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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.”