Hockey's death trap

TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger (20) argues with referee Chris Rooney (5) after he called for a face-off as the Flyers were using their stall tactic during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in Tampa, Fla. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

Somewhere, Roger Neilson must be smiling.

The ludicrous spectacle of the Philadelphia Flyers refusing to advance the puck as a way of opposing the neutral-zone trapping tactics of the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday night was something the late NHL coach would have dreamed up.

And now the NHL might have to step in and do something about it.

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“The question becomes, is there some additional penalty [than a stoppage in play]that you employ,” NHL spokesman Gary Meagher said on Thursday. “And I’m not suggesting there is.

“I’m saying, that’s the type of discussion point that the league’s general managers would have.”

The GMs will meet in Toronto next Tuesday and Meagher suggested the topic would be one of those discussion points.

Less than a minute into the first period of their game on Wednesday, the Flyers gained possession of the puck in their own end and the Lightning lined up in their 1-3-1 trap defence implemented last season when Guy Boucher took over as head coach.

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The system calls for one player to be near each blueline and three along the red line, a suffocating tactic that makes it very difficult for the opposition to cleanly move the puck from out of its own end.

When the lead Tampa Bay skater, Martin St. Louis, refused to cross over the Philadelphia blueline to pressure the puck handlers, Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen made one leisurely pass cross ice to Braydon Coburn.

For at least 30 seconds, Coburn just stood on the ice with the puck at his skates as the Tampa Bay players refused to be drawn in to attack.

Compelling hockey this wasn’t for both the spectators at the game and a U.S. national television audience.

“I could take three bites out of my dinner and then look up and they were still in the same spot,” said Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who caught the game on TV. “I don’t know if I want to watch that, either.”

The stalemate finally ended when referee Rob Martell blew the whistle and ordered a defensive zone draw, which was the only option he has in accordance with the NHL rule book.

According to the rules, the onus is on the Flyers to try advancing the puck, even if the opposition refuses to aggressively fore-check.

When the teams finally got down to actually moving the puck, it was the Lightning who emerged with a 2-1 win in overtime, but the overall product didn’t rest well with some players.

“This games on National TV. … Way to sell it boys,” Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul tweeted.

“Tampa Bay Lightning are chipping away at our escrow 1-3-1 at a time,” Phoenix Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette tweeted.

There have been several suggestions on how the NHL can rectify the problem, including a shot clock that would force the team in control of the puck to move it out of their own zone in a specified time or face a penalty.

Others have suggested the NHL should try to devise a way to make the neutral zone trap an illegal defence.

Wilson, for one, is not sure where the fix lies.

“Illegal defence?” he asked reporters in St. Louis before the Leafs’ game against the Blues Thursday. “Now you have to fore-check? How do you mandate that?”

Wilson said he is not a proponent of the trapping style favoured by the Lightning.

“That’s a little boring for me,” he said. “I can’t foresee us playing like that.”