NHL: Why the League Should Reinstitute the Red Line

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2012

MONTREAL, CANADA - APRIL 21:  Michael Cammalleri #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates in on a breakaway against Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 21, 2011 in Montreal, Canada. The Boston won 5-4.  (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

Do you remember the red line?

When the NHL took away the red line prior to the the 2005-06 season, the idea was that the game would open up and that offense would get a significant bump.

Instead of 2-1 and 3-2 games, skilled players would be able to send passes up the ice and set up teammates with breakaways and other odd-man rushes. Those low-scoring games would become high-scoring 4-3 or 5-4 games.

It hasn't happened that way. Instead of getting more breakaways and scoring opportunities, teams are just playing more dump-and-chase hockey—and they are doing it from a longer distance.

Prior to the red-line change, 5.136 goals were scored in the 2003-04 season. There was a slight bump in scoring after the rule was implemented, but scoring was at the 5.320 mark during the 2011-12 season, according to QuantHockey.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman pointed this out prior to last winter's general manager meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.

"I don’t like the way the game is played anymore,” Yzerman told Tampa Bay Times columnist Damian Cristodero. “All the rule changes we made we designed to increase the skill level, but it’s become a slap shot from the far blue line and a guy chips it in and you go chase.”

The scenario that Yzerman described takes far less skill than when the red line was in play in NHL games. Without the red line, players can attempt the home-run pass and if they fail, it's merely an icing call. When the red line is in play, passes must be on target or a neutral zone turrnover may result that could bring about a scoring opportunity.

The safety factor also comes into play if the red line were to come back into play. Speedy players often accelerate when they get into the neutral zone as they hope to accept a pass so they can go into the offensive zone and create a scoring opportunity. With their head turned as they look for the puck, players become vulnerable to cheap-shot artists who are looking for an unsuspecting player to destroy.

This was the case in 2010, when Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins was obliterated by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke. Savard has been feeling the effects ever since, and his career is almost certainly over.

Put the red line back, and players like Savard would be less likely to turn their heads and put themselves in a vulnerable position.

While head shots like the one Cooke delivered to Savard will now result in serious penalties and suspensions, reinstitution of the red line could help make the game safer.

Safety remains a key issue in all contact and collision sports, especially hockey. Any change that makes the game safer deserves consideration.

Since taking away the red line did not have the desired impact on goal scoring, it's time to reinstitute the red line. It would require more skill from puck-carriers and help prevent needless head shots and other illegal hits.