We need more philosophy …

So, I was reading this article on the NHL GMs meeting, and one of the discussion points made me almost literally face palm, and then realize that we really need to find a way to teach people basic reasoning. Either that, or get them thinking about why things were brought in in the first place before assessing whether something fits or not.

It involves the recently instituted rule where if you ice the puck, you don’t get to change lines during the stoppage of play. However, some coaches, at key times in the game, would use their one timeout per game — which is also required if they want a video review — to rest their players. The NHL is tweaking the rule:

The other would see coaches lose the ability to call a timeout and rest players following an icing.

“I’ve sort of been thinking that way all along: Why do you not allow a change after an icing, but then you’re allowed to take a timeout?” said Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”


Okay, let’s go back to why the rule was instituted in the first place. The issue was that if a team was under huge pressure in their own end and particularly when they had a line that had been out for quite a while, simply icing the puck was seen as a good way to relieve the pressure. Sure, you ended up with a face-off in your own zone, but that’s a small price to pay if the other team was buzzing around your goal. It would also let you change lines and so if that line was either tired or a very poor match-up against the line they had out there, that was an advantage as well. And the ability to change lines meant that even the face-off might not be the big a deal because you could put your best face-off player out there and were more likely to win it. Thus, this encouraged players to break up such pressure by simply dumping it out; the worst that could happen was an icing, which wasn’t that bad.

So, the NHL decided to make there be consequences for icing the puck, and the consequence they chose was that you couldn’t change lines if you iced the puck. This means that the line you had out there had to stay on. Sure, icing the puck is still better than simply letting the other team buzz around your offensive zone, but not being able to change means that a tired line has to stay out there, and the other team — whether the home or away team — effectively gets to create the best match-up against the line you have out there. So you don’t want to ice the puck unless a) you don’t care about any of that or b) you’re desperate, which then would reduce the number of times teams ice the puck to get out of trouble.

So, keep in mind that the purpose of doing this was to discourage teams from simply dumping the puck out to relieve pressure. Now, remembering that teams only get one timeout per game, ask yourself if not allowing the coach to call a timeout if their team has iced the puck is actually going to be strong discouragement from their icing the puck. To answer this, we have to ask if having the ability to call a timeout in those situations would be a significant incentive to adopt an overall strategy of “If we’re under pressure and tired, dump the puck out and if we get an icing we can just call a timeout”. Well, since you only get to do it once per game, you’re certainly not going to adopt that as a strategy. You might consciously do it once if you were in really, really bad shape, but that’s it. But then we have to consider what doing that will cost you. Teams now use timeouts for a) video reviews, as mentioned above, b) settling down the entire team if the other team is at risk of running away with the game and thus breaking the momentum of the other team and c) resting your key players and drawing up a play if, late in the game, you find yourself down by a goal with the goaltender pulled. Are you going to risk not being able to do that just to avoid leaving a tired line on the ice after an icing? Well, not as a regular strategy. So, then, the only time a coach would do this is if they feel that this is a critical part of the game and that they really need to rest those players, and thus that the game might well turn on this situation. Which is the sort of strategy decisions that we want coaches making. If they feel — rightly or wrongly — that the game might well turn on this post-icing face-off, then why would we stop them from doing that? What does it add to the game to do that? Again, they aren’t going to adopt this as a general strategy because they don’t get enough timeouts to spend them recklessly and timeouts are needed for other things as well that might also be game changing.

So, with all due respect to the quoted GM, it doesn’t make sense to not allow a timeout there, because taking the timeout doesn’t clash with the purpose of the rule in the first place, and the change will in no way help to achieve the intent of the rule. While some may see taking the timeout as a way to “cheat” the rule, the rule wasn’t made to deal with one specific case that might come up in a game, but to deal with that being used as a general strategy. Taking the timeout there can’t be a general strategy and will never making icing the puck a general strategy. Thus, the rule change is ill-advised and poorly reasoned.


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