Bergeron doesn't like face off proposal

Bergeron doesn't like face off proposal
March 22, 2014, 3:00 pm
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(USA Today Sports)

DENVER – With the NHL on the hunt to improve the face off situation amid discussions at last week’s GM meetings in Boca Raton, they might do well to heed the words of the league’s preeminent artist at the dot. Patrice Bergeron has been the consensus best face off man in the NHL for the last three or four years winning between 58-61 percent of his draws, and ranks second behind Manny Malhotra with a 58.8 winning percentage in the face off circle this season.

Only Antoine Vermette and Sidney Crosby have taken more than the 1,509 face-offs for Bergeron this season, so he’s as close to an expert as one would hope to get at the NHL player level.

The league proposed a couple of face off changes for next season to speed up the process, maintain the integrity of the second face off when a player is tossed from the opening draw and quell some of the pushing and shoving that can transpire before the puck is dropped. Players that were previously ejected for a face off violation would instead have to take a 12-18 inch step back from the second draw. Currently the violating player is tossed and replaced by a second face off man, and the slight delay changing out players has been utilized by crafty coaches to give teams a quick breather after long, taxing shifts.

There’s also a sense more “cheating” is going on in the second face off because the refs are reluctant to call minor penalties on face-off plays, and that the integrity of the second face off has been sacrificed under the current system. You could see a situation where a team would put somebody in the circle that has no intention of taking the face off, and would then replace that player with the preferred draw man for the second face off attempt.

The general managers also recommended following the Olympic model on the hash marks, moving them from 3 feet to 5 feet apart to prevent fighting on the wings in a crowded face off circle. Bergeron is less concerned about the second slight change discussed for the face off circle itself, but wonders why the league is messing with something that’s not quite broken.

“I don’t know if I like that. I think so far it’s been great just the way it is. I don’t know why we need to play with that,” said Bergeron, the B’s alternate captain and the 2011-12 Selke Trophy winner. “It’s a face off, and it’s important to win the draw. I’m not big on it, but I’ll try to get used to whatever rules they implement… just like what they had with the tucked in jerseys.

“I don’t really see why it’s a big deal that the guy is getting thrown out of the face off the first time around. Then [another] guy goes in as the second center. It might be a way to catch a few more seconds to rest, but we’ll see what happens. I don’t see why they would do that, but I have no say in it. So we’ll see what happens. Honestly, you just play the game right? I’ll adjust to whatever changes they decide to make.”

The “tucked in jerseys” is in reference to the new rule for the 2013-14 season that forbade NHL players from tucking their jerseys into the back of their hockey pants. Alex Ovechkin and Bergeron were among the most visible players that were forced to change their ways because of the seemingly arbitrary new equipment rule.

The bottom line is that no matter what the NHL tries to implement as an improvement, smart players and coaches are going to find a way to make the rules work for them. Rule changes can often create unintended loopholes that weren’t at all anticipated at the time of adoption.

“It’s important to take a lot of pride in it, and to win draws,” said Bergeron. “The bottom line is that you’re going to try to find ways to be better at it, and to get the puck for your team.”

The other bottom line: Bergeron will continue to dominate the face off circle and be the league’s premier quick draw artist no matter what rule tweaks or outright changes they make to the face off circles.