Why Not? The NHL Tries Some Experimentation

Steve Levitt likes to preach that experimentation should not be limited to scientists and other researchers; firms and other institutions stand to benefit from it a great deal, and yet often don’t engage.

But here, from the Canadian magazine Macleans, is one institution that’s giving it a shot: the National Hockey League.

But the more carefully planned R & D camp held last month has mostly been welcomed and applauded. The scrimmages, held at the Maple Leafs’ practice facility on Aug. 18 and 19, featured some jarring, Martian-looking innovations. The players-who were, in an attention-getting wrinkle, mostly top junior stars eligible for the 2011 draft-road-tested everything from two-on-two overtime to shallower nets to having the second referee view the play from an elevated off-ice platform. On day two, viewers were confronted with the bizarre spectacle of the traditional ï?ve faceoff circles being replaced by three, running up the middle of the rink.

The man behind this is retired hockey stud Brendan Shanahan, who is now the league’s vice-president of hockey and business development. Here’s another compelling bit from the Macleans article, by Colby Cosh:

The unusual nature of some items tested at the camp reminded Simon Fraser University business professor Lindsay Meredith of the freewheeling “skunk works” divisions that tech companies create to investigate advanced projects. “Any major corporation should have some kind of skunk works-a bank, a university, whatever,” he says. “An enterprise of that size and sophistication would be foolish not to.”

What the puck?

Most interesting was the part where they tested new helmet prototypes by dropping upside down players from various heights.

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I heard that they were going to try an exhibition game with one team wearing jerseys embedded with anti-matter.


Each comment has been one-upped in stupidity by the next.


How about making the ice a little less slippery? And a little warmer -its freezing.

Kidding aside, I applaud the experiments.


Thanks Sean. You blew the chain.


Keep up the good work, Brendan. Some of the recent innovations have been great. Like eliminating the center red line and two-line pass infraction, and (I hate to admit this) I actually *like* the trapezoid behind the net.


I wish basketball would try this. I *hate* watching free throws. I think basketball is the only sport where a foul may help the guilty team to the point it is part of the strategy at the end of the game. Test giving the option of taking one shot and keeping the ball or, like in football, the option of declining the penalty. I think this type of testing the NHL is doing is the only way to truly find changes that may improve the game.


Too bad hockey won't "experiment" more with the team ownership/management and league administration that keeps it the most minor of the big four American sports.


This is awesome. I can't speak to the value of any of the ideas specifically but the fact that they are testing out even 'crazy' ideas is a plus. Look at how many prototype cars are tried at car shows to see how far things can go only to become a mainstream offering later.

I agree with other comments that more sports should try this out. The 24 second clock in basketball is a good example of a similar effort that made a huge impact on that sport.

Kudos to the NHL.


Now, if only Baseball would do the same.

Baseball and Soccer are the most stubborn of sports where there is no apparent interest in improving.

Tony Carson

If these is one sport crying out for thoughtful experimentation it's soccer, a fabulous game entirely ham-strung by rules designed to have the score end in a 0-0 tie.