Shanahan to preside over R&D camp
Now the NHL's vice president hockey and business development, Shanahan plans to put the game back under the microscope in a couple of months to ensure that it continues to thrill and is able to evolve, if necessary.
Shanahan and the NHL's entire Hockey Operations Department will preside in late August over a research and development camp at the Maple Leafs' practice facility in Toronto. Two on-ice sessions per day on Aug. 18-19 will allow Hockey Ops and many of the league's general managers and coaches to watch 35-40 of the top-rated prospects eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft put potential rules changes and strategic innovations to the ultimate test -- real game action.
"The idea is just to create a camp that gives us information about the game -- not because we think the game is broken and needs fixing, but to allow our hockey people to think and act progressively," Shanahan said Friday at the United Center, after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the camp during his annual pre-Stanley Cup finals address to the media.
While Shanahan is uncomfortable with the moniker that was given to his first such venture in this area, the "Shanahan Summit" that was convened Dec. 7-8, 2004, it produced several suggestions for a more entertaining game that the League wound up adopting upon the resumption of play in 2005-06. Among the more prominent: using shootouts to eliminate ties during the regular season, reducing obstruction through stricter rules enforcement, restricting goaltenders' ability to play the puck and penalizing players for shooting the puck into the crowd from their defensive zone.
Other suggestions that came out of that skull session -- such as no-touch icing and one-minute penalties in overtime -- were not put into NHL play. Shanahan is willing to test virtually any reasonable idea, but neither promises profound changes to the game, nor necessarily believes the NHL product needs them.
"We'll test potential new ideas. Some may never see the light of day," he said. "But it's just putting into play some game-situation rules, some game-situation equipment and some potential innovation into the game of hockey."
Shanahan already has reached out to many NHL general managers to solicit suggestions. He has touched base with the commissioners of Canada's top junior leagues and USA Hockey officials to ensure that the top 17-year-olds in North America will be made available to participate. The reaction? Similar to the one he received from media members who buttonholed him here Friday afternoon: Great idea.
"Invitations have just gone out and we're starting to get replies from the players," Shanahan said of skaters chosen based on the year-out projections for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the league's Central Scouting Service. "The overwhelming response from the agents and commissioners of their leagues that I've contacted has been really positive. In fact, they're trying to get more of their clients and players invited."
Shanahan said he won't ask goaltenders to wear streamlined equipment or skaters to use gear that would make them uncomfortable in front of GMs who might be evaluating them for future draft decisions. But during their morning and afternoon scrimmages, the players will be asked to deploy tactics and play under rules that will be new to them.
"I think it's going to be coaching strategies, game strategies, game rules, potentially some of the things we've done before and some new things as well," Shanahan said. "General managers have been e-mailing me suggestions on preparations and the commissioners from the different leagues have as well.
"What I've told the general managers is: 'If your idea has support and we have the time, it will make the camp.' And we'll make all those decisions through Mike Murphy, Colin Campbell, Kris King, Kay Whitmore and Hockey Operations."
NHL coaches also will get an opportunity to test out concepts they couldn't evaluate during the results-oriented NHL season.
"I think it would be a missed opportunity to not have the coaching community try out some daring, new concepts that they might not necessarily have the courage to try in a real game," Shanahan said. "For example, I've heard some talk about, in a 5-on-3 power-play situation, potentially pulling your goalie and making it a 6-on-3.
"Our power play and penalty killing haven't really deviated all that much in the last 25 to 30 years. When you start talking to coaches, they'll tell you some really interesting ideas or things they've seen.
"I remember, in 2002, playing Game 1 of the Olympics against Sweden and they did the 'torpedo' against us. And I remember thinking, 'This is here to stay because this is the hardest game I've ever played against a team in my life.' Thank God a shot from center ice by Belarus kept that out of the NHL. If (the Swedes) were gold medalists, 28 teams in the NHL would be doing the torpedo right now.
"So I'm really opening it up and then whittling it down between now and the camp. And we'll see going forward whether this is going to be a year-round thing."