By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Many NHL players, including prominent Bruins, have voiced their displeasure with the league’s new crackdown on faceoff rule enforcement. But David Backes is not one of them. In fact, he helped put the crackdown in place.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Backes reminded everyone that he’s a member of the NHL’s competition committee and admitted that he participated in the decision to put more emphasis on faceoff rules for the 2017-18 season. It’s led to a sharp rise in faceoff violations and subsequent delay of game penalties in the preseason, which both Brad Marchand and the NHL’s reigning faceoff king, Patrice Bergeron, pretty much hate.
The league’s crackdown is mainly designed to prevent “cheating” at the faceoff dot. Under more lax faceoff enforcement, players would drop to their hands and knees, butt heads, and do pretty much anything except cleanly sweep the puck off to a teammate. The excessive penalties have slowed preseason games considerably.
But Backes believes that once players simply adjust to the newfound emphasis, the crackdown will result in faster, smoother games that are more fun to watch.
“I think the intent was that all the faceoffs tended to be ‘scrum draws.’ It’s not ‘win the draw’. It’s ‘don’t lose the draw’ and we’ll get the wingers in there, and everything looks like [lacrosse] where it’s just ‘bash each other and get some help in there and figure that all out,” said Backes. “The intent was to have a cleanly won faceoff. And whether it’s the second center in there that’s petrified to get a penalty, or the first guy that’s got to be really honest.
“The draws are won more cleanly and you can watch the games. It’s not every draw is just ‘the puck’s dropped, it’s two guys colliding and guys banging heads like they’re football players’. [New faceoff techniques are] certainly a skill that needs to be developed.”
Backes couldn’t be less concerned about Bergeron, who expressed frustration after Thursday’s Bruins preseason win over the Flyers that he will need to adjust his typically dominant faceoff style.
“Bergy didn’t like it and he was 50 percent [against the Flyers], but I bet you the next time he plays it will be 85 percent and it will be a great rule [according to him],” said Backes. “Because he’s that good on draws and he’s smart enough, he’ll adjust. You’ve just got to be honest.”
Backes’ best point of the day was that just because the crackdown will quell faceoff cheating as it is right now, that doesn’t mean the “cheaters” won’t find new ways to adapt anyway.
“The guys that are great on faceoffs will still be great on faceoffs. It’s just a little bit of an adjustment. And they’ll probably, truthfully, learn to cheat on this one a little bit too,” said Backes. “And Bergy will probably take 1200 draws this year and win 800 of them and he’ll be a Selke award winner. We’ll all have a hug, maybe after this next session, and life will go on.”
The hope is that the referees really scale back the faceoff violation calls and delay of game penalties at the start of the regular season. The insanity of the preseason had better just be a way of forcing players to adjust.
But if the league’s true motivation with this particular crackdown is to create more power plays and generally give advantages to teams in the offensive zone? It may literally put more pucks in the net. The actual number of goals may go up. But it won’t necessarily result in a more exciting product – especially if the penalties continue like they have. Are the “MORE SCORING!!!” types really clamoring for more 5-on-4’s with guys standing around and cycling to the point for 90-foot slap shots?
Until the league gets serious about cracking down on the size of goalie pads – or even the nets – most other methods to increase scoring could lead to unintended consequences and frustration from both players and fans. It won’t be until the games get real when we find out if Backes’ optimism comes to fruition.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.