Re-implementation of the Two-Line Pass is the Next Major NHL Debate on the Horizon

Ever-charismatic Bruins legend Bobby Orr held court on Thursday afternoon prior to the B’s home opener against New Jersey, in which he and fellow icon Milt Schmidt were being honored on the 50th (Orr) and 80th (Schmidt) anniversaries of the commencement of their respective Hall of Fame careers.

Of the many topics touched upon, one of which was the predictable ‘where do you think the game is?’ question posed to Orr.

The question set up the acknowledgment of an idea gaining steam in the NHL – the re-implementation of the two-line pass.

The two-line pass, may the lord rest its soul, was a rule in which a player couldn’t receive a pass from a teammate that crossed two of the three lines – which, of course, are the two blue lines the separate the neutral zone from the offensive zone and the red line at center ice. The rule was akin to offsides.

The rule was abolished in 2005 when the NHL rulebook was reformed in the aftermath of the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season to encourage more offense, catering the rules toward players with speed and skill. The elimination of the rule opened up the 200-foot ice sheet, giving teams more dynamo in the transition game, allowing for the stretch passing that like the deep route in football, more often than not don’t connect but when it does, gets the fannies out of the seats (in a good way).

Over a decade later, scoring remains at the same, which is to say, well, it’s still an issue. While there was an uptick in the years coming out the lockout, the numbers have dropped back to pre-lockout numbers. The decline is in large part to systems that emphasize play in all three zones, clutching and grabbing replaced by shot blocking and collapsing in the slot. It doesn’t help that goalie equipment looks like the inflatable sumo wrestler Halloween costume. To many, the game isn’t any less exciting; but hey, it’s always nice to have something to complain about.

The lack of offense has re-opened the dialogue for taking the two-line pass rule out of exile, though not as a ‘goal scoring’ issue – but as a player safety issue.

Concussions in contact sports have been at the forefront of the sports discussion for the past decade, something you likely already know unless you’ve been making a bee-line for the arts and entertainment page, flying over the sports page in the process.

While the league has seemed to zero in on the elimination fighting as a way of combating concussions, the rate of head injuries haven’t declined as the rate of fisticuffs has as rules have been implemented that all but phase the practice out of the NHL.

The next place the league could look would be slowing the game down, as Orr insists the league should look into. And it makes sense – players are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever. There are guys built like box trucks with motors of Lamborghinis. Speed only increases the rate of impact.

Regardless, it’s an issue that’s been brewing for some time. Greg Wyshynski wrote a good piece summarizing the attitude toward the rule change last May, particularly as it pertained to the fact that goal scoring had remained mostly stagnant. Aaron Portzline, who covers the Blue Jackets for the Columbus Dispatch, brought up the idea of the re-implementation of the red line in Richard Deitsch’s NHL roundtable earlier this week.

This is an issue quickly gaining steam in circles around hockey. Concussions, of course, remains a major story and won’t be going away anytime soon. And aside from that, the size and speed of the players in addition to the size of the padding poses a threat for a serious injury. Brett Hull said last month on the RoenickLife Podcast that the league ‘needs to get rid of those shoulder pads before someone dies.’

And now Orr, an icon considered by many to be the greatest hockey player that ever lived, has spoken. That only adds momentum to the issue.

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