CRANBERRY — The NHL hasn’t actually removed the red line from its games. You can see it stretching across center ice anytime the Pittsburgh Penguins play a game at PPG Paints Arena, as it does in every other venue around the league.
But when the NHL returned from the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, it adopted a series of rules changes intended to make the game more entertaining for the fans it was hoping to lure back.
One of the most significant was eliminating the red line, for purposes of two-line passes. Under the previous rule, those resulted in a stoppage of play anytime such a violation was detected by one of the officials.
But while meeting with reporters after the Penguins practiced at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex Thursday, coach Mike Sullivan made a case for returning the red line to the role it had filled for so many winters.
“I’m a proponent of it,” Sullivan said. “I think putting the red line back in the game would be good for the game. I think the game right now is played at a really, really high tempo and in some instances, it’s certainly faster than it’s ever been. But I think what’s been lost in the game is maybe some of the puck-possession aspect of it and the ability to slow games down or speed it up, depending on what circumstances presented themselves.
“I think that when you look back on the history of the game, that’s what a lot of the great players had an ability to do. Sometimes, they would speed it up, but other times, they would slow the game down in order to create opportunity. I understand why the league took the red line out — they’re trying to create a bigger playing surface without changing the dimensions of the rink, essentially, and that’s what they’ve done.
“So … teams are being forced to have to defend a bigger area of ice. But what’s been lost in this, I think the possession game, it’s evolving into more of a puck-pursuit game than anything, with stretch passes and high flips and people chasing pucks down. I’m sure there are people who sit on different sides of that argument, but that’s how I feel.”