Michael Russo's Sunday Insider: Is it hockey or chess?

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2011 - 12:40 AM

Tampa Bay's 1-3-1 trap got a challenge from Philadelphia's wait-and-see style last week, and the sport known for action came to a grinding, but legal, halt.

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Philadelphia’s Braydon Coburn seemed to be saying to Tampa’s Martin St. Louis: “Come and get it.”

Photo: Chris O'meara, Associated Press - Ap

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At first, it was comical. Not often in a hockey game -- a sport built on speed -- can a forechecker turn to the bench and ask his coach, "What should I do?"

But that's exactly what Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis did Wednesday when the Philadelphia Flyers refused to break out of their end. In an effort to entice the Lightning to actually pressure rather than sit back in Lightning coach Guy Boucher's famed 1-3-1 neutral zone trap, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette had his defensemen stand and stand and stand with the puck.

At first, the referees didn't know what to do -- twice blowing whistles for defensive-zone faceoffs. That ended when referee Chris Rooney spoke to the league and found out he had no right to do so.

"That's not hockey in my book," veteran Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said of the Lightning's system. "Would you pay money to watch that? That was a [national] TV game, too. Look at the [offensive] players they've got there. Way to showcase the product."

The Flyers had 14 shots through regulation and lost in overtime, so Boucher got the last laugh. But the Flyers say they're under no obligation to force plays and the Lightning says it's under no obligation to chase. The NHL rulebook has no rule that says a team must advance the puck.

"I was waiting to see who was going to bite first," said injured Wild defenseman Mike Lundin, who played for Boucher last season in Tampa. "At first, I was kind of stunned. Then, it seemed they were making a joke out of the game.

"You don't want to see nobody moving for 30 seconds. It was tough to watch. I hope it doesn't become a problem and we have to make weird rules to solve it."

Wild coach Mike Yeo also wonders, "What comes out of it?"

Does the NHL look to force teams to advance the puck? Does the NHL put a time limit on advancing the puck like basketball has to get up the floor? Or, does the NHL try something radical and look to eliminate schemes like the 1-3-1 (one skater at the blue line, three across the red line, one at the blue line)?

That seems doubtful. The high-speed sport is hard enough to officiate. Could you imagine referees having to identify a certain type of neutral-zone trap and whistle it down for illegal defense?

Wild winger Dany Heatley thinks the league should look at extreme systems like Tampa's.

"I like what [the Flyers] did," Heatley said. "If you're going to trap it up and have all the guys back, I mean, why fall right into the trap? It's called a trap for a reason."

Other teams play the 1-3-1, such as Dallas and San Jose at times, Yeo said. Both teams are more aggressive, though. The point of a trap is to try to wedge the opposition to one side of the ice and dictate where they're going, but as Lundin said: "I can't imagine any other team plays it to the extreme Tampa does and, like, all the time. Some teams might bring it every once in a while, but Tampa, that's their system. If in doubt, just back off."

Lundin calls Boucher "a very good coach" but admits it was a tough system to play.

"A lot of the things go against everything you've always been taught," Lundin said. "Sometimes you want to be more aggressive. It's tough keeping the mindset of just sitting back."

Hopefully Wednesday was an isolated incident. If not, the NHL will have to address it.

"People want to see hockey, people pay to see a show," Calgary's Alex Tanguay said. "People pay to see skating and skills. I guess it's working for [the Lightning]. But as far as I'm concerned, if I was a fan paying, I would much rather see a team that's aggressive and skating than a team that's waiting for ... I'm not sure what."

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