Beyond Headlines: Making sense of IIHF’s proposal for smaller ice

The Hockey Night in Canada panel go over all the news around the NHL including how the IIHF may change their ice size for the Olympics.

‘Beyond Headlines’ is a deeper dive into some of the stories — and even some that weren’t — discussed each week on Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘Headlines’ segment.

WHY SMALLER ICE?

Imagine Wimbledon deciding to change to clay courts. Or Augusta National trucking in sandy soil to make the Masters more like links-style golf. Or Churchill Downs reducing the Kentucky Derby to a mile.

These are rough equivalents to what IIHF president Rene Fasel is proposing when he says he’s pushing for international hockey to adopt the smaller 200-by-85 foot ice surface used in North America, starting with the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

It represents a massive departure from the history and heritage of the international game played under IIHF rules. The larger 200-by-100 foot surface is something Fasel himself has until now steadfastly defended during a nearly 25-year run at the head of that organization.

Rather than debating the merits of big rink vs. small rink — as someone raised in Canada, who has made a living covering predominantly NHL hockey, my bias and preference is obvious — I’m interested instead in exploring the most obvious question(s):

Why? Why now?

Fasel spoke of the exciting speed he’d just seen at the world junior tournament played on small ice in Victoria and Vancouver when he dropped his 200-by-85 bombshell Saturday. But was it significantly different than the 2018 or 2017 tournaments, also played in North America? Or the 2016 World Cup?

Likely not.

Instead, another theory emerged in discussions with a couple prominent figures in the international game. They viewed Fasel’s revelation as a carrot being dangled to the NHL in an attempt to make a return to the 2022 Olympics look a little more appealing (Of note: the Nagano, Turin and Sochi tournaments were all played on larger ice).

It’s an interesting thought when paired with Nick Kypreos’s report on “Headlines” about senior members of the NHL and NHLPA planning to meet in Las Vegas this week to continue collective bargaining talks.

Kyper believes the union is working on a proposal to extend the CBA, which could expire as soon as September 2020. It will surprise no one if renewed Olympic participation is among the list of things the players seek to receive as part of an extended deal that would also pave the way for a 2020 World Cup.

The NHLPA would seem to have an ally in Fasel, who is suddenly and unexpectedly willing to reimagine what international hockey looks like. And it looks exactly like the game NHL owners like best.

EP’S CANUCKS

Up in the commentator’s room at Hockey Night, we joked that never had an injured player received as much love as Elias Pettersson did before and during Saturday’s Toronto-Vancouver game.

And with good reason.

Not only has the Swede changed how the NHL views the Canucks inside half a season, but he even came into the studio for a pre-arranged interview with Kyper on Friday afternoon — mere hours after suffering a slight MCL sprain in his right knee.

Normally, we’d expect a player to cancel that interview after leaving a game injured the night before. Class move from Pettersson and the Canucks.

It, got me to thinking that an interesting aspect of Vancouver’s situation is that it never intentionally entered a rebuild and still wound up with a unique foundational piece. Remember that this organization chose not to strip the roster bare in the final years of the Sedin twins.

There is still a case to be made that it should turn aging pieces into futures in order to maximize the force of the coming wave with Pettersson/Brock Boeser/Bo Horvat et al.

All of which makes Kyper’s report about the desire to start ramping up contract talks with Alex Edler quite notable. The 32-year-old defenceman remains a useful player and has made huge contributions in Vancouver over the years, but he’d be a valuable chip to play if management could convince him to waive a no-trade clause before the deadline.

They could even bring him back as a free agent on July 1.

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GOAL-DEPRIVED CANES

We are only in the first week of January and Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour has started speaking about the need for a winning streak to salvage the season. This comes at the same time Elliotte Friedman is reporting that Carolina has let rival teams know it is open to making trades.

There could be some fascinating moving parts here.

Friedge believes well-travelled, right-shot defenceman Dougie Hamilton is potentially in play along with rugged winger Micheal Ferland, a pending UFA who is having a good year but may be pricing himself out of an extension in Raleigh.

What Hurricanes GM Don Waddell covets most is players who can put the puck in the net. It’s why he was so interested in William Nylander during the Swede’s drawn-out negotiations with Toronto and has since been linked to St. Louis sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, among others.

Carolina entered play Sunday ranked 28th in goals per game at 2.55, and could badly use the 28 goals Jeff Skinner has scored in Buffalo this season or the 20 Elias Lindholm has in Calgary.

Unfortunately, both players were traded away in the summer. And goal scorers don’t grow on trees.

A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday.

DUCHENE’S FUTURE

The clock may be ticking on Matt Duchene’s tenure with the Ottawa Senators.

The 27-year-old centre is trending towards a career year offensively despite the struggles of his team, which has sunk to the bottom of the NHL standings.

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has repeatedly said that it’s his preference to bring Duchene back, but it doesn’t sound like much headway has been made in negotiations on an extension. Of late, it doesn’t seem as though there have been any significant discussions at all.

Dorion is unwilling to outline a timeframe for when he needs clarity from the Duchene camp on its intentions — not wanting to fuel media speculation, understandably — but it’s no secret that there will need to be some sort of resolution by the time the Feb. 25 trade deadline arrives.

Having already surrendered his 2019 first-round pick to Colorado as part of the three-way deal that brought Duchene to Ottawa, the Sens GM will have to prioritize recouping assets if he can’t get the player to agree to a new contract.

Dorion also has to figure out what’s happening with pending UFAs Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel in the seven weeks before the trade deadline.

He better keep his phone charged.

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DEMOTING PIRRI

Even in their second season, the Vegas Golden Knights remain unique.

Because of the rules governing the expansion process, the Golden Knights only have one current roster player on an entry-level contract — Alex Tuch — and that limits what GM George McPhee can do when juggling numbers.

It also explains why GMGM found himself in such a tight spot when Max Pacioretty returned from injury earlier this week.

Vegas only had two waiver exempt options that could be sent directly to AHL Chicago to create room: Tuch, with 32 points in 36 games and who is already in possession of a $33.25-million extension that kicks in next season; and Brandon Pirri, who had six goals and nine points in a scorching seven-game cameo following his Dec. 19 call-up.

Thus, Pirri was returned to the AHL with a promise from the organization that he’ll be brought back at the earliest opportunity.

It was either that or risk losing another player on waivers, and if there’s any organization that understands the importance of not simply giving away assets, it’s Vegas.

This won’t be a permanent position for the organization.

The Golden Knights can look forward to a time in the near future when Erik Brannstrom, Nicolas Hague, Cody Glass and other prospects break through and force roster turnover. They’ll have a lot more in-season flexibility once that day comes.

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

COACH HYNES

A strong statement was made about the direction of the New Jersey Devils this week when head coach John Hynes received an extension. He was on an expiring contract and got two years added in the new deal, per a source, giving him security through 2020-21.

It has been a tumultuous, emotional year in New Jersey after last season’s unexpected run to the playoffs and some fans began placing the blame on Hynes, who is now in his fourth year on the job.

Management saw the bigger picture — with huge struggles in net and some tough luck with injuries, including a recent one to reigning MVP Taylor Hall — and determined they still have the right man steering the ship through troubled waters.

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