Rabid Habs

Can NHL Learn From World Juniors?

Team Canada

For as many years as I can remember, the World Junior Championship (WJC) has been synonymous with dramatic endings, upsets and skill. Lots of skill. Last night we were treated to a game filled with emotion, charged by the energy that accompanies Russia vs Canada. The game last night might be the third greatest instalment – on Canadian soil – in this storied rivalry, behind the New Year’s Eve game against Montreal in 1975 and the Canada Cup in 1987. Both previous engagements featured lineups filled with future Hall of Famers. Time will tell if last night’s lineup might be afforded the same stardom, but, Hall of Fame calibre talent notwithstanding, the game last night was hockey, in its purest form.

So, what’s the attraction to the World Junior Championship? The easiest explanation might be the skills combined with the intrigue surrounding drafted prospects. After all, for many Habs fans, this might be the only opportunity to watch Martin Reway play as a 19 year old. Both explanations are fully justified. However, in my opinion, the WJC is can’t miss theatre because the game bears the closest resemblance to the hockey of my youth. The absence of defensive systems, in addition to the breakdowns and the flaws are what make this so enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the NHL, but the game of hockey, contested by players under 20, is a very pleasant reprieve.

So, what are the key components? What can the NHL extrapolate from this event?

The trapezoid. That forbidden area where goalies no longer have free range to play the puck. This doesn’t exist in the international game, nor should it continue in the NHL. I don’t see the value. Let’s let the goalies leave their net. In doing so, the possibility of a scoring play could result. Those goalies who are strong puck handlers can use this freedom to stretch defences and look for breakaway passes. Additionally, there will also be breakdowns which could result in goals against. Either way, it’s an opportunity to remove a restriction and potentially create scoring chances.

The schedule. The preliminary games hold significance because they are so few in number. Additionally, the point system weighs regulation wins differently than overtime wins. I understand the NHL’s interest in promoting parity. Otherwise, there is risk that playoff positions are determined earlier and ticket sales are impacted. The existing point system in the NHL disguises the leaders and laggards. Teams have adjusted and play for the point, hoping to pick up the second point for the win in OT. The present point system acknowledges regulation wins (ROW), but its application is reserved for tie breaking scenarios. I believe the point system used during the WJC does a much better job of identifying the best teams and encourages teams to press for a win in regulation. Unfortunately, far too often I watch two teams settle in for a siege during the third period. A perfect example was the Carolina – Boston game on Sunday, a 1-1 bore fest. The teams combined for 9 shots on goal in the third period. This does nothing to attract new fans and promote the game of hockey, especially in non traditional markets.

Lastly, the WJC promotes goals. Sorry, but as a partial season ticket holder I must be honest in saying that there are many nights where I have left the Bell Centre, where the home team has scored 2 or fewer goals. Also, it shouldn’t be possible that Colorado and Pittsburgh can play to a scoreless regulation tie, but that was the case only a few weeks ago. The lack of scoring in the NHL today is concerning. But, alas, defence wins championships and the New Jersey Devils have proven that trap, collapse hockey, although extremely boring, can produce Stanley Cups. The competition committee needs to continue to explore best practices that can help generate offence. The NFL has adjusted the rules to greatly enhance offences, helping drive points to record highs. There is nothing wrong with watching a defensive battle, but the game will stagnate if the outcomes are predominantly 1-0 or 2-1.

So, in summary, like many Canadians across this great country I’m filled with pride this morning. I just hope the NHL takes notice and considers some enhancements that might make the professional game even better.

Follow me on Twitter @CJohnCasselman.