NHL Rule Changes: Bringing Back Red Line Would Be Reactionary, Not Smart

TORONTO ON - AUGUST 18: NHL scouts watch an on-ice session where new faceoff locations were tested during the 2010 NHL Research Development and Orientation Camp fueled by G Series on August 18 2010 in Toronto Canada. (Photo by Matthew Manor/Getty Images)

NHL general managers have discussed reinstating the two-line pass rule as a way to curb the league's concussion epidemic. While they might not approve the rule change, even talking about it seems reactionary.

In 2005, the NHL felt the need to make the game more exciting. The league wanted to let skill players shine by eliminating clutching and grabbing, opening up the ice and allowing speed to take over. More goals would come as a direct result, and the game would be more entertaining to both the casual fan and the diehard alike.

The most dramatic rule change in that laundry list of alterations that were made following the 2004-05 lockout was the removal of the red line -- not an actual removal of the physical line, of course, but the death of the two-line pass. It opened up the middle of the ice and made the breakout through the neutral zone much easier for the attacking team. It also effectively killed the neutral zone trap, or at least the dullest variety of it.

Pre-lockout, this goal below would not have been legal. Post-lockout, it's commonplace.

Steve Sullivan uses speed to beat the Dallas Stars defender on the outside. In a world with two-line passes, he would have had to stop at the red line to receive the pass from Pascal Dupuis. The defender would have been able to push Sullivan to the wall as he waited for reinforcements, and it's very possible that the Penguins would have simply turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Offensive zone time, let alone a goal, would not have been a promise.

That's what the presence of the two-line pass creates. It slows things down, jams up the game in the neutral zone and creates a lot less offensive pressure at both ends of the ice. There are fewer goals as a result. Even if you like defensive hockey and creativity in creating chances through the neutral zone, back-and-forth play in between the blue lines is about as boring as hockey gets.

NHL general managers have discussed bringing the red line back in an effort to help curb concussions. The thinking is pretty obvious: slow down the game again and we'll see fewer injuries. It's a noble thought.

Yet, it's really not all that clear whether or not it'll actually work. There's not a ton of data on just how concussions are caused, mostly because in some cases, we can't exactly pinpoint when a player was concussed. In my viewing experience, however -- and yes, this is completely anecdotal -- it seems as though the number of concussions taking place due to the speed of the game in the neutral zone is hardly the primary problem.

Think about it: how many concussion-inducing hits do we see as a result of a player flying through the neutral zone with a puck? Or from the speedier game that results? It'd be silly to say the speed of the game doesn't in some ways contribute, but is it any more frequent than down in a corner or via a blindside hit across the middle of the attacking zone?

We can't answer that question definitively without combing through hours upon hours of game tape and finding the cause of every concussion, but I'd be willing to bet the speed of the game isn't necessarily the problem. It might be a contributing factor, but wouldn't clarifying Rule 48 (or enforcing it to the extreme) do much more for eliminating the devastating, concussion-causing head shots?

I can't help but think that bringing back the two-line pass would be a reactionary move. I'm all for player safety over entertainment value, as I'm going to enjoy the game either way.

But there's zero proof that bringing back the red line would reduce concussions, and if it's going to make the game dull without also providing a solution to the injury problem, how does it make any sense at all?

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