innovative things.

"I say push the envelope. Probably if somebody discussed a shootout 20, 30 years ago, people would have thought that was nuts."

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