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Shanahan preparing for another R&D camp

7/15/2011

The NHL will head back to the laboratory next month with Brendan Shanahan reprising his role as Dr. Frankenstein.

The former NHLer and now top league executive will gather some of the top young prospects for the 2012 NHL draft and set them to work in front of the league's hockey operations department, GMs, coaches, scouts, executives, union types and, of course, a smattering of media, to test out new ideas, gadgets and rules in Toronto on Aug. 17 and 18.

"It's a pretty good collection of hockey people, a good collection of hockey minds," Dr. Frank ... er ... Shanahan told ESPN.com this week.

For its many ownership dramas and ongoing issues over player safety, the NHL has managed to stay on the cutting edge when it comes to blue-skying the game.

Whether narrower nets or different netting or headset communications that allow on-ice officials to communicate with each other, a la NASA astronauts, during a game ever become part of the NHL isn't really the point. The fact that some of the game's leading minds are open to gathering regularly under one roof to discuss different ideas and see how they might look in action adds a different texture to the proceedings and may ultimately have a greater impact on future changes to the game.

Without Shanahan's research and development festival, the process of effecting change would be more theoretical with ideas moving from GMs meetings to the competition committee to the board of governors. Experimentation of new changes may be imposed on the American Hockey League, but the R&D exercise allows the game's top hockey eyes to see how things might look and if there is reason to pursue them.

"It's a big leap to go from the boardroom to the NHL ice," Shanahan said. "This is a smaller step."

At last year's inaugural event, a host of potential changes -- from safety to technological to injecting more offense into the game -- were introduced during scrimmages. This year's effort will be somewhat more streamlined and will revisit some of the ideas explored a year ago for a closer look.

This seems to be the evolutionary path the R&D event will take -- try new things; if you like some of them, try them again, and if you don't, move on to something else.

For instance, Shanahan said he expects narrower nets will again get a hard look in August. While keeping the goal itself a consistent size, the reduced depth of the net will allow for more room to move behind it and a shorter travel distance for a player trying to attempt a wrap-around, thus putting more pressure on goaltenders and defenders.

On-ice officials will again try out a communication system that will allow them to communicate with each other on the ice and might aid in keeping a play alive that might otherwise be blown dead or determining if a puck enters the goal.

Observers will also be able to take another look at potential changes to a delayed penalty call, wherein the team that is about to be assessed a penalty must clear the puck from its zone before a whistle is blown as opposed to merely gaining control of the puck. Presumably, this would create more scoring chances for the attacking team.

Officials will also be asked to employ a hybrid icing call that will potentially reduce the number of dangerous collisions during those plays.

Last year, Ken Hitchcock and Dave King provided coaching expertise during the camp. In August, it will be Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma and Phoenix's Dave Tippett who will serve as bench bosses during the two-day summit.

The event will be held at the Maple Leafs' practice facility in Etobicoke, just west of downtown Toronto.